Mexican Ambassador recalls Fuentes
By Kim Se-jeong
He was described as “an unleashed cultural force.”
He wrote on the right-hand pages of notebooks and made changes on the left-hand pages before sending his copies to be typed.
He refused to write an autobiography, insisting “to write an autobiography is to etch the words on your own gravestone.”
Mexican author Carlos Fuentes died in Mexico City last month at the age of 83. Close to him was Julio Ortega, his biographer, who confirmed his death.
Fuentes is a prominent literary figure in Mexico and the Spanish-speaking world.
It is said that comprehending Mexican literature without mentioning him loses essence. His novels are on the mandatory reading list for students.
Mexican Ambassador to Korea Martha Ortiz de Rosas’s encounter with Fuentes was brief, yet certainly inspiring.
“He was a gentleman. He was an intellectual with a clear mind. He presented his ideas in a clear way,” she told The Korea Times in retrospect. She was a diplomat working at the Mexican Consulate in Boston when he spent a couple years teaching at universities there.
Born to a diplomat father in Panama, Fuentes lived abroad until he was 16. His family lived in Washington, D.C., where he learnt to speak English fluently.
He studied in Mexico and Switzerland, and followed his father’s footstep as a diplomat.
But, he always spared time to write.
His first novel “Where the Air Is Clear” published in 1958 was a “literary sensation.” He quit his job and dedicated himself to writing full time.
In his 23 novels, short stories, essays and theatrical writings, he let the outsider’s view of Mexico flow, which was often critical. He was on the forefront of El Boom, a literary movement in the 1960s and 1970s that made Latin American novelists visible around the world.
The New York Times wrote, “It was mainly through his literature, Mr. Fuentes believed, that he could make his voice heard, and he did so prolifically and inventively, tracing the history of modern Mexico in layered stories that also explored universal themes of love, memories and death.”
The most representative work is “Where the Air Is Clear,” a story of Frederico Robles, who gives up revolutionary ideals for material possessions. But it’s the portrait of inequality and moral corruption in Mexico which gained acclamation. This book is not available in Korean.
Ortiz de Rosas recommended “The Death of Artemio Cruiz” (1987) for Korean readers. “(Through this), you can understand better about Mexican identity and the society.” It is translated into Korean.
She also recommended “The Old Gringo” and “The Buried Mirror: Reflections on Spain and the New Land,” which are also available in Korean.
The embassy will present a documentary in November commemorating Fuentes.