This I Believe
Carlos Fuentes has been called Mexico’s greatest living novelist. As a distinguished essayist, novelist, diplomat, and scholar, Fuentes is well-versed in myriad subjects. Although This I Believe defies easy categorization, it is a work of tremendous maturity and wisdom. Equal parts memoir, political manifesto, and literary criticism, This I Believe is also a work of daring, with a bravura in its insights that only one of Fuentes’s stature can pull off successfully. Fuentes, a child of diplomats, was raised in Mexico and the United States. Since the 1930’s he has witnessed fascism, totalitarianism, democratization, and terrorism, all with the discerning and compassionate eye of a genuinely universal being.
In these forty-two essays, Fuentes takes on, without hesitation, subjects that range as far and wide in their scope as might a global circumnavigation. The essays cover reminiscences about his amorous exploits in “Sex,” where Fuentes calls his earlier self “a passenger of sex, a privileged but fleeting actor amongst a circle of beautiful women,” and explorations into the larger world of love. In “Amor,” he displays his ability to see love metaphorically, as in this opening:In Yucatan, you never see the water. It flows underground, beneath a fragile sheath of earth and limestone. Occasionally, that delicate Yucatec skin blossoms in eyes of water, in liquid pondsthe cenotesthat attest to the existence of a mysterious subterranean current. For me, love is like those hidden rivers . . .
Love is not only the romantic, gentle kind; it can also be the “love of evil.” Fuentes writes: “I do not doubt . . . that [Adolf] Hitler loved Germany. But in Mein Kampf, he made it clear that the notion of loving his country was inseparable from the hatred of all those things he perceived to be at odds with Germany.” Here, Fuentes recognizes that all things human, even that most powerful emotion of love, have multiple meanings and dark underbellies to them.
In “Children,” he moves from the political and public to the deeply personal, in this case, the tragic loss of his son, Carlos Fuentes Lemus(to whom he dedicates this book). While he writes of his other children, daughters Cecilia and Natasha, it is upon his son, Carlos, he focuses most of his attention. Carlos was born a hemophiliac, and “from a very early age, he had to receive injections of the coagulating agent he lacked.” His childhood was punctuated with pain, though he pursued painting, then later photography and poetry. In this essay, Fuentes includes one of his son’s poems and describes how he and his wife were left “with the reality of all that is indestructible.”
It is in the very intertwining of the personal with the political that Fuentes impresses with his fearlessness. In “Friendship,” he looks back on his “gang,” his chorcha in grammar school. He remembers one boy whom he defended against bullying because of the boy’s physical deformities. This boy later, as a man, was tortured to death under Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s regime. “It is a time for a return to friendship but with the knowledge that friendship demands cultivation on a daily basis if it is to bear its marvelous fruits.” Fuentes sees true friendship as “dignified modesty,” as a comfortable embracing of shared silence. He recalls learning through famed filmmaker Luis Buñuel the value of silence between friends. “Eventually,” he states, “I realized that knowing how to be together without saying a word was, ultimately a superior form of friendship.”
The essay “God” takes the form of a dialogue between two unidentified voices, arguing either for or against the existence of God. The dialogue is cleverly antagonistic and rhetorical, with exchanges about the big bang theory (“Do you mean to say that God inhabited the Universe before the Big Bang, and then, one day, for a little fun, ordered a . . . universal explosion, knowing that everything would end, not in some kind of final explosion but in one final sob?”) In “God,”...
(The entire section is 1681 words.)