three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
51-Mar-Apr-2011
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A-Destiny and DesireCarlos Fuentes is one of the most prominent Latin American writers of our time. Born in Panama City in 1928, he has focused on Mexican politics and society in novels including The Old Gringo, The Buried Mirror, and The Death of Artemio Cruz. He was awarded the Cervantes Prize in 1987.

The Story: A decapitated head narrates the tale of Josué and Jericó, orphans and best friends from youth. The two boys, intellectual equals, discuss Nietzsche and Spinoza during their college years and even share lovers. Yet they part ways as adults when Josué becomes an assistant to Max Monroy, a business magnate, and Jericó ascends in politics under the wings of Valentin Carrera, Mexico's president. What follows is a plunge into the abyss of modern Mexico--corrupt, violent, and chaotic--which ultimately leads to Josué's head washing ashore on the beaches of the Pacific Ocean.
Random House. 432 pages. $27. IISBN: 9781400068807

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Destiny and Desire is a towering work. ... Fuentes has created a work that will hold the reader in its pages, insisting that the reader focus on philosophical issues as basic as right and wrong as well as the intimate lives of the characters." Robin Vidimos

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Fuentes is famously brilliant and overeducated, and he uses Destiny and Desire as a platform from which to showcase both shamelessly. ... Destiny and Desire would likely work as well if edited down by half, but it is indisputably impressive as is." Clif Garboden

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Here, Fuentes attempts nothing less than a critique and dramatization of multilayered Mexican society as it has evolved over the century. ... It's an endeavor that only a writer of Fuentes' formidable literary skills, broad historical knowledge and well-earned self-assurance would be advised even to attempt. And it's one that largely succeeds." Reed Johnson

Miami Herald 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Rich in magical realism--the novel is narrated by a decapitated man--and what 20th century Spaniards called tremendismo, a sort of Grand Guignol too-muchness, Destiny and Desire attempts to mirror the decadent density of the city . ... [I]mpressive but somewhat indigestible." Enrique Fernandez

Wall Street Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"It should be said that Destiny and Desire, for all its appealing richness of theme and character, can be annoyingly difficult to take in. ... Mr. Fuentes has a first-rate, encyclopedic mind, and ultimately the value of Destiny and Desire may rest on the author's own rumination and insight, however variously conveyed in the novel itself." Alexander Theroux

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"The rhetoric seems to be the fat on the meat in this stew, and I wish Señor Fuentes had trimmed it away. With that layer still present, the novel seems merely an interesting story." Alan Cheuse

Critical Summary

Destiny and Desire is a postmodern telling of a classic tale of friendship and betrayal between two men set in modern Mexico City. Critics agreed that Fuentes is impressive in his mastery not only of Mexican politics and history but also in his knowledge of philosophy and literary devices. Josué and Jericó are incarnations of Castor and Pollux, or perhaps Cain and Abel, and the novel discusses everything from St. Augustine to Justin Timberlake. Fuentes' digressions constitute a fine display of his breadth of knowledge and skill, but in their fantastical, symbolic richness, they both add and detract from his work. "A certain coherence is lost in the collision of literary effects," notes the Wall Street Journal. Despite its excesses and length, Destiny and Desire left critics, in the end, quite awed.