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Carlos Fuentes on "Destiny and Desire"

The acclaimed Mexican novelist talks about his new book and the violence in Mexico.

Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan, March 26, 2010. (AP)

Carols Fuentes is a giant in Mexican literature, Mexican culture. He’s author of The Old Gringo, The Death of Artemio Cruz, The Eagle’s Throne.

Now, Carlos Fuentes is writing about Mexico and life at a time when Mexican days are too-often brutally tinged with violent death.

His new novel is Desire and Destiny. And its narrator is a severed head, washed up on a Mexican beach. “I’m not what you would call a pleasant sight,” it says. And the master goes to work.

We speak with Mexican literary great Carlos Fuentes.

-Tom Ashbrook


Carlos Fuentes, celebrated Mexican novelist. He’s author of more than twenty books, including Happy Families, The Eagle’s Throne, This I Believe, The Death of Artemio Cruz, and The Old Gringo. His latest novel is “Destiny and Desire.” You can read an excerpt.

Read the Los Angeles Timesreview of the new novel and New York Magazine‘s recent profile of Fuentes, “Still Booming.”

Philip Bennett, professor of journalism and public policy at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. From 2005 to 2009, he was the managing editor of the Washington Post. He’s also a former Latin America correspondent for the Boston Globe.

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  • Jennifer E. Taunton, MA

    The image of a severed head was quite compelling and brought forth a sense of foreboding which seemed to mar the lives of the two young men, even as they became like brothers. It was like the movie Titanic; you knew the boat was going to sink, but the spoilation of the ending only added depth to the relationships. They were something to be treasured while being experienced and something sorely missed when lost.

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    I hear Fuentes speaking of a new political order that offers jobs, so young people have “a better way out,” he says frankly like FDR’s New Deal.
    Is there a vision of that “another path” in the book? Can’t rely on tourists, oil, and money sent back from Mexicans living in the United States.
    Americans in the USA are asking the same thing: Why are all the jobs going to Mexico? Why is all our money coming from paper profits (from financial finagling), from oil industries that ruin the planet, from rich people buying things that are extras for them (like vacations) but don’t boost production?
    Also in Tunisia, one young man, a graduate with a master’s degree (name of Moh-ahmed, I think), unable to find a job, was selling vegetables out of his car, but you had to pay an under-the-table bribe in order to be properly licensed. And he didn’t have the money for that. So he self-immolated, a gesture whose sorrow “lifted the ice,” to quote a haiku from last week.
    What is the vision of the future? Worldwide?
    Where is Mexico starting? By blaming USA selling guns, buying drugs? But we DO send them jobs, sad to say.

  • James

    Hello Mr. Fuentes,

    Isn’t the legalization and subsequent government regulation of the drugs the only
    solution to the problem?



  • Kevin Concannon

    During a debate in the 1992 U.S. presidential election candidate Ross Perot made a statement that Mexico was controlled by 25 families. Would Mr. Fuentes care to elaborate?

    Thank you.

  • RobD

    The translations of Sr. Fuentes novels are incredible, as if the works were written in English rather than Spanish. Can Sr. Fuentes please comment on the process he employs to achieve such excellence in the translations?

  • heidi

    Too many gringos perceive Mexico as the land of burros and “banditos”, unfortunately
    the narcoguerra only furthers this stereotype. Mexico is a really the land of opportunity, which is why the narcos are successful in seizing the opportunity and the country by taking advantage of the young and disenfranchised. They have artfully exploited America’s xenophobia and racism toward Mexico which is why their stronghold is “la frontera”—or the perceived frontera—and those places in Mexico where people have left to go to “el otro lado”…
    The millions of Mexicans who work, study, and live “orgullosamente” in Mexico are appalled…

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    Has Fuentes heard the FDR’s New Deal was not a cure-all, but depended on World War II to achieve lift-off?
    This has kind of surfaced over the past couple years of American recession. Government spending alone is not enough. I think the inequalities all over the world comes down to basic finance: those on top have accumulated money and are the RECEIVING end of the lending rates (usurious or otherwise); those on the bottom are on the opposite side, and are PAYING those lending rates. It pretty much guarantees an unending advantage to the elites. Any idea of an alternative?

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    The Mexican government should offer of a route to a country with jobs and opportunities for the young is needed in the USA (like the New Deal?). This is exactly what is needed in plenty of parts of American cities where youth join gangs and proceed with selling drugs and scorn to participate in the “legal” part of America. It is of course not done to turn to the legitimate police. You turn to your local gang members. Of course. And there is no equivalent opportunity to that of the drug economy. It is clear that you get ahead by being OUTSIDE the law. Some of this is spinoffs of Mexican gangs, some of it is home-grown.
    But the “national effort, national crusade” (quoting Fuentes, what he is now saying Mexico needs), is also here “dormant,” “not growing at full strength.”

