By Jose Oliva
BARCELONA – Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes hailed the legacy of Miguel de Cervantes, saying his masterpiece “Don Quixote” paved the way for all modern-day novelists.
In an interview here with Efe, Fuentes said he reads Cervantes’ most famous work every year “as a matter of personal health” and always has the sense that he is “reading it for the first time.”
“Cervantes lets you know what you can’t do as a writer because he already did it better, but he also gives you clues about what you can do because he paved the way,” the 82-year-old author said.
Fuentes recently published “La gran novela latinoamericana” (The Great Latin American Novel) after his U.S. publishers asked him for an essay on his readings of Latin American literature.
But he said the work, which has Spanish- and English-language editions and was recently published in Spain, was not intended to be an academic text.
In the book, Fuentes traces the evolution of the novel in Latin America, from the European discovery of the Americas to the present day.
The Mexican gives special importance to Jorge Luis Borges, who along with figures such as Alejo Carpentier “create an opening for the ‘boom’ that would follow” in the 1960s and 1970s.
That boom would bring Latin American literature to a worldwide audience, a trend evidenced by the tremendous growth in the number of Mexican authors published in other languages.
Whereas a few decades ago there were just three Mexican authors (Juan Rulfo, Octavio Paz and Fuentes) published in French, in the 2008 edition of the Paris book fair, dedicated to Mexico, “some 40 (authors) were presented, 20 of whom already had works published” in that language.
The boom’s great contribution, according to Fuentes, was “a handful of good books that have stood the test of time and freed the novel from the naturalist and realist legacy of the 19th century.”
The only Latin American novel of that time period that stacks up with the region’s best work is Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis’ “Memorias Postumas de Bras Cubas” (Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas) because it “acknowledged the link it had with Cervantes.”
Fuentes’ essay ends with Juan Villoro, the youngest author of the group and member of Mexico’s so-called Crack generation, along with Ignacio Padilla and Jorge Volpi, who “already have consolidated a body of work and promising career.”
The Mexican author’s “personal vision” of the evolution of the Latin American novel is at times controversial, especially considering some of the acclaimed writers who were excluded.
Perhaps the most glaring absence is late Chilean author Roberto Bolaño: “It’s not because I haven’t read him. I prefer to wait for the noise to die down so I can read him in peace,” he said, referring to the author’s skyrocketing rise in stature since his death in 2003 at age 50.
Fuentes also includes a Brazilian author, Nelida Piñon, and Spain’s Juan Goytisolo, who he says embodies better than anyone that “cultural model” of the tradition of coexistence among the Christian, Jewish and Arab cultures that Latin America inherited from Spain and did not exist in France, England or Norway.
Regarding the impact the new technologies will have on the future of the novel, Fuentes said he is optimistic: “throughout its history the novel has survived so many challenges that it’s difficult to imagine its demise, because it has died and come back to life too many times.”
Fuentes also recently published “Carolina Grau,” a collection whose different stories feature the character that gives the book its title.
The author said that through that character he is able to “recall the women of the past and imagine the women who are yet to come.” EFE