Adam In Eden

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

The late Carlos Fuentes (1928-2012) was Mexico's most celebrated writer but that didn't stop him from painting a savage portrait of his country in his last book, ADAM IN EDEN. Published by Dalkey Archive Press in a translation by E. Shaskan Bumas and Alejandro Branger, the novel looks at contemporary Mexican life through the dyspeptic eyes of Adam Gorozpe, a lawyer and businessman who has climbed to the top of the social ladder by marrying Priscila Holguin, the beautiful but ditzy daughter of a bakery mogul.

Gorozpe despises his wife and father-in-law but carefully hides his feelings behind a mask of respectability and dutifulness. Money and status--he has built his own business empire--have given him power and respect, but happiness only comes when he's with his
mistress, L. "She redeems me," Gorozpe confesses. "She returns me to myself, to that part of my person that would otherwise remain hidden, latent, and perhaps lost forever."

Gorozpe's mock Garden of Eden existence is threatened when another Adam enters the story, Adam Gongora, a dwarfish thug who has taken over the office of national security. The epitome of the criminal class that now runs Mexico--drug-dealers, murderers, crooked politicians--Gongora is a threat to the old ruling class, the landowners and industrialists who formerly dictated policy.

Gorozpe learns this the hard way when, at a dinner party, he discovers his namesake playing footsie with his wife. "Does it surprise you that I love an ugly man?" Priscila asks him later. "I've had it up to here with your cleanliness. Everything about you
is clean and washed," she sneers.

The slobby guy is more handsome than you, she tells him.

"He's more powerful. And he loves me."

Her taunts--and Gongora's ruthless campaign to bring him down--spur Gorozpe into taking action. He goes to war with Gongora; it's a secret war, though, fought with the help of a bunch of ex-Stasi agents he has imported from East Germany. "In them dwelled a ferocity that was greater for being contained. Like eagles in the zoo impatient for their cage doors to open so that they might fly and prey, the troops waited until they could once again rape and kill."

And rape and kill they do, in brutal fashion. The criminal Gongora is out-criminalized by the other Adam, a man "caught between truth and lies, comedy and drama." Like Mexico itself, he realizes, he must struggle with all his might to "reconcile order and movement, institutions and ascent."

The war between the two Adams is a bloody and surrealistic one, involving various other bizarre characters, such as an 11-year-old schoolboy angel (with paper wings) who preaches on Insurgentes Boulevard, a Dumbo statue, and the Moral Alliance of Mexico, which is comprised of families with gay children who hang signs over their doorways reading A PERVERT LIVES HERE. And so goes Fuentes' tale for two hundred blackly comic
and cynical pages, painting a Hieronymous Bosch-like portrait of a country writhing around in mental and moral torment, struggling to find its long-lost innocence.

(Hdbnd, 220 pages, $20--, visit