In a masterwork imbued with historical anecdotes, mystical imagery and revelations about human existence, Fuentes (The Death of Artemio Cruz) relates the story of 20th-century Mexico through the fictional biography of Laura D!az. Narrated by Laura’s great-grandson, a photographer and documentary filmmaker, the central thread is straightforward: Laura grows from an unusually observant child into an attractive and passionate young woman, survives numerous revolutions and world wars, several lovers and one husband.
The catalyst that keeps this chronicle engaging is Laura’s desire to steer the course of her life above and beyond the political currents surging through Mexican society. Much of her life revolves around her rising and falling romances: with a Casanova who vanishes when Laura gets too close to him, a Communist whose search for his missing wife precludes their relationship and a screenwriter who is slowly dying of emphysema. She eventually marries Juan Francisco, an activist whose political passion initially attracts Laura, but ultimately disturbs and alienates her. The union produces two sons.
In her later years, inspired by close acquaintances with the artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Laura becomes a photographer (she photographs Kahlo’s body while it is being cremated) and achieves renown almost instantly. While in other books Fuentes’s characteristic riffs and dizzying, cascading sentences were intended as potential expansions of the novel, this time these gestures are used for the deepening development of the content of the book rather than of its form. Fuentes’s emotional commitment to his subject shows in the lucidity of the book’s underlying intellectual dialogues the opposition of communism and fascism, the corrosion of individual identities by historical processes which Fuentes is able to animate with a learned lyricism that should make this volume one of his most admired and memorable.