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Destiny and Desire

Destiny and Desire

3.5 6
by Carlos Fuentes, Edith Grossman (Translator)

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Winner of the Cervantes Prize
Carlos Fuentes, one of the world’s most acclaimed authors, is at the height of his powers in this stunning new novel—a magnificent epic of passion, magic, and desire in modern Mexico, a rich and remarkable tapestry set in a world where free will fights with the wishes of the gods.

Josué Nadal has


Winner of the Cervantes Prize
Carlos Fuentes, one of the world’s most acclaimed authors, is at the height of his powers in this stunning new novel—a magnificent epic of passion, magic, and desire in modern Mexico, a rich and remarkable tapestry set in a world where free will fights with the wishes of the gods.

Josué Nadal has lost more than his innocence: He has been robbed of his life—and his posthumous narration sets the tone for a brilliantly written novel that blends mysticism and realism. Josué tells of his fateful meeting as a skinny, awkward teen with Jericó, the vigorous boy who will become his twin, his best friend, and his shadow. Both orphans, the two young men intend to spend their lives in intellectual pursuit—until they enter an adult landscape of sex, crime, and ambition that will test their pledge and alter their lives forever.

Idealistic Josué goes to work for a high-tech visionary whose stunning assistant will introduce him to a life of desire; cynical Jericó is enlisted by the Mexican president in a scheme to sell happiness to the impoverished masses. On his journey into a web of illegality in which he will be estranged from Jericó, Josué is aided and impeded by a cast of unforgettable characters: a mad, imprisoned murderer with a warning of revenge, an elegant aviatrix and addict seeking to be saved, a prostitute shared by both men who may have murdered her way into a brilliant marriage, and the prophet Ezekiel himself.

Mixing ancient mythologies with the sensuousness and avarice and need of the twenty-first century, Destiny and Desire is a monumental achievement from one of the masters of contemporary literature.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The decapitated head of Josué Nadal, washed up on the shore of the Mexican Pacific, narrates this "manuscript of salt and foam," the cacophonous latest from Fuentes (The Old Gringo). As Josué's brain oozes onto the sand, he considers the political history of his country and the ill-fated relationships that led to his death. He recalls a lamentable childhood salvaged by Jericó, an enigmatic fellow student whose circumstances seem uncannily similar to his own and who rescues him from the bullies at school. Their friendship is powerful and lifelong, eventually split by the pursuit of power and ambition: Jericó's increasingly sinister designs are disguised by his work for the Mexican president while Josué studies law under Antonio Sanginés, who has a secret interest in the young men's entangled fates. When presidential and business interests collide, Jericó and Josué face each other from opposite sides of the conflict. Fuentes offers up a positively unruly contemplation of Mexico's history and future, frequently interrupted by digressions that are often philosophical, political, slapstick, or raunchy, but always provocative. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
"A compelling novel by one of the masters of contemporary fiction."
--Kirkus (starred review)

"The great Fuentes’ latest novel…not only reasserts the continued livelihood of magic realism long after its advent in Latin American fiction in the 1970s but also reaffirms the sheer livelihood of that wondrous characteristic when handled as provocatively as it is here….A startling rendition of Mexican life in all its passion and sadness."

"Often philosophical, political, slapstick, or raunchy, but always provocative….A positively unruly contemplation of Mexico’s history and future."
--Publishers Weekly

"This bold probe of the Mexican situation by a literary master should be enjoyed by everyone interested in the conflicts and contradictions of our global culture."
--Library Journal

Library Journal
At school, narrator Josué, an orphan, is befriended by the tough Jericó, who has no last name. A Colombian priest ignites their philosophical curiosity, and the friends exult in the free will they think they enjoy. They opt to live together, and their discourse sparkles with observations, e.g., Mexicans, despite being the "Italians of the Americas," because they value form so highly, sit around in cantinas waiting for the future, while Americans, who are essentially no happier, work themselves to death. Josué goes to work for magnate Max Monroy, whose mantra is to mulct the impoverished populace, while Jericó joins the staff of the sanctimonious new president of Mexico. As the friends are sucked into the vortex of corruption, they learn astonishing news and come to understand they are pawns in a vast chess game that leads inevitably to a final solution. VERDICT This bold probe of the Mexican situation by a literary master should be enjoyed by everyone interested in the conflicts and contradictions of our global culture.—Jack Shreve, Allegany Coll. of Maryland, Cumberland
Kirkus Reviews

Anovel of substance about friendship, philosophy and politics set in the "thousand-headed hydra of Mexico City" from the prolific pen of distinguished man of letters Fuentes (The Death of Artemio Cruz, 2009, etc.).

