Happy Birthday, Carlos Fuentes

In his latest book, a collection of short stories, Carlos Fuentes gives credence to Tolstoy’s opening lines from Anna Karenina:

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

The author appeared on Radio 4’s Front Row last Friday and having just reviewed his book (I’ve included my review here), I was particularly interested to hear what he had to say.

When writing the stories, Fuentes said that he was aware of a “throb in Mexico.  There was an earthquake coming, there was violence in the air.”  In comparison with the reality of today’s situation, he said, “This book is innocent, it’s peaceful, it’s tranquil.”   There is crime everywhere, there is insecurity – criminal gangs kidnap fourteen-year-old boys and killing them after they get the ransom.  All this goes far to explain the anger and violence of the “coros” – the Greek-chorus style free verses that intersperse each story.

The choruses are designed “to give voice to those who have no voice”, as opposed to the stories that focus on family life and on individuals.

“Outside the home there is this great collective voice of those who are not heard, and who to make themselves heard, shriek at times, scream, or murmur, cry, storm… to make their presence felt because they feel excluded, and they are excluded.”

In this analysis of family life, Fuentes draws one of the great seams of “literary imagination and reality”, citing the “tug of war between the state and the family” in Greek literature, the conflict between Antigone and Creon: the clash between Antigone’s obediance to family duty and the laws imposed by religion, and Creon’s insistence on obedience to man-made state law.  It is a paradigm that resounds throughout our modern society.

The full interview can be heard on the Radio 4 website for a few more days.

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