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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction

     

This I Believe

by
Carlos Fuentes


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

To purchase This I Believe



Title: This I Believe
Author: Carlos Fuentes
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2002 (Eng. 2005)
Length: 331 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: This I Believe - US
En esto creo - US
This I Believe - UK
This I Believe - Canada
This I Believe - India
Ce que je crois - France
Alphabet meines Lebens - Deutschland
In questo io credo - Italia
En esto creo - España
  • An A to Z of a Life
  • Spanish title: En esto creo
  • Translated by Kristina Cordero

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Our Assessment:

B : quite good pieces, forced arrangement

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 26/11/2005 Aimee Shalan
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 20/4/2004 Kersten Knipp
The NY Times Book Rev. . 12/6/2005 Ian Jack
The Observer . 26/9/2004 Adam Mars-Jones
Sunday Telegraph B 5/9/2004 Nicholas Shakespeare
TLS D 19/11/2004 Stephen Henighan
The Washington Post A 30/1/2005 Michael Dirda
Die Zeit . 19/5/2004 Karl-Markus Gauss


  Review Consensus:

  No consensus

  From the Reviews:
  • "Skilfully translated by Kristina Cordera, this collection of essays has a rare warmth and immediacy. Weaving together a wealth of ideas, influences and experiences, it gives a wonderful glimpse into the personal and intellectual life of Mexico's leading novelist." - Aimee Shalan, The Guardian

  • "Tony Blair can be excused such bromides, possibly, but no gifted novelist should write this way. Sadly, this political-pulpit style tarnishes too much of This I Believe" - Ian Jack, The New York Times Book Review

  • "He quotes his own novels more frequently (on every subject) than any other literary source and pays far more respect to their continuity than he does when it comes to poor Shakespeare. He defers to his own authority. The implication is that these utterances are definitive, clinching what passes here for argument. (...) Some of the trouble must be due to Kristina Cordero, the translator. It's possible Fuentes writes a hideous Spanish which she faithfully renders into hideous English, but it seems more likely that he's an old smoothie as a stylist, which is how he can get away with so much vacuous preening in the original. As a translator, she is some way short of competence. (...) It's eccentric for Fuentes to quote Wittgenstein twice on one page -- the same sentence -- but zany for her to translate it two different ways." - Adam Mars-Jones, The Observer

  • "Fuentes's solutions to the threat posed by authoritarian capitalism tend to be clunky statements of the obvious, sounding like Martin Luther King without the blaze. Vastly more stimulating are Fuentes's insights into art and literature. We read him because he is a marvellous novelist and not because of the uniqueness of his political thought." - Nicholas Shakespeare, Sunday Telegraph

  • "Most English-speaking writers would hesitate to address such broad topics in a few pages each. This perhaps explains why the book does not read well in translation. The voice of the older Latin American intellectual, whose vocation was to construct and embody a national culture, has few equivalents in English. There is an aphoristic quickness to Carlos Fuentes's essay style, but Kristina Cordero's translation makes heavy weather of it. (...) Even in a better translation, this book would have been frustrating." - Stephen Henighan, Times Literary Supplement

  • "This I Believe is just the sort of book that mature readers like best -- personal, idiosyncratic, packed with fresh anecdotes and illustrative quotations, digressive, lyrical, sexy, at once surprising and wise. (...) If Fuentes's book has a small fault, it lies in a stylistic proclivity common to the romance languages: a natural bent for grandiloquence, a taste for the slightly abstract rhetorical flight." - Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

  • "Am besten ist Fuentes, wenn er über ihm nahe Menschen schreibt (.....) Obwohl Fuentes als scharfsinniger politischer Geist gilt, geraten ihm just die politischen Passagen am langweiligsten." - Karl-Markus Gauss, Die Zeit

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:

       This I Believe is a collection of essays that are apparenly meant to serve as a summa of what Carlos Fuentes believes. It is also an An A to Z of a Life, because the essays are presented in alphabetical order, according to the subject discussed (or believed in ...) , with some letters getting more than one, i.e.: 'Amor', 'Balzac', 'Beauty', 'Buñuel', 'Children', etc. (Obviously there were some translation issues with some of these, but for the most part it works out -- and he does get in all 26 letters of the alphabet.)
       The format is, unfortunately, also almost a stranglehold, and makes some of the book read very forced. For a book proudly proclaiming: This I believe some of this is also pretty half-hearted. (Some chapters begin by re-emphasising the title -- but only a few: "I believe in Balzac", "I believe in Wittgenstein", etc. The approach doesn't help his cause.) It's too bad, because the pieces are almost all interesting and well-presented, and assembled differently and with a few changes the book as a whole would likely have packed much more of a punch.
       Most of the pieces fit into three categories: personal, literature, and politics, with a few other odds and ends tossed in.
       Fuentes is a creative writer, but he's also very much in the Latin American and European tradition of the engaged writer-intellectual. The son of a diplomat -- and himself a onetime ambassador -- he acknowledges that for him: "politics was a second amniotic fluid". There's a good deal on the state of the world here and though general enough (for the most part) not to yet be dated, it's a bit of a shame that it's not entirely up-to-date in terms of what has happened since he finished the collection. (The attacks on the US in September 2001 as well as the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq are only lightly touched on.)
       Globalization is a major issue of interest to Fuentes. He accepts that one has to play along in the global economy now, and believes the focus should be on how best to deal with that on the local level (especially in Latin America). The big subject doesn't always fit well in the limited space he gives himself to cover it, and leads to him not providing supporting evidence where it would be desperately needed, as, for example, when he states:

     In a globalized world, local government plays a critical role in maintaining the social equilibrium within each nation, and this cannot be achieved unless public spending is kept at a level of at least 30 percent of gross domestic product.
       Where does he come up with the 30 percent target ? And surely it's more complicated than that: some (arguably, in many nations, most) public spending does little or nothing towards maintaining social equilibrium. (This may also be a translation issue -- he may mean specifically 'social' spending -- though even there it's not clear that governments are able to target it well to maintain social equilibrium.) Yes, he has some good points, but the rushed presentation leaves huge gaps.
       Even when he does refer to other sources, the information doesn't always add up. He spouts a few education-numbers, including the fact that 130 million children worldwide do not attend school, then claims that it would cost a mere "6 billion dollars annually [...] to place all the children of the world in school by the year 2010" (apparently relying on UNESCO and World Bank number). Even if all that money is allocated solely to the 130 million children not getting schooling, that only works out to 45 dollars a child a year -- and we find it impossible to believe that there is anywhere in the world where kids get educated for less than four dollars a month.
       Fortunately, Fuentes largely avoids specifics of this sort, and his more general look at international issues are fairly well expressed and of some interest. One fixation which is still surprisingly old-fashioned, however, is that on the nation-concept (nonsense such as: "We know what it is to be Mexican, we know how it unites us and how it divides us", etc. etc.): what works in fiction (where the concept of national identity can still be usefully played with) generally sounds either silly or dangerous in non-fiction. (Or at least it should, though admittedly it's a notion that continues to be obscenely popular -- tellingly fostered by politicans who know it's the perfect way to get to the masses (becaue it's an appeal to their irrational hearts rather than their sensible minds (which is the only way to get them to go along with the nonsense the politicans then do in the name of the nation ...)).)
       The personal and family details are nicely related, though since it's not quite an autobiography it also feels a bit inadequate in this regard -- tantalizing glimpses, but not a whole life. Compartmentalized in the short alphabetical chapters, it also makes for some odd chunks of his life (so, for example, the chapter on 'Sex'). Fuentes' interesting life surely warrants a stand-alone memoir, though there are already many revealing personal bits here.
       A variety of arts-influences are touched upon -- Buñuel, Velázquez -- but not surprisingly, it's the literary that dominate, and Fuentes is very good on the authors he writes about. Here the way the book is organised isn't as distracting, the short chapters on the various authors fitting better to the form.
       This I Believe is a solid collection, with a wealth of appealing material. It's the mishmash presentation that most undermines it -- the pieces here adding up to considerably more than the rickety whole.

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Links:

This I Believe: 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 has taught at Harvard, Princeton, Brown, and Columbia, among other universities.

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