The author immediately elevates the status of his characters—in fact almost to mythic proportions—in the sheer act of naming them. Narrator Josué Nadal recounts his close, almost inseparable, relationship with Jericó (part of whose mystery involves having no surname) but starts with an unexpected twist—Josué has been executed, his head severed from his body, so he begins his narration as literally a disembodied voice. As adolescents their lives become entangled with that of Errol Esparza, whose arrogant, distant and brutal father gives Errol something concrete to rebel against. Josué recounts the major events of his life, including his seduction by a beautiful nurse and his tutelage in philosophical inquiry, but most importantly his extraordinarily intense friendship with Jericó. They share an interest in profound philosophical questions and are particularly enamored by Nietzsche and Spinoza, and they also share sexual experiences with an infamous prostitute with a bee tattoo on her buttock. As they grow older, they drift apart—Josué becomes involved in law studies, and Jericó cryptically disappears for a while, presumably traveling abroad. In the meantime Josué becomes romantically involved with several women, the drug-addled Lucha Zapata and the stern but gorgeous Asunta Jordán, aide to Max Monroy, a mysterious and enormously rich businessman who is powerful, self-confident and presumptuous enough to treat with contempt Valentín Pedro Carrera, the president of Mexico. Josué's erstwhile friend becomes an enemy of the state, so much so that Josué refers to him as "Jericó Iscariot," and their friendship/brotherhood symbolically shifts from Castor and Pollux to Cain and Abel. Throughout the complex narration, Fuentes moves his characters from whorehouse to prison house to boardroom with ease and assuredness.

A compelling novel by one of the masters of contemporary fiction.

Michael Wood
Destiny and Desire is a novel that sprawls and circles, not exactly a parody of War and Peace, but certainly a spectral, playful revision of the idea of a novel that competes with history. It offers lavish quantities of comedy, satire, allegory, fantasy and brilliant political commentary…there is plenty of violence and, as always in Fuentes's work, marvelous, dynamic portraits of Mexico City, its habits, its language and its unfailing, complicated energy…
—The New York Times
Anis Shivani

In contemporary Mexico City, two "orphans," Josué Nadal and Jericó -- brothers, it turns out, though they don't know it early on -- are best friends, both surviving on the largesse of an unknown benefactor. Without family to watch over them, they lose innocence prematurely -- Jericó, for instance, has sex with the seductive nurse who replaces his tyrannical housekeeper María Egipciaca. When they come of age, the attorney Sanginés -- omnipresent in this heady new novel from Carlos Fuentes -- directs them to opposed destinies: Josué works for Max Monroy, the founder of Mexico's leading telecommunications company, whose aim is to put a communications device in the hands of every Mexican, while Jericó works for President Valentín Pedro Carrera, charged with distracting the masses with entertainment. Josué lusts for Monroy's heir-apparent and part-time lover, Asunta Jordán, while Jericó foments an ill-fated, old-fashioned coup d'état -- both ventures ending in predictable tragedy.

In this overly schematic plot, Fuentes seems more interested in commenting on his own earlier novels than providing a seductive narrative flow. What exactly is he up to?

Fuentes has always had his feet in two worlds, the literary and the practical; as a diplomat from the 1950s to the 1970s, he had firsthand acquaintance with the realities of international politics, as Mexico struggled to realize the earlier promise of the Revolution, and of the New Deal-style Cardenas regime. Since his first novel, Where the Air is Clear (1958), Fuentes has addressed questions of power not through Balzacian realism but through Cervantean fantasy. As the founder of groundbreaking literary journals in the postwar years, Fuentes fashioned a Latin American identity centered around a class politics suited for the continent. But the new element in the mix is the postmodern information economy, which makes traditional class politics, indeed nationalism itself, passé. Destiny and Desire grapples with this dilemma head-on.

In Josué and Jericó, Fuentes gives us two characters who contradict not only the nineteenth-century Bildungsroman's principles of individual growth, but also the notions of heroism that appear in the author's own earlier novels. Great Expectations provides the most apt contrast: there's an invisible benefactor, Monroy, who turns out to be the boys' father. But the freedom allowed the boys is only illusory. Mexico is a "country of betrayal," says Josué, narrating the novel after he has been decapitated -- and the greatest of betrayals is not being able to keep one's rendezvous with destiny.

