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BOOKS > Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes dead at 83

MEXICO CITY - Agence France-Presse

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Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes attends a news conference announcing the Formentor Prize for Literature 2012 in Mexico City in this March 12, 2012 file photo. REUTERS photo

Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes attends a news conference announcing the Formentor Prize for Literature 2012 in Mexico City in this March 12, 2012 file photo. REUTERS photo

Carlos Fuentes, who died Tuesday aged 83, was one of the Spanish-speaking world's best known writers, famous for his prolific output and his use of experimental language.
 
President Felipe Calderon announced the writer's death in a message on his Twitter account. The National Institute of Fine Arts and Literature confirmed he had died in a Mexico City hospital.
 
The author's doctor Arturo Ballesteros told reporters that Fuentes had died after suffering a massive hemorrhage in his digestive tract in the home in the early hours of Tuesday.
 
On Wednesday, a tribute to Fuentes will be held at the Palacio Nacional de Bellas Artes in the capital, with his casket on display, the institute said.
 
Arguably Mexico's best known contemporary author, Fuentes, the son of a diplomat, was born in Panama City on November 11, 1928. He spent parts of his childhood in Quito, Montevideo and Rio de Janeiro, and was enrolled in a US public school when his father was transferred to Washington.
 
"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.
 
A leading figure in the 1960s Latin American literature boom. Fuentes befriended both Colombian leftist Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Peruvian conservative Mario Vargas Llosa, and was known for criticizing both the harsh side of capitalism and the tough realities of communism.
 
Unlike his contemporaries though, Fuentes never won a Nobel Prize in literature, although for years he said to be on the short list and collected a clutch of other prestigious awards.
 
"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' 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 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 renown with "The Most Transparent Region," a portrayal of Mexico City's explosive growth.
 
At the time, Mexico City was, in literary terms, "just an orange falling off a tree... all I did was eat it," Fuentes said in 2003.
 
The novel "The Death of Artemio Cruz" (1967) won Fuentes both critical and public acclaim and became his best known work.
 
Fuentes was appointed Mexico's ambassador to France in the 1970s, an assignment that lasted only two years.
 
Not long afterwards 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 1982.
 
Other prizes followed -- including the Cervantes (1987), the Ruben Dario (1988) and the Prince of Asturias (1994).
 
His 1985 novel "Old Gringo," about the disappearance of US 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 "Cristobal 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 US president George W. Bush.
 
Fuentes supported the election of conservative president Vicente Fox in 2000, which ended the seven-decade rule of Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
 
"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.
 
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.
 
"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."

May/16/2012

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