The end of the presentation belongs to the audience. The stage receives all kinds of questions: shy, excited, interesting, many well thought out:
The Eagle’s Throne was first published in Spanish in 2002. Its English version, translated by Kristina Cordero and published by Bloomsbury, has just come out in the UK. What does Fuentes generally think about the translations of his work? He comments that they represent unexpected events in the life of a writer, almost comparable to “finding out one has an illegitimate child.” They are, nevertheless, as translations, books in themselves, and each book is born again in its foreign version. Given that writers can only control the translations up to a certain extent, because it is not feasible to speak all the languages on this planet, they are obliged to accept facts as they are. Fuentes shares with us the occasion when he traveled to Russia during the sixties to present the translated version of Artemio Cruz, a novel which in its original version sports 400 pages. Surprisingly, he noticed that the Russian version had only 120. When he enquired after this, they answered him, “We have done you a great favour.” “A great favour?” “Yes, a great favour: we have eliminated all the sex and politics scenes from the book.” And in front of what must have been Fuentes’ astonished look, they added, “We know what the Russian public like, You don’t.”
A novel is defined by its way of utilising time. The writer can employ different methods, from linear, to playing with time, to writing a ‘novel within a novel’ (for example Don Quixote by Cervantes). When Hopkinson asked Fuentes to talk about time in The Eagle’s Throne, he proposes that Latin-American culture departs, traditionally, from the Baroque: philosophy, architecture, music, literature. It is only in the 20th century, with for example Jorge Luis Borges, Alejo Carpentier and the influence of William Faulkner that time is moved to the present tense, that the Maya and Aztec poetries are discovered, that people became conscious of their cultural roots: Latin America is a mestizo continent, with Indian, Black, Mediterranean, Arabic, Jewish roots. Writing deals with the problem of transforming this tradition, the daily grind, the everyday and street language into art. With regards to The Eagle’s Throne, the novel is not doomed to the fatality of Western linear time. He adds that “a novel is an attempt to express that which cannot be expressed in any other way”.
Fuentes’s relationship with Mexico changed through the development of his own books. “I lived outside of Mexico until I was 18 years old,” he explains, “I never had any holidays, because during my vacation period I was sent to Mexico, where I continued going to school. I lived with my grandmothers and grew up with their stories. Grandmothers are a great source of information. During the forties I lived in the US, where they made me feel Mexican. I was a popular boy, but with Lázaro Cárdenas’s change of oil politics I was turned into the enemy almost overnight.” All these factors gave Fuentes undoubtedly his sense of identity with Mexico. “You are aware of the fact that you are part of a great tradition.”
He states that he loves Spanish, he thinks in Spanish, he dreams in Spanish, he counts in Spanish, he swears in Spanish… he makes love in Spanish. He clearly transmits to his audience this wish to know more about the language, or about the literature born out of Spanish. Carlos Fuentes and Tomás Eloy Martínez let us, with their literature, participate in the great tradition of the Spanish language.
We have reached the end of an intense session. At the exit of the auditorium the London audience spots with joy a long queue that waits for Fuentes to sign their personal copy of The Eagle’s Throne, and they do not waste the chance. The writer speaks with each and everyone, he takes the time for us, has his picture taken with whoever asks him, even though his face signals that he is a bit tired. Señor Fuentes smiles professionally. Hours later, whilst he must have already been resting from the day’s tension, we remained awake, thrilled by the letters between his characters competing for the so coveted eagle’s throne.