This is the story of Baltazar Bustos, an Argentinian from the pampas, the land of gauchos who goes to live in Buenos Aires and is inspired by the ideals of Rousseau and Voltaire. He gets sucked into the independence fever of Latin America, after the Spanish kingdom is overtaken by Napoleon, in the period 1810-20. He is given a miltary rank and sent to fight in Peru and later to Chile. He is caught in the conflicts between the local Creole leaders and the impracticality of his ideals of equality and justice. His political story takes on romantic wings when he falls in love with Ofelia Salamanca, a Chilean femme fatale, married to the governor of Buenos Aires. She changes husbands, lovers and countries and goes from Argentina to Peru, Chile, Venezuela and Mexico. And he is on her trail through all the countries and finally encounters her in Mexico.
Carlos Fuentes has given a fictionalised version of Latin American history of independence in this novel. He has brought in Latin American heroes such as San Martin of Argentina and Simon Bolivar of Venezuela. He has highlighted how the Latin Americans were unprepared for the sudden and unexpected independence and the confusion and conflicts between the local Creole leaders, the situation of native Indians and the African slaves. He has brought out the point that the instability of the continent was inbuilt in the foundation of the new republics who were not ready or equipped for nation building.
Carlos Fuentes, who had raised my expectations after his other novel" the eagle's throne" has captured me as a fan after this novel. He has helped me in understanding Latin America as he did with the other book about mexican politics. His Mexican character Father Quintana calls the Argentinians as the children of Latin America, contrasting with the old civilisation inherited by Mexico. Fuentes has brought out vividly the Latin American characters such as the merchants of the port city of Buenos Aires, the free-spirited gauchos of the pampas, the high society salons of Lima, the brothels of Maracaibo and the revolutionary priests of Mexico.
The love story in this novel is as enigmatic and profund as in the Eagle's Throne novel. In both, the heroines are free spirited Latinas, who make use of the men for fun and politics.
The novel reminded me of the film " The motor cyclist's diaries " which tells the story of Che Guevara, the other Argentinian who travelled to Chile, Peru and other countries of Latin America for fun to start with and later to spread leftist revolution.
I am looking forward to the three more books of Fuentes i have just bought.