Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The years with Laura Diaz - novel by Carlos Fuentes

"The best novelists in the world are our grandmothers, and it is to them I owe the first memory, on which this novel is based". This is how Carlos Fuentes, the Mexican author, describes his inspiration to write this novel.

It is a story of six generations, starting with the grandmother of Laura Diaz, the heroine and ending with her greagrandson. The six generations are affected by the political turbulence of Mexico, the civil war in Spain,the Nazi Germany, dilemma of Marxists in Europe, McCarthyism and the story of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Fuentes has used every opportunity to comment and analyse the political developments and let his characters speak on the issues. One gets a overall perspective of the evolution of the Mexican society, through the political changes internally and externally.

It starts with Cosima Kelsen, the grandmother who is robbed at gunpoint by a bandit while travelling in a stagecoach. The bandit asks for the wedding ring but the young Cosima tells him" you have to cut my finger to take the ring". Without a hesitation, the bandit chops the finger and takes away the ring.

Cosima's family of German immigrants settle down in preindependent Mexico with a coffee plantation. Laura's brother,Santiago, a revolutionary is executed by the regime when he is in his twenties. Laura marries Juan Francisco, a trade union leader who compromises with the governments in power to safeguard the interests of the workers. But he loses the respect of the wife when he turns over a nun to the regime who executes her for rebel ideology. Laura walks out of the house and become a freelancer. She has an affair with someone and then goes to work as asssistant to Frida and Diego Rivera. Later she falls in love with Jorge Maura, a Spanish republican in exile in Mexico. When Maura leaves her she comes back home and confesses to the husband and two teenage sons.The elder son Santiago becomes an artist and dies a premature death. After the death of her husband Laura goes to live with an American in Mexico, exiled by McCarthyism who also dies. Then she takes up photography and become a professional and gets a new career and life. Her younger son joins the rich and powerful of the Mexican elite but his son Santiago rebels and comes back to grandmother. He paticipates in the 1968 student agitation against the government and is shot to death along with hundreds of other students. His daughter gives birth to the fourth Santiago. Laura ends her life by going back to her grandmother's house and disappearing in the surrounding forest.

This is one of the best books of Carlos Fuentes I have read so far. I am impressed by the depth and range of Fuentes' s perspectives on politics and society. I am looking forward to reading his other books.

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