DESTINY AND DESIRE by Carlos Fuentes

Book Quote:

“She was the object-woman, something volunteered, made for the pleasure — that first night — only of Jericó and Josué, Castor and Pollux, here and now again the children of Leda, whore to the swan, born in this instant of the same egg, the Dioscuri in the act of being born, crushing the flowers and grass, shattering the eggs of the swan so that from her would be born love and conflict, power and intelligence, the tremor in the thighs, the fire on the roofs, the blood in the air.”

Book Review:

Review by Roger Brunyate  (JAN 30, 2011)

Wow! This quotation should indicate why I both reveled in this rich and wonderful book and yet had such trouble getting through it. It was my first Fuentes, and may or may not be typical of his earlier style, but it is original, gloriously baroque, and alarmingly dense. Certainly, from the very first paragraph, when a head recently severed from its body begins the long narration of how it got to be that way, I could recognize Fuentes’ sheer originality. And his mastery of words! So much did I enjoy the easy brilliance of Edith Grossman’s translation that I got hold of the first fifteen pages of the book in Spanish for comparison; the original is perhaps more liquid, but Grossman beautifully captures its unpredictable rhythms, its shifts of tone. Fuentes is a Mexican Salman Rushdie, whom one almost reads for the brilliance of his imagery and breadth of erudition alone. Like Rushdie, he is impossible to skim, though I admit there were times in this long book when I was tempted to do so.

The severed head belongs to 27-year-old Josué Nadal. He begins his story in high school where he is befriended by a slightly older boy known only as Jericó (many names in the book have symbolic overtones). Both are effectively orphans: Jericó lives alone, and Josué is cared for by a disapproving housekeeper. The two bond closely, move in together, and set themselves an intellectual program to study all sides of every possible argument, reading Saint Augustine side-by-side with Nietzsche, studying Machiavelli. They also experience less intellectual pursuits, such as sharing the same whore. Brothers in spirit, they are also potential rivals. By entitling the first and last of the book’s four main sections “Castor and Pollux” and “Cain and Abel,” Fuentes appears to show his hand, but the truth is not so obvious.

Jericó goes abroad for college. Josué studies law, and is given repeated access to Mexico City’s most notorious prison (one of several sections that reminded me of Roberto Bolaño’s 2666). Adulthood sees each of them placed in apprenticeships to men of power: Jericó as an aide to Mexican President Carrerra, Josué in the entourage of the country’s most powerful business leader, Max Monroy. The book becomes an examination of power, whether wielded through the ballot box, the street revolution, the reach of the internet, or criminal conspiracy. It is also about heritage: the lingering question of Jericó and Josué’s parenthood, and more importantly the recent history of Mexico that has brought it to its present crisis of lawlessness. “Just yesterday,” one of the characters remarks, “a highway in the state of Guerrero was blocked by uniformed criminals. Were they fake police? Or simply real police dedicated to crime?” Unlike Bolaño, though, Fuentes keeps most of the lawlessness offstage, although he has the same passion for detail of other kinds, mundane detail that can alternate with abstract philosophy in often disconcerting ways, as in this passage that explains the book’s title:

“And what is destination, or destiny?” continued the voice I tried to locate, to recognize, in the row of people’s scribes sitting in front of the old building of the Inquisition. “It isn’t fate. It is simply disguised will. The final desire.” Then I was able to unite voice and eyes. A small man, bald but in a borrowed hairdo, his bones brittle and his hands energetic, white-skinned though tending to a yellowish pallor, for a couple of Band-Aids covered tiny cuts on one cheek and his neck, dressed in an old black suit with gray stripes. […] Borrowed apparel. Second-hand clothes.

Once, towards the end of the book, Josué recounts a long dream. Somewhere in the middle of it, I found that I had lost the mental quotes; I no longer knew whether it was a dream or real. I also realized that it did not matter. So much of this book takes place in a nightmare world — a miasma of philosophy hanging over a swamp of manipulation and desire — that it is no longer relevant to distinguish fact from fiction. Except that Fuentes continues to write with verbal brilliance and flashes of humor that do much to illuminate the darkness.

AMAZON READER RATING: from 6 readers
PUBLISHER: Random House (January 4, 2011)
REVIEWER: Roger Brunyate
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Carlos Fuentes
EXTRAS: Excerpt
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January 30, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags:  · Posted in: Latin American/Caribbean, Mexico, Translated, World Lit

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