As Josué and Jericó grow in adolescent confidence, we detect backhanded compliments to Latin American novelists' depictions of secular, humanist consciousness contesting authoritarian Catholic schooling. Mario Vargas Llosa's irreverent spirit hovers futilely over Josué and Jericó's relationship with their early guide Father Filopáter, and with assorted prostitutes and mother figures. However, this is not a novel of consciousness. This is a novel of grotesque mismatches, where intellectual rebellion proves meaningless.

All information seems to pass through Licenciado Sanginés, who advises both Carrera and Monroy. Fuentes is contrasting Sanginés's authority, rooted in secrecy, with technology's dream of democratic utopia. As Monroy lectures Carrera: "I believe in information and try to communicate that to the majority. You [politicians] believe in conspiracy reserved for a minority." Although these two forces fight for ascendancy, the struggle between Carrera's old-style politics of patronage and corruption and Monroy's techno-utopian consumerism never ascends to all-out war. Our expectation of a climactic showdown between Josué and Jericó, let alone Monroy and Carrera, is never satisfied.

The novel also returns to Fuentes's longstanding obsession with the idea of Mexico City. But there is not much purchase for any character's story in such a relentlessly baroque milieu:

Sacrificed after all, we die on the cement perimeter that reflects and celebrates a new city that has shed its old skin, its lacustrian sensuality, its igneous sacredness, displaced first by another beauty, baroque, name of the pearl beyond price, the misshapen jewel of the unborn oyster that Mexico City ostentatiously displays in its second foundation of volcanic rock, marble, smiling angels and demons even more jovial as if to compensate for the tears of blood (this isn't a bolero) of its tortured Christs in adjoining chapels so that the altar will be occupied by the tears that are pearls of his mother the Virgin who floats above the horns of the Iberian bull, our sacred animal.

How can one imagine Josué and Jericó finding their individual destiny in this Cubist urban miasma?

The structure of the novel is analogous to the DNA helix -- revolving around an axis of emptiness. Josué and Jericó can never separate themselves from each other, as is true of Monroy and Carrera, while Sanginés stands aloof to watch the show reach its denouement. Sanginés serves as Fuentes's closest stand-in, observing the programmatic match of wits but not getting excited about it. Fuentes keeps mentioning the Castor and Pollux analogy for the two brothers, but is never willing to push it to its logical conclusion. He tries the Cain and Abel analogy too, but that works even less well. He seems to be bidding farewell to the mythology of his earlier novels. As Jericó puts it, "The times of the hero are over."

Another analogy Fuentes half-heartedly pursues is Josué as Nietzsche and Jericó as St. Augustine: Dionysian democracy versus authoritarian control. But this analogy peters out because in the new information economy ideology of any type is moot. Events are real or unreal -- to what extent is Jericó serious about his coup d'état? -- according to the viewer's perspective; yet the viewer/reader's own position is always indeterminate. As Monroy tells Carrera, in saving him from the coup by turning Jericó in: "Everything's on file. There's no subversive movement that isn't known."

For a novelist like Fuentes, if no subversion can occur in political life, what is there to write about? What happens to full-bodied characters wrestling down their desires to meet a greater destiny? What happens to characters as vehicles for nationalist narration?

A novel cannot function with a vacuum of power, yet Fuentes's great accomplishment in Destiny and Desire is to pull off precisely this feat. He has vacated his own ambitions as a novelist trying to imagine a better future for Mexico. The state used to be the aggregator of the diverse ambitions of people of many classes, and though the transnational corporation may harbor similar ambitions, the novel suggests that this is mostly delusional. The power of the generals -- familiar from Garcia Marquez's The Autumn of the Patriarch (1975) -- has become subsidiary to inchoate post-enlightenment longings. Monroy's potency -- like that of his media counterparts in the U.S. -- is illusory. He, "like God…is everywhere,…[yet] no one can see him." Yet obviously the novelist can see him, and shred his potency even as he describes his alleged invisibility. In Orwell's 1984, power was everywhere manifest and overt; in Destiny and Desire, it is everywhere invisible and covert; that's the distance the modern state has traveled to the postmodern one.

Interestingly, another novel published at the time of Destiny and Desire's 2008 publication in Mexico -- Salman Rushdie's The Enchantress of Florence -- also grapples with Machiavellian notions of power. Fuentes certainly knows that the genie is out of the bottle -- information can never again be controlled tightly, and with that the project of nation-building according to any ruling elite's wishes, whether democratic or dictatorial, is also passé. What fills the void, no one knows yet.

