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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

The Years with Laura Díaz

by
Carlos Fuentes


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Years with Laura Díaz



Title: The Years with Laura Díaz
Author: Carlos Fuentes
Genre: Novel
Written: 1998 (Eng. 2000)
Length: 514 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Years with Laura Díaz - US
Los Años con Laura Díaz - US
The Years with Laura Díaz - UK
The Years with Laura Díaz - Canada
The Years with Laura Díaz - India
Les années avec Laura Díaz - France
Die Jahre mit Laura Diaz - Deutschland
Gli anni con Laura Díaz - Italia
Los Años con Laura Díaz - España
  • Spanish title: Los Años con Laura Díaz
  • Translated by Alfred Mac Adam

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Our Assessment:

B : ambitious novel of Mexico in the 20th century, trying for too much

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph A 14/5/2001 David Robson
The Guardian B- 12/5/2001 Alex Clark
The Independent A- 15/5/2001 Jason Wilson
The LA Times . 24/12/2000 Michael Wood
National Review C 19/2/2001 Stephen Schwartz
The NY Times Book Rev. B 12/11/2000 Richard Eder
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction B Spring/2001 Steve Tomasula
Salon B- 13/11/2000 A.M. Parker
San Francisco Chronicle A 17/12/2000 Brian Bouldrey
Sunday Telegraph A- 27/5/2001 Lucia Graves
The Sunday Times B+ 17/6/2001 Trevor Lewis
The Washington Post A+ 15/10/2000 Rudolfo Anaya


  Review Consensus:

  No consensus.

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) richly three-dimensional book, in which the passions which fire the characters are viewed with just the right amount of detachment. Fuentes blends the personal and the public with an expert hand. His heroine is a woman of flesh and blood, ardent in love, inconsolable in grief. But the wider political background is just as important in the context of the narrative." - David Robson, Daily Telegraph

  • "Here, he tries to show us life as a Mexican mural -- a recurrent motif throughout the novel -- in which different strands, themes and characters can be followed without jeopardising the impact of the whole. It's a good theory, but all too often it results in a literary carelessness, a painful squandering of ideas and people." - Alex Clark, The Guardian

  • "But Fuentes has not only rewritten his splendid Artemio Cruz from a woman's mind, though Cruz himself makes a guest appearance. This is more than a novel about grabbing power and a failed revolution. Fuentes, as he has aged, has brought suffering and truncated lives into his vision." - Jason Wilson, The Independent

  • "Fuentes (...) is saying directly and indirectly that novels are made of new life and old literature and that literature itself is made of loss but not only of loss. Death can kill the future but it can also resurrect the past and, with it, a second future. It is an aspect of Fuentes' courage, as well as his talent, that he clings to this idea." - Michael Wood, The Los Angeles Times

  • "The novel is as short on character development as it is long -- very long -- on ideology. There's tons of kindergarten Marxism here. " - Stephen Schwartz, National Review

  • "The attempt at an epic limps, though. It is fictionally impaired. Instead of characters configuring ideas, it is the ideas that configure the characters. With a few exceptions, the people in Laura Díaz are generics assigned to run history's errands or represent social or cultural archetypes. (...) Fuentes writes well of places, ideas, confrontations. It is characters that defeat him." - Richard Eder, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The Years with Laura Diaz is the sociology of the familiar, both in theme and aesthetics." - Steve Tomasula, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "(A) sweeping historical saga that falls prey to its ambitions. (...) After a while The Years with Laura Díaz reads not only as contrived but also as predetermined, and as more than Fuentes' material can support. Less might have sufficed." - Alan Michael Parker, Salon

  • "Fuentes' female focal point is not so much a triumph of ventriloquism or androgyny as a respect for the differences of others. (...) Fuentes doesn't really pretend to know what it's like to be a woman. But he respects the mystery of their interior lives. What Fuentes really masters is his book's enormous scope. The structure pulls the novel along in what might be, in lesser hands, a baggy wallow of a book." - Brian Bouldrey, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "(T)here is sometimes the feeling that Fuentes's documentary aim overrides the need for creative fiction. And yet (...) the book is an engrossing account of "The Years" (from the 1860s to 1972), and provides, through Laura's experiences, an unusual perspective on the history of the last century." - Lucia Graves, Sunday Telegraph

  • "At just over 500 pages, Fuentes's novel overestimates the powers of its heroine to hold the reader. Initially, Laura's nature is so mercurial as to be almost unknowable. Later, when the intimate is swallowed by the epic, she becomes too weighty an authorial instrument to move us." - Trevor Lewis, The Sunday Times

