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Carlos Fuentes: Cristóbal Nonato (Christopher Unborn)

Though published in 1987, the book was written for 1992, the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America. Fuentes tries his hand at direct satire and, at the time, it seemed quite appropriate. While it is still appropriate, it also seems somewhat dated. Northern Mexico has merged with the adjacent US states, to create an independent Mexamerica, Yucatan is owned by Club Méditerranée and the US oil companies have taken over the oil producing parts of Mexico, all of which is possible but, as we know, it did not happen. As in Tristram Shandy, a great novel that influenced many a twentieth century writer, the narrator of the novel is not yet born. He is indeed a fetus. (Completely irrelevant, but this reminds me of Sunset Boulevard and American Beauty, which are both narrated by characters already dead.) Fuentes divides the novel into nine parts to emphasise this.

Mexico then as now is pretty well ungovernable. The government has decided that it will be run by the male child born at midnight on October 12 1992 (the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ landing) whose last name most resembles Columbus’ name. Guess who’s going to win? The unborn child, as narrators in other Fuentes novels, examines Mexican myth and history, including the 1910 revolution and the current situation. What he sees is not pretty and he even has doubts about being born. But as this is Fuentes, it is done with humour, cleverness, post-modern games, magic realism, inventiveness and a strong sense of what is right and what is wrong. As I said, the satire at times seems dated but that still does not stop this book for being a great read.

Publishing history

First published by Fondo de Cultura Económica in 1987
First published in English in 1989 by Farrar, Straus
Translated by Alfred Mac Adam