I know that I heard Carlos Fuentes Macías (November 11, 1928 – May 15, 2012) at San Francisco State University, where he inscribed my copy of Where the Air Is Clear (i.e., Mexico City, ca. 1958). What follows is my account in my journal for 23 April 1994 of a bookstore (the much-missed Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books in San Francisco’s Opera Plaza) appearance of Fuentes:
Carlos Fuentes is quite a good performer (in English and in Spanish) and very gracious to his readers (even when there are a daunting line of them laden with many books for him to sign).
He talked about the recent trans-Latin America interest of late in historical fiction. Someone (García Marquez?) read Day of the Jackal to study the mechanics of thrillers. He was impressed with the technique, but said that to be a great book Forsyth would have had to imagine the assassin succeeded in killing de Gaulle (and then in a hundred years that would be the common view of what had happened).
Fuentes’s Orange Tree imagines some variants on history, including Columbus staying in his tropical paradise and not telling anyone about it (confronted by Japanese 500 years later: “I thought I’d found Japan, but the Japanese found me instead), Steve Cochran’s observations of the seven prostitutes and their madame after he fucked himself to death on a yacht now drifting in the Pacific, a revolt by Cortes’s mestizo and Castilian sons (both named Martín and living together) against Spain, the horrors of a Roman siege of a Spanish town (with Sarajevo very much in mind).
He credits his father who would have liked to be a writer with surrounding him with books and encouraging his vocation (in answer to a question of whom in the 20th century he admires most that he ducked).
He talked about the total lack of distribution of books from country to country in Latin America. “I have to go to a bookstore in Buenos Aires to see what new Argentine fiction there is, and someone there has to come to Mexico City to see what is new in Mexican fiction.” Plus the book-buying public has been hurt by the economic squeeze of recent years.
Despite the dominance of TV, he thinks a lot of interesting work is being written, dubbing the genre as “The Colonized Write Back.”