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ANDERSON . COMPANY COFFEE TEA SPICES TWO JEFFERSON SQUARE AUSTIN, TEXAS 78731 512-453-15:33 /60-0\(72Z-7e-tte ,ff-e to the meticulous JULIA AUSTIN GRAPHIC DESIGN Or perhaps it’s that the events seem like extensions of the discussions, fables that advance the narrative but do not carry much emotional or visceral weight. Shortly after attending the party where Cruz makes his appearance, Laura accompanies Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo on a trip to Detroit, where Rivera is to paint a mural at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Watching Rivera paint, Laura reflects on his ability to shut out the rest of the world, even as he mounts a depiction of it on the wall, “so that inside the cage of art its forms, colors, memories, homages could live freely, so that no matter how social or political the art might become, it was above all part of the history of art, not of politics, and it either added reality to a tradition or took it away.” It doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to imagine that Fuentes is making an announcement about his own work here. In one sense it’s a banal assertion: His novels will always be shelved with the literature and not the political books; they are part of the history of art. But novels tend to start to strain under the weight of too much politics, and this book is no exception. At times characters speak or think in little essays. As Laura Diaz tends to her dying son, for instance, she analyzes: Touching Santiago’s fevered forehead, Laura wondered, nevertheless, if this young artist, her son, hadn’t brought together beginning and ending too quickly. The tortured and erotic figures in his paintings weren’t a promise but a conclusion. They weren’t a beginning but, irremediably, an ending…. Understanding that anguished her, because Laura Diaz wanted to see in her son the complete realization of a personality whose felicity depended on his creativity. Surely this is not the way any mother would actually think when her son was about to die. For affecting family drama, though, there’s always the Oprah book club. The epic scope of Fuentes’ novel, its plot and range and learning, more than compensate for its somewhat cold render ing of individuals. It’s a mural, not a miniature. And those little essays are wonderful at times, as when Jorge Maura tosses off thumbnail characterizations of half a dozen nations: “He said that Spain for the Spaniards is like Mexico for Mexicans, a painful obsession. Not a hymn of optimism, as their country is for Americans, not a phlegmatic joke as it is for the English, not sive command, as Germans see theirs, but a conflict of halves, of opposed parts, of tugs at the soul….” It sometimes seems as if the nations and ideologies and movements are the true characters in The Years With Laura Diaz, or at least the ones the author cares for the mostnot Laura Diaz or her family or her lovers, but the idea of Mexico. In an essay called “How I Started To Write,” Fuentes, who as the son of a diplomat spent much of his boyhood in Washington, D.C., wrote that during the years his family lived in the United States, “my father made me read Mexican history, study Mexican geography, and understand the names, the dreams and defeats of Mexico: a nonexistent country, I then thought, invented by my father to nourish my infant imagination with yet another marvelous fiction….” That Mexico is as much the inspiration for his work as the actual one. Throughout his career, Fuentes has followed in his father’s footsteps, inventing a dreamy, defeated country that does not PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS. Join the Texas Civil Rights Project $25 a year. Volunteers needed. 2212 E. MLK, Austin, TX 78702. for more information. JANUARY 19, 2001 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19