Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Good Conscience - novel by Carlos Fuentes

The Good Conscience is the novel I finished in the Delhi-London-Havana trip.
Author is Carlos Fuentes of Mexico.This is his third novel for me.

While the previous two were political, this one is about religion. It is the story of a boy Jaime Ceballos, who is brought up by his uncle and aunt with an excessive dose of religion, scriptures and moral lectures. Uncle Balcarcel prepares him for life with stern authority, controlling every aspect of the boy's growth. His aunt Dona Asuncion conspired successfully to separate the boy and his father from mother Adelina who was from a lower class. Rodolfo, his father is weak, confused and indecisive and is controlled totally by his sister Asuncion and her husband Balcarcel. The boy and his father are scolded and given moral lectures by Balcarcel from breakfast to dinner, day in and day out. The aunt, who cannot get a child from her impotent husband, clings on to Jaime and exercises a moral control over the boy using religious rituals and the church. But when Jaime announces his intention to become a priest,as the logical extension of his upbringing, there is consternation in the family. Balcarcel changes the direction of the boy and lets him go out and read books other than religious ones. But when Jaime goes around with his native Indian friend and reads revolutionary books, again Balcarcel intervenes harshly. Jaime discovers that his mother, after being thrown out of the family, becomes a sex worker. He is repelled by his weak father who let this happened. Indignation caused by the injustice and hypocrisy makes him resort to self flagellation. He thinks that his inflction of pain for himself would be atonement for the sins of others. But when this is also censured by the family and priests and when his father dies, he is driven to the wall. He goes to a bordello, where he encounters his uncle , who was preaching him all the time about the need to be chaste and pure. The next day his ashamed uncle stops bothering him and stops his moral exhortations. Left free to choose his direction of life, Jaime opts to a life of Good Conscience and keep up up family honour and tradition by becoming a lawyer and living like the other society people.

Carlos Fuentes has handled this religious theme as interestingly and delicately as he does with political ones. He brings out the value system of the Mexican family in the early twentieth century, when revolution was sweeping across the country. Church and religious rituals and beliefs were the refuge and anchor for the society in those turbulent days. Caught in this confusing period of transition, the children became the victims. Fuentes has vividly portrayed the range of emotions, fears and complexes of children growing up confused by the hypocrisy of adults. Father Obregon, who attends to the confessions of Jaime is sympathetic but he himself does not know any other solution other than what is prescribed in the Bible.

Fuentes is very subtle and circumspect in handling the sensitive religious issue. While he sprinkles scriptures and the doctrines of Catholic faith throughout the book, he has let the readers draw the conclusions. But in his polital novels, Fuentes relishes commenting and exposing the hypocrisy and degeneration of politicians, with satire and punch lines.

Pity.. Fuentes cut the novel short with just 148 pages. It would have been more interesting if he had stretched it to a longer one.

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