Distant Relations

Book Review by Willard Manus

Dalkey Archive Press has reissued Carlos Fuentes' 1982 novel DISTANT RELATIONS in a paperback edition. Fuentes, Mexico's best-known novelist, recently published a new work, The Eagle's Throne, a wicked satire on his country's politics.

DISTANT RELATIONS delighted but also puzzled a lot of readers when it was first issued. The English translation, by Margaret Sayers Peden, didn't help. (One critic called her a "translator with a heavy hand and a tin ear whose difficulties with English grammar are cruelly highlighted by every long sentence.")

Fuentes, normally a graceful and fluid writer, didn't help himself either. In telling his story about a Mexican archaeologist and his son on the European trail of a family bearing their own family name, he relies on a strangely stilted prose style, though his exploration of Old and New World history, and his switching back and forth in time, are profound and compelling. Fuentes goes deep when he contemplates the mystery of life, but he so confuses things that the book becomes difficult to read.