Thursday, August 04, 2011


Where the Air is Clear, Carlos Fuentes, Ivan Obolensky Inc, 1960, 378 pp

So I have entered the world of Fuentes, with his first novel, published in Mexico in 1958. It was a treacherous portal for me. In the first few pages I saw that I needed some background in Mexican history. Thanks to the internet, that was easy and helped me tie together the paltry loose ends I knew about Mexico. I should also point out that Mexican PR in Los Angeles is terrible, so I had to overcome some prejudices to get into Fuentes's head.

Ixca Cienfuegos, a character in the book, is our omniscient third person narrator (when he isn't a first person narrator) who also, according to some, represents the Aztec sun god Huitzilopochtli, come back to avenge himself and Mexico's indigenous peoples on the descendants of the Spanish conquistadors. Confusing? Oh yes.

Otherwise, there is not much of a plot. The book is more of a commentary on Mexican government and society in the mid 1950s, comprised of vignettes and various intertwined accounts of the lives of the characters. Where the Air is Clear has been compared to Dos Passos's USA Trilogy, which I have not read. But the method of the story telling reminded me a bit of James Michener. (I like James Michener by the way.)

Finally, Fuentes is bemoaning the usual state of affairs after a revolution, where the rebels become the new status quo, creating a new bourgeoisie made up of the nouveau riche. I did learn more about Mexico than I knew before. I think I could grow to like Carlos Fuentes, but I am not there yet.

(Where the Air is Clear is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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