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Book 11: Mexico (Spanish) La Muerte de Artemio Cruz = The Death of Artemio Cruz (Carlos FUENTES)

 

I wake up… I am woken by the contact of that cold object with my member. I didn’t know that sometimes it is possible to urinate involuntarily. I keep my eyes closed. The closest voices go unheard. If I open my eyes, will I be able to hear them?

A fairly depressing chronicle of a rather distasteful Mexican big man on his death bed, recalling (in flashbacks) episodes of his life which gradually reveal how he came to be as his is. He started as an idealistic young man during the Mexican Revolution but becomes a hateful, corrupt, moralless and rich hypocrite and traitor (on several levels). Not a sympathetic hero! It also gives rather profound insight into how Mexico became what it is today. Cruz’s deterioration from a hopeful beginning could be seen as a critique of Mexico itself. The novel is, unusually, written in three voices (first, second and third person playing tag with each other) with increasing distance from the dying man. The Spanish was fairly difficult for me to read, especially the stream-of-consciousness style of Cruz’s first person narratives. It is a brilliantly constructed work, but I didn’t fall in love with it as with his novella Aura.
For an easier Mexican read – try Like Water for Chocolate (by Laura ESQUIVEL), a magical realist novel with the bonus of lots of recipes – a lovely book.
FUENTES, Carlos (1928-2012), La Muerte de Artemio Cruz, México, Alfaguara Bolsillo, 2000, ISBN 968-19-0695-0

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Book 3: USA (English) – To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper LEE)

“If you had been on that jury, son, and eleven other boys like you, Tom would be a free man,’ said Atticus. ‘So far nothing in your life has interfered with your reasoning process. Those are twelve reasonable men in everyday life, Tom’s jury, but you saw something come between them and reason. You saw the same thing that night in front of the jail. When that crew went away, they didn’t go as reasonable men, they went because we were there. There’s something in our world that makes men lose their heads – they couldn’t be fair if they tried. In our courts, when it’s a white man’s word against a black man’s, the white man always wins. They’re ugly, but those are the facts of life.’

‘Doesn’t make it right,’ said Jem stolidly. He beat his fist softly on his knee. ‘You can’t just convict a man on evidence like that – you can’t.’

‘YOU couldn’t, but THEY could and did.’

A heartbreakingly beautiful book about justice (and the lack thereof) – like everyone else the US falls short of its ideals, but surely that’s better than not having those ideals in the first place. It’s a reminder that without some brave people to stick up for what’s right, the world would be even more screwed up than it is now. It is a desperate call for us as ordinary people to be heroes and to stand up for what is right, even if necessary against the prevailing order in our society and our own narrowly selfish interests, so that a better world will prevail. The judgement comes as a total shock, almost physical, and it will leave you moist-eyed!

Lee, Harper (1916-2016): To Kill a Mockingbird, London: Vintage, 2004, ISBN 9780099466734