I read about Fuentes in a New Yorker article (here’s the beginning — http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/10/21/131021fa_fact_anderson) — and have long been fascinated by Cuba, so I decided to give one of his books a try. I was not thrilled that the only one I could find featured Hemingway as a character. I like to keep my biography separate from my fiction. But Fuentes, clearly and perhaps increasingly reluctantly a Hemingway fan, makes this work. The story intertwines, blurs and overlaps the present and the past when an uprooted tree reveals a body on the estate where Hemingway used to live (now a museum). Fuentes’ protagonist, a cop turned book collector / wannabe writer / private investigator, becomes involved in the case. Along the way, he struggles with his love for Hemingway’s work and his disappointment in (disgust with?) Hemingway, the man. And I followed this journey. At some points, I resolved to read more Hemingway and his biographers; at other times, I never wanted to consider his life and work again.
In the end, biography, in my opinion, is relevant but not a tipping point. In other words, what would happen if I only read the work of great citizens?
As for Fuentes, I’m not sure. The story seemed thin, the dialogue wooden, at times. This might need to be put at the feet of John King, the translator. (Is there something inherently difficult about translating dialogue? I have this problem with Murakami’s translators as well.)
There are moments of eloquence as well. Fuentes says of his main character that, “he felt like a bad metaphor for a strange reality.” And, in the end, Fuentes all but declares that “there are some things that shouldn’t be lost. And if they do get lost, then we really are in a fucking mess.”