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on 18 December 1997
Carlos Fuentes tells not just the life of a man, but he tells of the life of Mexico. Within the swirling text the reader is drawn from the death of Cruz to his birth, and we learn more than just his story. It is captivating. The story made me cry, it made me hate the protagonist, and in the end, it made me understand and love him. Truly one of the best books I've ever read. It is the type of story that the deeper you go, the more you feel your mind racing ahead to find the answers Fuentes is teasing you with.
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...as well as an incisive depiction of the universal human condition. I first read this book 25 years ago, when I was half a world away from Mexico. Figured it merited a re-read now that I am only 250 miles from the murderous violence that is Juarez, now, alas, light years away from Dylan's "Tom Thumb's Blues."

Carlos Fuentes is the essential Mexican writer, and I do consider this his best work. It was first published in Spanish in 1962 and dedicated to C. Wright Mills, of The Power Elite;LISTEN, YANKEE - The Revolution in Cuba and others, and who died in that same year. He called Mills the "true voice of North America" and the "friend and comrade in the Latin-American struggle."

The novel commences with the protagonist, Artemio Cruz, on his death bed. The year is 1959. Cruz was born in the late 19th century. Fuentes tells the story of Cruz, against the background of the story of Mexico itself, in a series of chapters with varying dates over that period, and Fuentes also uses flashbacks from the death bed. In one chapter the author even manages to reach back to the beginning of the 19th century, and briefly covers French rule in the middle of that century. There is the perennial political instability and fighting; with an old elite landowner class being wiped out, and a new class of "revolutionaries" quickly replicating the old class, much as Orwell depicted in Animal Farm: A Fairy Story. Much of the novel is set in the early 1900's, when Cruz is a soldier, fighting against the "Federales." But as Fuentes makes clear, the varying factions were often interchangeable, with the idealists generally being eliminated, and the baser elements in the movements rising to the top. This was personified by Cruz, who made a familiar arc in life: from an idealist leftist to a cynical, money-grubbing, filthy rich elitist obsessed with power at the end of his life. Some of the violence depicted in this novel rivals Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian: or The Evening Redness in the West. And one battle scene seems to be inspired by Stephan Crane's The Red Badge of Courage (Wordsworth Classics) The establishment and maintenance of power relationships in society are a constant theme woven into the history, and hence his dedication to Mills.

Ah, there is also much insight into the male - female relationship(s). Cruz's marriage was determined solely based on his economic goals; he marries Catalina, the daughter of a rich, but failing landowner. That determinate led to much resentment on both sides, and the love / hate relationship is intensely characterized. Cruz follows another familiar arc, and seeks solace by philandering, with, among others, a good friend of his wife, (naturally), in Paris, and a "convenience," Lelia, in Acapulco. She becomes a designated in-house mistress, and there is the description of a party that he holds that captures so much of the social and power relationships. And there is the remembrance, all too true, of one's first love, in his case, Regina, and those thoughts continued around the "smoke rings of his mind" even (and perhaps particularly) on his dead bed. Fuentes has included some fine erotica, particularly the scenes with Regina. Apparently the author did a lot of personal "research" for these scenes. Wikipedia somewhat surprisingly, for seeking a neutral style, states that Fuentes has been a "habitual philander."

And there is so much more. Fuentes was only in his early 30's when he wrote this, yet he seems to have an amazing understanding of the aging process, and an even more amazing appreciation of how some members of the medical establishment deal with the dying. Consider (and the ellipsis are the author's): "I open my eyes wide but I can't make them out, things, people...white luminous eggs that wheel before me...a wall of milk between me and the world..." There is the "survivor's guilt" of anyone who has ever been in battle, and has lost friends. The American reader is treated to another view of Santa Anna, other than solely wiping out the defenders at the Alamo. There are the Zouvres, whose children would never have French names. And there is even, for a leftist writer in Spanish, the "obligatory" scene from the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War. There is the woman whose world permanently collapsed, and took to her room for the rest of her life, a la Ms. Rosa Coldfield, in Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! (Vintage Classics). There was a wonderful section in which Cruz reflects on the "what might have been's" in his life. And there is even a good understanding of cosmology, and the light coming from distant stars, and cicadas that trill.

Fuentes makes it all "work." It is simply excellent literature, and an impressive translation. The narrative construction which centers around selective dates is the technique that progressively reveals the story to the reader in a mounting crescendo of wonder, and even amazement. Fuentes uses "magically realism" in other novels, but not in this one. There are however numerous stream of consciousness passages. Speaking of magical realism, it should be noted that Gabriel Garcia Marquez had a "cameo role" for "Artemio Cruz" in his One Hundred Years of Solitude

The first time around I was not certain, but on the re-read, there is no question that this novel merits 6-stars.
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VINE VOICEon 23 December 2012
An ageing and ill-at-heart Cruz lies bedridden, surrounded by his family and business associates. They hanker for his will and disclosure on how he plans to divide his large business interests/estate, while the hero himself is content to reflect on his life gone by (while also having a joke at his brethren's expense).

Cruz is a newspaper magnate and political powerhouse who has risen from nothing to become a one-man industry. Needless to say he hasn't always abided by the rules along the way, and it is the dirt and filth that he has been privy to that drives the tale. Fuentes divides the book into periods of time, each one instrumental in shaping the Cruz we have lying in bed. Jumping from the Mexican civil war, to the closing of a business deal, to the dangerous machinations of politics, Fuentes is able (as many others have pointed out) to tell the tale of modern Mexico through the eyes of a single man. Towards the end of each chapter the action returns back to the present day Cruz and his battle with a decaying body. These are not as exciting or as necessary as the "action" but they do allow Fuentes to showcase another style of writing.

