With the death of Carlos Fuentes at the age of 83, Latin American writing has lost a shoulder of its own – perhaps a Herculean shoulder, which used to carry the weight of history, myths, fantasy and beyond all, the sense of recovering what the people in a continent were. Being the architect of the Boom movement way back in the 1960s, Fuentes was the priest of the new narration that comprised not only a break from the stringent set up of the play with language; but the one in which places, visuality, architecture, the ruins of civilisation and above all a journey to the widest crannies of all civilisation was possible. Very few would remember now Where the Air is Clear, the first novel of Fuentes which he penned when he was 28 as the prototype of a writing of urban sensibilities and a global vision. Fuentes's oeuvre comprised a daily juggle with history; or rather, creating histories out of histrionics and official history. The hat which he used to wear being an ambassador to France always contained this dust – the dust of history.
The popularly known text of Fuentes, The Old Gringo, which later became a Hollywood film is not the only writing of the gringo tale but, the reworking of the tales of the buffoons. Heroes sometimes become absolute caricatures. The role of the hero in the novel is abominable, suggests Fuentes. Fuentes not only took the histories of the defeated from histories; but he well imagined many. The victors confess in these texts.
In real life, Fuentes was truthful to what he believed. His political position as the ambassador to France did not take his passion for Mexico. When Castro's government attacked the gay writer Herberto Padilla, Fuentes was one of the major Latin American voices to resist it. Fuentes was always left to the center in politics. His passion for communism, quite ambivalent, did not reflect in his writings. Unlike a committed left Nobel laureate like Pablo Neruda, Fuentes never wanted to be at the center stage of left politics. However, his anti-American stand is clear in his Contra-Bush where he caricatures Bush's administration, the history of America and to certain extent the migrant population into the continent from Latin America.
A well researched documentarian and analyst, Fuentes had a sharp memory. The real quest of history requires the production of counter-imagination. In one of his highly diffuse and non-smooth reading novel A Change of Skin, this is what is experimented.
Fuentes maintained his art of writing as a punctual school child observing the curriculum. His breakfast table was filled with newspapers. He liked the polished Mexican cafe, sandwiches and good vine. His writing room had more mural paintings and gramophone records than papers. Cultivating good friendship was his habit. In Myself with Others, he details what such amazing friendships were.
What Fuentes has left for us is an unimaginable treasure trove of history. His varied characters including Artemio Cruz, Lodovico, Hernan Cortez, Colon (Columbus), Baltasar Bustos - have all transcended time and locales. Without a custodian, history never can be narrated.
And, without a novelist, inquisition never can be retold.
Krishnan Unni P teaches English at Deshbandhu College, University of Delhi.