--Anis Shivani

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.52(w) x 9.54(h) x 1.45(d)

Read an Excerpt

Part One

Castor and Pollux

Permit me to introduce myself. Or rather: introduce my body, violently separated (you know this already) from my head. I speak of my body because I’ve lost it and will not have another opportunity to introduce it to all of you, gentle readers, or to myself. In this way I can indicate, once and for all, that the following narration has been dictated by my head and only my head, since my detached body is nothing more than a memory: one that can be transmitted and left in the hands of the forewarned reader.

Forewarned indeed: The body is at least half of what we are. Still, we keep it hidden in a verbal closet. For the sake of modesty, we do not refer to its invaluable and indispensable functions. Forgive me: I will speak in detail about my body. Because if I don’t, very soon my body will be nothing but an unburied corpse, a slaughtered fowl, an anonymous loin. And if you, being very well bred, don’t want to know about my bodily intimacies, skip this chapter and begin your reading with the next one.

I am a twenty-seven-year-old man, one meter seventy-eight centimeters tall. Every morning I look at myself naked in my bathroom mirror and caress my cheeks in anticipation of the daily ceremony: Shave my beard and upper lip, provoke a strong response with Jean-Marie Farina cologne on my face, resign myself to combing black, thick, untamable hair. Close my eyes. Deny to my face and head the central role my death will be certain to give them. Concentrate instead on my body. The trunk that is going to be separated from my head. The body that occupies me from my neck to my extremities, covered in skin the color of pale cinnamon and tipped with nails that will continue to grow for hours and days after death, as if they wanted to scratch at the lid of the coffin and shout I’m here, I’m still alive, you made a mistake when you buried me.

This is a purely metaphysical consideration, as is terror in its passing and permanent forms. I ought to concentrate here and now on my skin: I ought to rescue my physical being in all its completeness before it’s too late. This is the organ of touch that covers my whole body and extends inside it with acts of anal mischief both modest and permissible if I compare them to the female gender’s major jokes, the incessant entering and leaving of foreign bodies (notoriously the male’s penis and sacredly the body of a child, while from my masculine wrappings only semen and urine come out in front and in back, just like chez la femme, shit and in cases of constipation, the deep communion of the suppository). Now I hum: “The bullock shits, so does the bird, and the best-looking babe will drop her turd.” Broad, generous entrances and exits in the woman. Narrow, mean ones in the man: the urethra, the anus, urine, shit. The names are clear and brutal, the nicknames obscure and laughable: Bellini’s duct, Henle’s loop, Bowman’s capsule, Malpighi’s glomerulus. Dangers: anuria and uremia. No urine. Urine in the blood. I avoided them. In the end, everything in life is avoidable except death.

I used to sweat. In life my entire body would sweat except for my eyelids and the edge of my lips. My sweat was clean, salty, with no bad odor, though sweating and urinating were human products distinguishable by the different quality of their smell. I never needed deodorants. I had noble, clean armpits. My urine did smell bad, of abandoned hovels and lightless caves. My shit varied according to circumstances, depending especially on diet. Mexican food brings us dangerously close to diarrhea, North American to stomach cramps, British to constipation. Only Mediterranean cuisine assures us of a healthy balance between what comes in at the mouth and what goes out through the asshole, as if olive oil and vinegar from Modena, the produce of the gardens of Southern Europe, peaches and figs, melons and peppers, knew beforehand that the pleasure of eating should be balanced by the pleasure of shitting, very much in accordance with Quevedo’s lines: “I love you more than a strong desire to take a shit.”

In any case—in my case—shit is almost always firm and brown, sometimes artfully coiled like the clay turds sold in the markets, sometimes diluted and tortured by our hot national spices: O shit of mine. And rarely (above all when I travel) reticent and ugly-?looking.

I know that with these diversions, my dear survivors, I am putting off what is most important. Getting to my head. Telling you what my face was like after making it clear that the buttocks, as everyone knows, are man’s second face. Or are they the first?

I’ve already indicated, when combing my hair, that I have a good Indian thatch of dark hair, more deeply rooted than a maguey. I have to say that my eyes are dark and set deep in the sockets of a bony facial structure that would be almost transparent if not for the dark mask of my skin. (Dark skin hides feelings better than white. That’s why when they are revealed, they are more brutal though less hypocritical.) In short, I have invisible eyebrows, a pleasant, slender mouth, almost always smiling for no reason other than courtesy. Ears neither large nor small, barely adequate to my extremely thin face, skin adhering to bone, the roots of my hair springing up like nocturnal thickets that grow without light.