Like many key novels of the Latin American Boom, modernism is evident. There are multiple narrators (with very often little to discern between the competing voices) and at times this multiplicity also cuts across two or three time periods within the space of a few lines. The text is not linear and as a result what you read later will change what you read 200 pages prior - thus I can only imagine that this book is an even richer read second time around. You do find yourself carrying around six or seven different versions of Cruz at various points in his life. All of the differing versions of Cruz are fluid creations, as you never know what new information Fuentes will deliver you next. To those who fear the above makes The Death Of Artemio Cruz seem a difficult read, I would say to still pick it up. While it is true that this book is not a conventional "easy" read, Fuentes has an eminently readable style that rewards the reader.

In times of death it is human nature to look at the good a person has done and to offer a degree of solace to the suffering - unfortunately Cruz is a thoroughly detestable character and at no point did he have my sympathy. He did, however, have my respect. Single-minded to a fault, he offered himself as a modern study, warts and all, without hesitation or disgrace. If Fuentes did indeed wish Cruz to be emblematic of Mexico, then it seems the author had conflicting views - proud of what it is but disgusted at the means necessary to get there. It is an incredible piece of work and is deservedly considered a key work in Central/South American literature.
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on 30 April 1998
If you have any desire to write a piece of fiction then this is a book you have to read. You want to write in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person? Fuentes employs all three within a single novel and makes it work. You want to learn how to manipulate the elements of time and space to create an experiential effect for a reader? Using mere words? Even through a translation, Fuentes can show you that it can be done.
Any analysis will not do this work justice. If you believe that the ultimate function of great fiction writing is to find a way to somehow transcend the limits of the written word, to give the reader an experience that defies material explanation, then Fuentes is the writer for you. You will forget your structuralist, post-structuralist, deconstructionist, and post-modernist theoretical follies and consider yourself nearly a formalist after this book. You may even be able to read a T. S. Eliot essay without throwing up. This book will change you. If you like to pretend you are a writer, YOU HAVE TO GET THIS BOOK!
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on 19 November 2012
I've read much by other reviewers on this book and a lot seems to focus on it's changes of person, tense and sense. I enjoyed the book immensely, not just for what it is but also for what it represents and also for the debate that it always raises.
I have no problem with the change in viewpoint - from 'I' to 'You' to 'He' - in fact I really enjoyed this chimerical form of being able to say 'look, this is a different viewpoint'. I found this to be really Joycean - or possibly even more like Joyce's compatriot Beckett. I love that sense of dislocation whereby you have to read the novel like stream of consciousness. But Fuentes is neither Joyce nor Beckett (maybe more Beckett-like as he is really trying to make people think without resorting to the tell-mode).
There are so many debates within this book. Debates about 'the revolution', debate between young and old Mexico without even going into the narrative that makes up this book.
Fuentes is a master of conveying things without the reader being aware that he is being worked on. I would sincerely urge those that failed to make it with this book to give it another try, to loosen up your mind and let the book flow over you. It is an excellent piece of work and probably the best example I have read of new Latin American magical.

Please read the book. Apart from Pedro Paramo it is probably the most enjoyable book I have read from Mexico and certainly the deepest within the new Latin American mystical realism group. Onward to Arltt.
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on 25 February 1998
They say The death of Artemio Cruz is the last novel about the Mexican revolution. For me this novel uses the anecdote of the revolution as a pretext to make a vast reflexion about old age, disease, love, freedom and our uncontrollable passage through the world as human beings; it's a grief for youth. The revolution becomes an instrument to set up the doubt about how much History is our history and how our life is determined depending on the position from which we are able to play. In The death of Artemio Cruz Carlos Fuentes portrays his character from three angles that refer both to space and time. In this geometry resides the esencial conflict of being: the relations me-myself, me-the others and me-my past. By the first person narrative in present tense we find the most terrible reality: the need to face death and putrefaction of one's own body from where the soul can't get away; the inevitably slow road that lets the ego take complete conscience of its decay and its imminent end. It's a slow road and, at the same time, it's a lone instant related in detail through thousands of words. It's the instant of death that can only be one, but at the same time, is eternal in the delirium. By speaking to himself as you, the character is getting a call of his conscience; he speaks to himself in future tense so to make clear the road he travelled all his life to get to be what he's now was and is an unavoidable fate; the cycle would be identical, no matter how many times it repeats. The second person in future tense is a reconciliation with himself, it's the way of adjudging the drive of destiny as his own-"God... He... I carried him inside me and he's going to die with me." The third person is the one that completes the story, the one that presents the facts to fill the holes and justify the existance; he's the seemingly alien and impersonal narrator telling a story. Here there's no reflexion; there is a simple relation of facts; there's no questioning, but just events describing the tangible contents of the triangle that is the person of Artemio Cruz. The death of Artemio Cruz is, first of all, a universal and existencial novel of this century. Artemio Cruz could perfectly be inserted in one of the world wars without being much different of what he is. The mark he leaves on us as readers touches much deeper our existencial threads than the national ones.
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on 27 January 2013
I enjoyed learning about Mexican history through the retelling of Artemio's life, but found the narrative style unnecessarily obtuse and the protagonist (and other characters) deeply unsympathetic although this lessened through the book. It is a well written story, and compelling despite this though.
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on 25 December 2012
A classic of it's time which had passed me by, until now. If you enjoy suth American authors, you should enjoy this.
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on 5 February 2013
I found this a difficult book to get into so maybe it is a matter of mood. Strong literature. MagG
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