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The Death of Artemio Cruz by Carlos Fuentes

Updated on May 31, 2011

Originally written in Spanish, The Death of Artemio Cruz by Carlos Fuentes, translated by Sam Hileman, is a post-modernist novel that has been deemed a masterpiece of Latin-American literature. Through the eyes of the main character, Artemio Cruz, Fuentes criticizes the Mexican Revolution and the Mexican government. Using the history of the Mexican Revolution as a framework for developing the characters in his novel, Fuentes accurately depicts the corruption in Mexico during the twentieth century.

The novel opens with Artemio Cruz, a former revolutionary corrupted by success and wealth, laying on his deathbed, with his family members attempting to persuade him to disclose the location of his will. Told in a series of flashbacks, Cruz recounts his life, focusing on important turning points in both his life and Mexican history. The Death of Artemio Cruz chronicles Cruz's downfall in light of the Mexican Revolution, as the power he has obtained through becoming a newspaper and land mogul slowly corrupts his existence. As we travel along with Cruz on his adventure through war, women, and death, we develop a better understanding of the Mexican Revolution and its impact on Mexican society, economy, and culture.

Carlos Fuentes' writing style in The Death of Artemio Cruz is both challenging and interesting. Fuentes writes in first, second, and third person narratives throughout the novel, depending on the situation. When Fuentes writes in first person, it is typically in a stream of consciousness style in which Artemio Cruz is reflecting on himself in the present as he lies on his deathbed; however, when the point of view changes to second person, the narrative is either foreshadowing the upcoming event that Cruz is about to tell, or it is lamenting on the previous event that Cruz has finished exploring. For example, in the first section of the novel, the second person narrative states: "You, Yesterday, did the usual things, just as any day, You don't know if it's worth remembering" (Fuentes, 7). Fuentes uses the second person to help the reader visualize the occurrence - he puts emphasis on the "you", making it seem as though you, the reader, has to deal with the same situation that is presented to Artemio Cruz. Therefore, the third person narrative is obviously used to relate the actual memories that Cruz has while he is laying on his deathbed.

Despite how intriguing the writing style is, the uniqueness also makes the book difficult to read. The flashbacks that make up the story are told non-chronologically, jumping back and forth several years at a time, making it hard to follow. This jumping back and forth between different times also allows for multiple threads to be opened within Artemio Cruz's life. While many of these threads are pertinent to understanding the man that Cruz has become, there are too many that are left unexplained and never resolved by the end of the novel.

This aspect is indeed the downfall of this book. As the story progresses, Fuentes begins to reference to points that seemed insignificant at the beginning of the novel, which makes it hard to understand as you dive further into the plot. For me in particular, there were several points that I had forgotten about by the end of the book, and it wasn't until I began to reread the novel that I realized Fuentes had been referring to the beginning of the book. This made up for the lack of direct explanation in regards to some of the threads that I thought were new and unresolved; however, it is also not an appealing quality for a book to have. Unless you are paying attention to the most miniscule details presented in this novel, or you plan on rereading it, you may find yourself dealing with the same frustrations due to the allegedly unresolved conflicts in the novel that I did.

Pushing these unresolved conflicts aside, however, The Death of Artemio Cruz isn't a bad novel. The storyline of the novel is extremely interesting and pulls you in from its first few lines. The writing style, though difficult at times, is also very compelling and has the ability to get you hooked to the novel based on its uniqueness alone. I definitely recommend this book to more advanced readers, people who are interested in the Mexican Revolution and know a bit about Mexican history, and those who are interested in figurative language rather than literal explanations.

Source(s): Fuentes, Carlos, and Sam Hileman. The Death of Artemio Cruz. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1964. Print.


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