Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Homenaje a Carlos Fuentes

By the side of the Río Genil in Granada, Spain, I finished reading El espejo enterrado. I had begun reading my mother's large, color-illustrated version but this one was a more compact paperback that fit better into my backpack to read on the plane from Atlanta to Zurich. It was this little paperback that I carried into the forest of the Alhambra and read as the water skipped forever before me in knowing rivulets.

Carlos Fuentes taught me history and more. He was not afraid to comment, to editorialize, to insert himself into the narrative and enter into a conversation with his reader. With me. So many of us, his readers, feel like we know him personally, that we have at least met him one day in our lives. He understood Hayden White's distinction of "the historical text as literary artefact" and favored humanity over a vain pursuit of objectivity in his narration, so as to reveal truth through imagination. El espejo enterrado is not a history book; it is a conversation with Carlos Fuentes.

The surface of the river was going black as the sun went down. Black like the obsidian surface of Tezcatlipoca's mirror. And in it I saw a vast upside-down world. The blackness of the infinite upside-down sky was frightening; the blue sky above just stayed there but this one was like the open embrace of death--fall in and you will keep falling forever.

El gringo viejo also taught me history and also something deeper: something about the character of Mexico and Mexicans. Harriet Winslow provides a window into a world that is strange and new for her. Her outside perspective highlights the antics of Tomás Arroyo and of the Mexican revolution, which becomes a character in and of itself, donning the laughing, ever-evasive face of Pancho Villa. All the characters are locked in a dance with death, and when Arroyo steps on death's toes, he willingly accepts her embrace. History books that try to be objective can never capture this dance, but in his novel, Fuentes places Harriet in Tomás's arms and pulls the two through the pages in their deadly dance that is more real than fictional.

That is Carlos Fuentes's magic. In his writings a Chac Mool grows fur and dark houses make men question whether the world outside exists anymore. And these not-so-strange occurrences don't just happen on the page; they slither into the "real" world to hiss almost imperceptibly in my ear and make me wonder if one day I might fall through the looking-glass of the Genil and into that upside-down Granada and just... never come back.

Gracias, Don Carlos. Gracias por invitarme a entrar en su sueño, en su sueño de un México y un mundo vueltos deliciosamente al revés.

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