Carlos Fuentes was Mexico's most celebrated novelist and among Latin America's most prominent authors, and an outspoken critic of US foreign policy.
Carlos Fuentes, one of Latin America’s best-known authors and a sharp critic of governments in Mexico and the United States, died on Tuesday after a literary career spanning more than five decades. He was 83.
Fuentes wrote more than 20 novels and several collections of short stories. His most famous novels include “The Death of Artemio Cruz,” “The Old Gringo” and “The Crystal Frontier.”
The Old Gringo was the first US bestseller by a Mexican author and was made into a 1989 movie starring Gregory Peck and Jane Fonda.
Dividing his time mainly between Mexico City and London, Fuentes dovetailed literature and social and political commentary. He remained active and energetic to the end, and was working on a new book.
Along with compatriot Octavio Paz, Colombia’s Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Peru’s Mario Vargas Llosa, Fuentes brought Latin American literature to a global audience in the second half of the 20th century. His work was translated into two dozen languages.
“He left an enormous body of work which is an eloquent testimony to all of the big political problems and cultural realities of our time,” Vargas Llosa said of Fuentes in a message posted on his daughter’s Twitter account.
Local media said Fuentes died in a Mexico City hospital after suffering a hemorrhage at home, although some originally reported heart problems.
He won major literary prizes, including Spain’s coveted Cervantes award. He was often seen as a strong candidate for a Nobel Prize, but it eluded him. Paz, a close friend until the two fell out in 1988, is the only Mexican to have won the Nobel Prize for literature.
Born in Panama in 1928, Fuentes spent much of his early years in the United States, Chile and Argentina, following his father’s diplomatic postings. He went on to study law and published his first novel at the age of 30.
A dapper dresser and elegant public speaker, Fuentes was an open critic of Mexico’s entrenched political system under the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which ruled the country for 71 years before it was ousted in 2000 elections.
He was also a frequent critic of the US role in the civil wars of Central America in the 1980s and lambasted the effects of US immigration policy on Mexican migrant workers in his mid-1990s novel, La Frontera de Cristal (The Crystal Frontier).
“They know they need migrant Mexican labor, without which their harvests, services and many aspects of life would go to ruin,” Fuentes once said, calling US policy a farce.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon and other political and cultural leaders, including British author Salman Rushdie and new French President Francois Hollande, also paid tribute to Fuentes. His remains will lie in Mexico City’s Palace of Fine Arts on Wednesday to allow people to pay their last respects.
Plenty of reasons to keep living
“I profoundly regret the death of our beloved and admired Carlos Fuentes, writer and universal Mexican,” Calderon wrote on his Twitter account.
“Carlos Fuentes was one of the most brilliant writers of the 20th century in Mexico,” Mexican writer and essayist Enrique Krauze said.
The prolific Fuentes said he never suffered from writer’s block. He told Spain’s El Pais newspaper during a recent visit to Buenos Aires that he had just finished one book and was already starting another.
“My system for staying young is to work a lot, to always have a project on the go,” he said in the interview, published on Monday. “Here among my books, my wife, my friends and my loves, I have plenty of reasons to keep living.”
Fuentes also wrote plays and essays and spent some years as a Mexican diplomat, mainly in Europe.
His critical eye was at work from the start of his career.
His first novel in 1958, La region mas transparente (Where the Air is Clear), was not only a look at life in Mexico City, now ironically one of the most polluted cities in the world. It also examined how the Mexican Revolution of 1910 to 1917 had created a new and wealthy elite but did nothing for the impoverished and indigenous masses.
Fuentes said he always wanted to be a writer, inspired by the tales of Mexico told to him by his grandmothers.
“I think that I became a writer because I heard those stories - all the stories that I didn’t know about Mexico, about my own land,” he said in a 2006 interview with The Academy of Achievement, a US group that highlights the work of leaders in various fields.
“They were the storehouse of these great tales of migrants, revolution, highway robberies, bandits, love affairs, ways of dressing, eating - they had the whole storehouse of the past in their heads and their hearts.”
Fuentes is survived by his wife, journalist and television presenter Silvia Lemus, and a daughter. His other two children died before him.