  • heidi

    Don’t you think that your vision is just another era of revolution in Mexico, every 100 years??

  • Ellen Dibble, Northampton, MA

    I do know a Mexican who grew up in the Mexican elites, and she has a deep sense of entitlement, of being able to go around the law (shades of elite corruption?), which can turn into her more American translation of that into drugs and prostitution, and a kind of inability to “level” and communicate except in a flowery way that seeks admiration but does not seek a just and transparent reality.

  • heidi

    Gracias, maestro!

  • http://ncpr.org stillin

    As an artist, just admiring the art work on the wall behind your picture…can’t wait to read the book. I can remember walking through Nogales, Mexico many times, as my sisters and mother and brother lived in Tucson, Az. Loved the people, the colors, the steets, the shops all of it, this was in the 1980′s. We stopped and had drinks with spices and hot milk, delicious. We bought Mexican soap, enjoyed the paper picado’s in the air, so much life! It is deeply troubling to see where Mexico is presently with the U.S. damand for drugs and the lack of promise, future for the citizens of Mexico. Last April when I flew back to Tucson after being away a long time, we could not even cross into Nogales because of the crime. This was so sad, and made me angry too, as it was a big reason I go to Az. I just couldn’t risk it with my youngest son, as I had told him of my travels there earlier. Also, in tribute to Mexico, I have to say, my childhood, teen years were filled with artifacts from Mexico, small woven bags, shells, blankets, trinkets because one of my eldest sisters used to live in Mexico and travel. Those little peices of Mexico inspired a love of art and travel and other cultures that remains with me to this day. I want to see what happens with this very human country.

  • http://www.bookofzo.blogspot.com Joshua Hendrickson, Talent OR

    When I first heard about the severed head washed upon a shore that begins to speak, I instantly went back to the myth of Orpheus. No matter what Fuentes’ intent, that mythical symbol will color my appreciation of his story. DESTINY AND DESIRE sounds like a very ambitious novel–my favorite kind–and I look forward to reading it.

  • angelo

    I feel so very strongly that we are in desperate need of change.We can save so many lives and BEGIN to heal some of the issues that allow drugs to destroy society. The ONLY WAY that we can EVER solve the scorge on humanity is through LEGALIZATION!! We have created the same problems which were caused by PROHIBITION only exponentially worse, as we realized the error of our ways after only 10 years. With the criminalization of drugs we have BLINDLY pounded our heads against a brick wall for 50 years.DECRIMINALIZING drugs takes the HUGE REVENUE OUT OFTHE HANDS OF CRIMINALS.Plus saves billions of $ in enforcement,to use for addict education…HELP!!


    Tom: I highly recommend the work of the internationally famous poet, journalist and activist John Ross, who died today in Mexico…the country where he lived and wrote for decades, and from where he brought us loving accounts of the beauty and horror of everyday life and politics on both sides of the border, but particularly in the soul of his amante…Mejico.

    Frank Bardacke: Farewell to the Utterly Unique John Ross
    Jan 17, 2011 … Exclusively in the New Print Issue of CounterPunch …… Sherwood Ross How Affirmative Action Brought Willie Mays to the Giants …

    La Jornada: Murió John Ross; combatió toda guerra hasta la obsesión - [ Translate this page ]
    18 Ene 2011 … El periodista rebelde, poeta, novelista y escudo humano estadunidense John Ross (Nueva York, 1938), decano de los corresponsales en México, …www.jornada.unam.mx/2011/01/18/index.php?section=cultura&article..

  • Ann, Barrington, RI

    I had a great honor today! I had the honor of hearing this learned man suggest ideas and solutions that I’ve been STRUGGLING to suggest over many, many writings on this site! I won’t summarize which of his points I felt aligned with, because, again, I’d struggle and say things in 16 paragraphs instead of in his succinct, articulate, vivid way. I’ll say, instead, I will be listening to the podcast several times over to I learn how to speak with such moral authority!

    RE: the “head”. We should have been listening to “heads” for quite some time! This is a brilliant conceit! Interestingly, Daniel Rasmussen is being interviewed right now, also, about his book, “American Uprising” about the LARGEST slave revolt in American history that was completely covered up and then later forgotten, except in the oral history within the community of those slaves’ descendants. The “cover-up” came by calling the revolt for freedom a criminal matter instead. Then, there was bravado on the part of those who set things “straight”. But, then, after the brave thrust for freedom was converted into petty crime, the punishment, 40 MILES of human heads on pikes, were FORGOTTEN thruout the telling of American history! The heads belonged to human beings who sought their human freedom! Carlos Fuentes’ conceit may help other human beings NOT be relegated OUT of the memory of human experience and the existential urge for independence!

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