Carlos Fuentes - The Death of Artemio Cruz

Carlos Fuentes - The Death of Artemio Cruz
Rating - 7.9

Artemio Cruz owns a vast empire in Mexico, encompassing newspapers, land, construction and more. He has a beautiful wife and daughter, both of whom he cannot stand, nor they him. His aide, Padilla, a man he trusts with his empire, and one he has grown to love as the son he lost so many years ago. He is so important, so respected, so necessary to the Mexican country that the President tries to impress him, rather than the other way around. But Artemio Cruz is dying, painfully and slowly, and it is while dying that he has a chance to evaluate his life, to take a good look at himself and what he has achieved.

Cruz is a complicated man. As a youth, he fought in the various, chaotic revolutions and counter-revolutions that periodically caused Mexico to cease functioning as a nation, becoming little more than a series of loosely connected fiefdoms. Using his intelligence and daring, he was able to secure a command in the fight against Pancho Villa, but more importantly, he also knew when to leave the life of a soldier for a more solid existence. As a young man, he met Regina, the woman he was to love until his dying day.

As an older man, he is respected and influential, but also cold and distant. Gone are the passionate, poorly thought-out heroics of his early adulthood. He no longer loves like it doesn't matter, or cares much for the reality of another person. At his annual New Year's party, Cruz retires early to a comfortable leather chair positioned so he can watch everyone else have fun. The unspoken rules of the party forbids guests to talk to him at all, other than to pay their respects. His wife lives in another city, and a prostitute shares his bed this night, as she has every other night for the past eight years.

The three technique Fuentes uses in painting Cruz's life are quite interesting. In the present of the novel, when Cruz is dying, the narration is first person, disjointed, and very, very personal. No physical details are omitted, no matter how disgusting. Thoughts are fragmented, jumping from place to place, from time to time. The first few instances of this are difficult to follow, because we do not yet know Cruz's life, but as the novel progresses, the chaotic mental ramblings of the present become clearer, if not for Cruz but for us.

The second stylistic method used are the second person sections. These are generally short, but are the harshest and most self-critical. It is as though Cruz has stepped back from himself, created a 'you' for him to pour forth his bile, resentment, anger and also satisfaction about himself and his own life. These sections are just as personal as the first-person chapters, but in an emotional sense. He probes at the reasons he did this, or why he would think that. These sections are almost entirely devoid of other characters, it is simply Cruz with himself, condemning and praising, remembering and trying to forget.

The third - and most plentiful - type of chapters are in third person, dated, and taken from various times throughout his life. It is here we learn of Regina, here we learn why the phrase, 'We crossed the river on horseback' is so important, why his wife hates him, and more. In these sections, we are almost never shown his thoughts, nor those of anybody else. They are very detached, expositionary scenes, helping to explain the intimate thoughts and ramblings of the second- and first-person chapters.

Towards the end of the narrative, as Artemio Cruz approaches his death, the 'you' and the 'I' narratives start to merge, fuzzing and growing indistinct. He rails against himself, then defends his decisions over the years, then praises himself for the love he has, even now, for Regina. The sections - interspersing the 'you' and 'I' and even 'he' of Cruz within the space of four sentences - could be confusing if done earlier, but because we are familiar with his life and thoughts, they make sense. There are pages long sequences of broken thoughts, flitting between time and place without warning or explanation, and surprisingly, these are effective and do not come across at all as a gimmick. Rather, it is the character of Cruz - presented elsewhere as so strong and stable when old, so mercurial and romantic when young - breaking apart, unable to accept his death, unwilling to leave his life, even if it will mean re-uniting with Regina.

In the end, what we have is a character study. The setting - early 20th century Mexico - is rich and colourful, although at times, it does fade into the background as Artemio Cruz's character takes over. This is by no means a negative, as Cruz is a wonderful diverse man. He has weaknesses and strengths, and the novel spends as much time of his flaws as it does on his achievements. It is a credit to Fuentes that the vibrancy of Mexico shines through in what is, primarily, a journey through the mind of a proud man, a lonely man, a dying man: Artemio Cruz.

See Also

Christopher Unborn




Mexican Authors