San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Novelist Carlos Fuentes dies at 83

From the print edition

By Jennifer González | AFP

MEXICO CITY – Hundreds of Mexicans bade farewell to late novelist Carlos Fuentes on Wednesday, carrying books and flowers as they filed past the casket of one of the Spanish-speaking world’s best-known writers.

During a public ceremony at the grand Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City, President Felipe Calderón hailed Fuentes as “one of the greatest writers of all time.”

“He helped give global prominence to Latin-American literature,” the Mexican president said.

Fuentes, the son of a diplomat, was born in Panama City on Nov. 11, 1928. He spent parts of his childhood in the South American cities of Quito, Montevideo and Rio de Janeiro, and was enrolled in a U.S. public school when his father was transferred to Washington, D.C.

Standing in front of the casket next to Calderón were the writer’s widow, Silvia Lemus, and Cecilia, his only surviving child, born from his first marriage to actress Rita Macedo.

A crowd of people queued outside for a chance to file past the casket inside the palace.

“I still can’t believe it, he was so close to me with his books my whole life,” said a teary-eyed Raúl Acosta, a 40-year-old psychologist, after viewing the casket.

Brenda Negrete, 28, said she was now a “political orphan.”

“We will miss his political opinions, especially for these elections,” she said, referring to the July 1 presidential and legislative ballots in Mexico.

Fuentes died in the Mexican capital Tuesday at age 83 after suffering a massive hemorrhage in his digestive tract.

The novelist’s remains will be cremated and his ashes buried at the Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris, where two of his children – Carlos and Natasha – are buried, local media reported.

“I feel at home in Paris, very happy and surrounded by beauty,” Fuentes said in a recent interview.

The prolific writer authored more than 50 works, including novels, short stories, essays and plays.

He was a leading figure in the 1960s Latin American literature boom, befriending both Colombian leftist Gabriel García Márquez and Peruvian conservative Mario Vargas Llosa, and was known for criticizing both the harsh side of capitalism and the tough realities of communism.

“I met him 50 years ago,” Vargas Llosa said in a Twitter message upon learning of Fuentes’ death, “and we were friends all that time without anything ever impoverishing that friendship.”

Fuentes also was known for his use of experimental language.

Visibly shaken, Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard hailed his late friend, “who will always remain in the Mexican soul.”

“Fuentes was a great seducer who used only one weapon: the word,” said Federico Reyes Heroles, a writer who read a tribute message at the family’s request.

“Carlos embodied the idea of bringing Mexico into the world and the world to Mexico.”

Fuentes published his first collection of short stories, “Masked Days,” under the guidance of his father Rafael.

In 1958, when he was 30, he achieved international fame with “The Most Transparent Region,” a portrayal of Mexico City’s explosive growth.

The novel “The Death of Artemio Cruz” (1967) won Fuentes both critical and public acclaim and became his best-known work.

He scored a new literary success with “Terra Nostra,” a novel on the complex cultural issues of the Iberian and Latin American worlds, for which he was awarded the prestigious Romulo Gallegos prize in 1977.

Other prizes followed, including the Cervantes (1987), the Rubén Darío (1988) and the Prince of Asturias (1994).

His 1985 novel “Old Gringo,” about the disappearance of U.S. writer Ambrose Bierce during the Mexican Revolution, was a best-seller in the United States and became a 1989 Hollywood movie starring Gregory Peck and Jane Fonda.

Fuentes’ 1987 “Cristóbal Nonato” examined the then-upcoming 500th anniversary in 1992 of the arrival of the Spanish in the Americas.

His intellectual curiosity led him to write “This I Believe” (2002), on his ideological and literary beliefs.

“The Eagle’s Chair” (2003) imagined the outlines of Mexico’s future, and “Against Bush” (2004) was a collection of his articles skewering former U.S. President George W. Bush.

“You have to take some time out to be able to give literature the attention it deserves, for journalism, for speaking, for friendship. I cannot be cloistered like a monk because I would lose contact with human beings, with life,” Fuentes told AFP in a 2003 interview.

Unlike his contemporaries, though, Fuentes never won a Nobel Prize in literature, although for years he was said to be on the short list.

Fuentes’ travels helped shape his leftist political views and fueled his passion for political activism.

Like many Latin American intellectuals of his era, for years, Fuentes was fascinated by the Cuban revolution and leftist rebel movements. But over time, his opinions grew more nuanced.

“Cuba is worthy of condemnation, and so is the United States,” he was quoted as saying.

Fuentes was appointed Mexico’s ambassador to France in the 1970s, an assignment that lasted only two years.

Fuentes supported the election of conservative president Vicente Fox in 2000, which ended the seven-decade rule of Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party.

“In the Americas, we sometimes don’t realize democracy takes a long time to cook, maybe because we are used to abrupt decisions and heavy blows typical of dictatorships,” he said in 2001.

“RIP Carlos my friend,” Booker Prize-winning British author Salman Rushdie said on Twitter.

Mexican author Xavier Velasco, who said he had dinner with Fuentes just days ago, said: “I firmly believe that he is the greatest novelist Mexico has ever produced and also the one with the best sense of humor.” 

The late author is survived by his second wife, journalist Silvia Lemus, and a daughter from his first marriage to the late actress Rita Macedo. His two children from his marriage with Lemus, a son and a daughter, both died before him.

Comments are closed.