Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Carlos Fuentes' The Eagle's Throne

I read Carlos Fuentes' The Eagle's Throne, which is a beautifully written and ultimately very sad novel. To enjoy it, you must suspend disbelief. The premise is that it is 2020 and a dispute with the U.S. (President Condoleezza Rice, no less) has left Mexicans unable to use the internet or telephones. Therefore they write each other letters. Not just any sort of letter, but incredibly crafted as if they were written by Carlos Fuentes. Get past that and you're ready.

The eagle's throne refers to the Mexican presidency, which is the focus of everyone in the book as they scheme for the 2024 election. The book has no main character, but rather each chapter is a different letter. Initially, keeping track of the characters is a challenge, but once I got going I could only admire the way in which Fuentes generated plot through the letters and gradually introduced surprising twists and turns.

The fight for the presidency is vicious, including blackmail, kidnapping, and murder. To put it mildly, it is not an optimistic view of Mexico's meandering process of democratization after the PRI's defeat in 2000. Few people trust each other, and with good reason. As one character says to another, "Keep your hands clean and your spine straight, but above all watch it, my love, keep your eyes open, and be prepared to be a bit of a bastard..." (p. 45).

I found the ending very sad, and the last chapter wrenching. Ultimately, it's all about the extremes people will go to in order to get access to the throne.


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