Tuesday, April 03, 2012


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The Good Conscience, Carlos Fuentes, Ivan Obolensky Inc, 1961 (Spanish edition 1959), 148 pp

Suppose your father is the black sheep in his Mexican bourgeois family and he marries a lower class woman, who becomes your mother. Then your father's sister, who has dutifully married a suitable but impotent man, decides to take you and raise you as her own, relegating your father to the background and your mother back to the slums. You are brought up in Catholic piety close to the bosom of your aunt who is called Mama Asuncion. As you reach puberty you begin to figure out who's who in your home.

So Jaime Ceballos, sole heir to the family's wealth, spends his teens in secret rebellion and religious confusion. The whole story of this novel is the price Jaime must pay to grow up into a young man with a "good conscience."

The tale of an idealistic youth being won back into the fold of respectable, if essentially dishonest family tradition, is not new nor is it confined to any particular culture. What stands out in Fuentes's second novel is the vivid depiction of both Jaime's inner life and the environment of a provincial Mexican city.

The dangerous brew of Spanish descendants, Catholicism, native Indians, and class warfare, produces a colorful yet cautionary example of the ways nothing ever changes but nothing stays the same.

(The Good Conscience is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore. To find it in your nearest indie bookstore, click on the cover image above.)

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