Carlos Fuentes—Author of The Doll Queen is dead at 83

Classical Doll by Emile-Louis Jumeau, National Museum of Romanticism, Madrid

The major newspapers yesterday (15 May, 2012) marked of the death of distinguished Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes. The tributes to the sometimes polemical author and his accomplishments are glowing: all is forgiven in death. One of the simplest and most appropriate tributes came to me from the web site of Cuban author/teacher Luis López Nieves, founder of Biblioteca Digital Ciudad Seva (CiudadSeva.com).

Nieves emailed the full text Carlos Fuentes’ short story The Doll Queen (La muñeca reina) as a remembrance of the author.

As The Doll Queen opens, Carlos the narrator is re-organizing his library. He picks up a book from his childhood and finds a card inside. The writing on the card is in childish script written by a 7-year old playmate many years ago:

“ . . . from the stained pages of the book fell, fluttering, a white card scribbled with atrocious spelling: Amilamia does not forget her friend and I are looking for you here.”
—Translation by Carto.

The narrator remembers his friend Amilamia and begins a search for her whereabouts. He discovers the address of her parents and goes there, but he finds them reclusive and unwilling to talk to him. They will say nothing of Amilamia, but he persists and finally Amilamia’s parents open up to him, asking him:

“What was she like, señor? Tell us what she was like, please.”
I close my eyes. “Amilamia is a memory for me, too. I can only picture her through the things she touched, the things she brought, what she discovered in the park. Yes. Now I see her, coming down the hill. No. It isn’t true that it was a scarcely elevated patch of stubble. It was a hill, with grass, and Amilamia’s comings and goings had traced a path, and she waved to me from the top before she started down, accompanied by the music, yes, the music I saw, the painting I smelled, the tastes I heard, the odors I touched . . . my hallucination . . .” Do they hear me? “She came waving, dressed in white, in a blue-checked apron . . . the one you have hanging on the roof terrace . . .”
— The Doll Queen, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden

The parents will not discuss Amilamia (it is as if she is dead), they always ask questions. but, on a later visit I am surprised when Amilamia opens the door:

“The misshapen girl sitting in the wheelchair places one hand on the doorknob and smiles at me with an indecipherable, wry grin. The hump on her chest makes the dress into a curtain over her body, a piece of white cloth that nonetheless lends an air of coquetry to the blue-checked apron. The little woman extracts a pack of cigarettes from her apron pocket and quickly lights a cigarette, staining the end with orange-painted lips. The smoke causes the beautiful gray eyes to squint. She fixes her coppery wheat-colored, permanent-waved hair, all the time staring at me with a desolate, inquisitive, hopeful—but at the same time fearful—expression.

“No, Carlos. Go Away. Don’t come back.”

And from the house, at the same moment, I hear the high labored breathing of the old man, coming closer.

“Where are you? Don’t you know you’re not supposed to answer the door? Get back! Devil’s spawn! Do I have to beat you again?”

And the rain trickles down my forehead, over my cheeks, and into my mouth, and the little frightened hands drop the comic book onto the wet paving stones.
— The Doll Queen, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden

This story was published in Cantar de ciegos (Songs of the Blind), Mexico, 1964. In those years it was not unusual to sequester the handicapped and to keep them from public view. The book is the second book of short stories published by Fuentes and represents a shift away from historical characters to characters drawn from daily life.

Ciudad Selva is a Cuban literary website that is dedicated to promoting authors who write in Spanish. The site publishes short stories by Spanish speaking authors.

My own favorite story (actually a novella) by Fuentes is Las Buenas Conciencias (Translated as The Good Conscience). Fondo de Cultura Económica published the novella in 1959. It is an early work and is often omitted from Fuentes’ bibliography. The protagonist Jaime Ceballos is a young man from a “good family” in Guanajuato (a conservative town proud of its heritage). As the book ends, a discouraged Jaime returns home:

He walked back to the home of his ancestors. The moon had come out, and Guanajuato’s domes and walls and paving stones reflected it not serenely but violently. The great green portal of the Celallos mansion opened, and Jaime entered.
—Translation by Sam Heilman, The Good Conscience, 1961

Carlos Fuentes died in Mexico City on May 15, 2012. He was 83. He published an essay on the change of power in France, where Socialists won the election, in the newspaper Reforma on Tuesday, the same day he died.

Carto
Week 18-2012: The Doll Queen, Carlos Fuentes in The Oxford Book of Latin American Short Stories, Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria, Editor (1997).
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About carto

Retired software engineer who grew up in Montana, went to Montana State College in Bozeman, and moved to California to work at Stanford Research Institute (SRI). Carto's Library is about books I've read and liked; Carto's Logbook is about photography, travel and adventure. Mt. Maurice Times is tall tales mostly biographical.
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