  • "Laura Díaz is destined to become as memorable as Madame Bovary or -- a character she meets in the novel -- Frida Kahlo. (...) This connection between history and memory is what makes The Years with Laura Díaz such an important literary accomplishment." - Rudolfo Anaya, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Years with Laura Díaz begins and ends in the United States, at the turn of the millennium. In the introductory chapter, set in 1999, Laura Díaz's great-grandson Santiago ventures to Detroit, to gather material for a television documentary on the Mexican muralists in the United States. He makes his way through the shattered city, "photographing the future of our Latin American cities in the present of the most industrial city of all", and ultimately suffers more than he might have anticipated for his reckless curiosity. The book closes in 2000, in Los Angeles, with Santiago having reclaimed life and health -- in no small part through reliving and recreating the episodes that make up the bulk of the book: the years with Laura Díaz.
       Twenty-four chapters chronicle the life of Laura Díaz, skipping from year to year from 1905 to 1972. It is, of course, more than the story of one woman or one family: it is a chronicle of Mexico in the 20th century -- at least up to 1972. Fuentes' panoramic sweep ranges far and wide, recounting the immigrant background of Laura's family, their successes and failures in establishing themselves in Mexico, their personal tragedies. The family is interesting enough, their stories among the most vibrant in the book.
       With each chapter heading specifying a place and a year -- San Cayetano: 1915, for example -- Fuentes emphasizes the there and then, and it is often hard for him to sustain the continuity of the narrative. It is an episodic epic, and many of the most significant incidents come too suddenly and then are dealt with too summarily. Instead of the rich, deep flow of history too many incidents are isolated. Similarly, the political circumstances and the rising and falling Mexican governments are a constant presence, but often Fuentes presents little more than a bored litany of succession. Perhaps Mexican readers' familiarity with their political history makes such a presentation adequate for such an audience, but foreign readers are likely to miss the backdrop against which much of the novel is meant to be seen.
       Laura Díaz does not figure centrally in most of Mexican history, but she is a sort of everywoman, and Fuentes effectively uses the character to show how lives were touched by myriad influences over the course of the century. From the tragic fate of her brother, Santiago (a name that is then passed on for generation after generation), to that of her grandson Santiago at Tlateloco in 1968 arbitrary and brutal violence intrudes in her life. Politics are inescapable, and politics are always changing. Laura's life is generally fairly comfortable, but betrayals and the dark shadow of politics weigh on her as they weighed on all of Mexico.
       Fuentes summons up a large cast of characters, with varying success. Laura's story crosses paths with many of the illustrious and notorious men of Mexico's century, including Fuentes' own Artemio Cruz. The family Laura is born into consists, on the whole, of an interesting set of characters. Her loves, too, are interesting -- though Fuentes does not always seem clear what he wants to do with them. Others, like the conflicted priest, seem too pat. Laura's sons -- burdened with the names Santiago and Danton -- are also odd, exaggerated characters. Santiago, the doomed artist, and Danton, the ruthless self-aggrandizer, are extreme symbols of what the Mexican condition could lead to.
       Laura does have some wilder adventures and meets (and beds) a number of luminaries. She hooks up with Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and travels to America with them. She associates with other intellectuals as well. Ultimately she also succumbs to the artistic impulse and turns to photography, finding success and fulfillment as an artist.
       Fuentes captures some of the historical moments very well. Particularly good are the sections dealing with the Spanish Civil War, the McCarthy hearings (and, generally, anti-communism) in the United States, and the student uprisings in 1968. The Mexican muralists, the role of religion (in a country where even the atheists are Catholic), and much of the ebb and flow of Mexican history is fairly effectively done. But Fuentes bites off more than he can chew.
       Ultimately, The Years with Laura Díaz is not satisfactory because it is neither that sweeping epic of Mexican history 1905-1972 that it seems to aspire to, nor the story of a fascinating character. There is either too much of Laura Díaz, or not enough of her. She seems more a character of convenience than a fully realized one, and as Fuentes moves off on various (often good) tangents it is sometimes disappointing to return to her.
       Fuentes writes well (though there is some excessive rhapsodizing in this volume), and there are loads of worthwhile stories, anecdotes, and asides here. It is an ambitious effort that just does not work ideally in the form it is presented. It gives a good picture of Mexico in the 20th century, but too many pieces are missing -- and Laura Díaz is not strong enough a character to sustain the novel by herself.

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Links:

The Years with Laura Díaz: Reviews: Carlos Fuentes: Other books by Carlos Fuentes under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Mexican author Carlos Fuentes lived 1928 to 2012. Winner of the Venezuelan Romulo Gallegos Prize (for Terra Nostra) and the Cervantes Prize (1997). He taught at Harvard, Princeton, Brown, and Columbia, among other universities.

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© 2000-2012 the complete review

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