The Death of Artemio Cruz, Carlos Fuentes, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1964, 306 pp (translated from the Spanish by Sam Hileman, originally published in Mexico, 1962)
This novel made a huge impression on me. Read as part of my 1962 reading list, it was the original translation by Sam Hileman, Fuentes's translator throughout the 1960s.
Artemio Cruz was a fictional impoverished mulatto. In his teens, he ran away to fight in the Mexican Revolution but later betrayed the ideals of that conflict and through sharp dealing became a wealthy and influential financier.
Artemio is dying all the way through the novel, but looking back from his sickbed and through the dreams and delirium of illness. The author therefore becomes the voice of the man, an artful and successful method of unwritten autobiography put down on the page by another.
While still a soldier, Artemio finds his first, his one and only love. Once she dies of a bullet wound, his ideals become diluted by sorrow. The rise to power involves him in a loveless marriage as well as shady dealing with American investors. Like any good mogul, he also buys a newspaper by which he can spin events to his own benefit and influence politicians.
Despite the despicable nature of Artemio's life, I came to care about this man. Like many modern novels of today, the time sequence is tangled but creates the effect of a person coming to terms with his life; seeing how his earlier actions influenced later ones; grappling with the tough questions of honor vs power. As a result, Fuentes presented a history of the revolution through the lens of one man's life.
Also by means of straight memory, dream states, and the continuous contrast of Artemios's current struggle with his illness, his doctors, and his family, the author draws the reader into all the conflicting ways any person deals with a life. The writing is powerful, somewhat experimental, and I almost did not want the book to end.
I turned the last page and wondered who I could read that writes like this today.