Carlos Fuentes wrote his celebrated novel “The Death of Artemio Cruz” before The Who wrote “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” He dedicated the book to C. Wright Mills, the sociologist author of “The Power Elite”. The son of a diplomat, and a diplomat himself, Fuentes’ socialist politics was developed from privilege. There is a cynicism to this work born from realism about Latin American politicians and institutions.
The story is told through the death-bed memories that diary Artemio Cruz’s life from impoverishment to patrician. A revolutionary who is metamorphosed to manipulating elite. A life stage and not a mutation, the powerful and powerless, the rich and the poor, are the same. It is a transposition of power and wealth, not of beliefs.
Artemio Cruz is not caricature of egoism or megalomania. He is a complex character whose materialism and power is real. He is not evil, if indifference is not evil. Power is ceded or taken from the weak. He plays or manipulates to his advantage. What is lost, is his gain. He despises the sycophants. A scene at his New Year’s Eve party (the feast of St. Sylvester) at the enormous residence he keeps for his young but aging mistress is price-less. The dialogue is of overheard one-line remarks of his rich guests who believe he is too old to hear. It is a ploy Mr. Fuentes uses throughout the novel, to draw the other characters and their relationship to Mr. Cruz.
Artemio Cruz’s character is fully drawn; as in life, personalities are carved from loss. Mr. Cruz’s loss is love: his first love, and the loss of his son. The latter, although in volume a small portion of the novel, is the essence of this fatalistic story.
The novel is also about Mexico. It is both a historical review and a sociological study.
” Take your Mexico: take your inheritance.
You will inherit the sweet, disinterested faces with no future because they do everything today, say everything today, are present and exist in the present. They say ‘tomorrow’ because tomorrow doesn’t matter to them. You will be the future without being it; you will consume yourself today thinking about tomorrow. They will be tomorrow because they live only today.”
Stylistically, Mr. Fuentes writing is not what I would normally prefer. It is voluble with adjectives; recursive with synonyms; and the flashbacks slowly secrete the relevance of new characters. Nonetheless, I am captivated by his writing and would read this book again. I can’t help feeling that there is something I missed, because there is depth to his writing. The latter I noticed when reading the first lines of other books that he has written. I intend to read these other novels. I suggest you read this novel. It is great literature.