And I have a nose. It isn’t just any nose but a large proboscis, slender, fortunately, but long and thin, like a periscope of the soul that precedes the eyes to explore the landscape and find out if it’s worth disembarking or if it’s better to remain withdrawn deep in the sea of existence.

The wide Sargasso of anticipated death.

The sea that ascends in small waves, obliging me to swallow it before it reaches the orifices of my large nose, jutting out between the beach and the dawn tide.

I am a body. I will be a soul.

big beak. monster schnoz. Elephant honker. Anteater snout. Pinocchio. Tapir. Dumbo (despite normal ears). The uproar in the schoolyard showed no preference among the epithets hurled at me by the mob of identical snot-noses in their uniforms of white shirt and blue tie, always badly knotted, as if not using the top button at the collar were a universal sign of rebellion controlled in the long run by the double discipline of teacher and religion. Blue sweater, gray trousers. Only at the extremities did this gang of schoolboys display their indolence and brutality. Leather shoes scuffed by the habit of kicking, kicking balls in the schoolyard, kicking desks in the classroom, kicking trees on the street, using kicks to demonstrate that though it might be without words they were protesting, they were born to protest, they were not conformists. Should I have been grateful to be the only thing they attacked with words and not blows?

I don’t know. The jeering ferocity of their faces was such that, in spite of my esthetic intention to single out from the ugliest not the best-looking—there were none of those—but the least “ferocious,” when they attacked I saw a single beast, a single face with bared teeth and eyes with metallic lids, as if they were protecting a strongbox of unspeakable emotions behind prison bars, for I never lost sight of the fact that these same assholes who were assaulting me on account of my big nose would be praying later with heads bowed and singing the national anthem, chins trembling with pride.

At the Jalisco school, so named since revolutionary liberalism prohibited the teaching of religion and revolutionary conservatism turned a blind eye and permitted it, but only if the schools proclaimed not their faith but their historical or geographical patriotism: Columbus, Bolívar, Homeland, Mexico were transformed into pseudonyms for schools run by Jesuits, Marists, Christian Brothers, and, in the case of the academy I was sent to, Catholic Presbyters, and therefore, among ourselves, the school was known as the Presbytery and not as Jalisco. It was a way of mocking the shared hypocrisy of the government and the clergy. Jalisco on the outside. Presbytery on the inside.

Big Beak, Pinocchio, Monster Schnoz, the insults rained down on me, obliging me to retreat as they moved forward like a column of troops led by a horrible kid with a shaved head, piggy eyes, a beet-red mouth, ears stuck to his skull, and the attitude of a great highwayman, a forward-thrusting stance, a posture of defiance not only toward me but toward the world: He was the most nonconformist of nonconformists; his tie was knotted on his chest and wrapped around his neck, accentuating his air of a bandit. It was strange. This being the apparent head of the mob of schoolboys, a feeling whose origin I could not determine told me the guerrilla leader was waging war not against me and my nose but against something else, something closer to him that made my presence disappear as soon as the bell rang and recess was over—or as soon as one of the teachers intervened who, until that moment, had not even noticed what was happening to me, as if assaulting a student, even verbally, were not very different from playing basketball, telling jokes, or eating a piece of cake.

I gave instructions to my spirit. “Hold on, Josué. Don’t give in. Don’t return their insults. Arm yourself with patience. Defeat them with your self-control. Don’t even think about hitting anybody. Whoever gets angry loses. Stay serious and calm. They’ll end up respecting you, you’ll see.”

Until the day my good advice was betrayed by my evil impulses and I hauled off and socked the baldest of the bald. The conflict of San Quintín broke out (students of history: In this battle, Philip II defeated France and was covered in glory) in the midst of a colossal confusion that eventually turned into defeat, and also recalled Rosario de Amozoc, when a free-for-all dissolved all doubts in a brawl worthy of saloon fights in westerns. Or a donnybrook, the British version of a brawl, fracas, mêlée, brouhaha, uproar, tumult, hullabaloo, pandemonium, charivari, turmoil, logomachy, and, in general, chaos pure and simple. That is, the bald kid fell back against his comrades, who threw him back at me, though the guerrilla fighter had slipped and hit his face on the paving tiles in the yard, which provoked an argument between two, then four, then seven comrades about who had made the champion fall, and then another boy boldly stood at my side, faced the crowd of schoolboys, and shouted that the next blow would be struck not at me but at him.

The self-assurance of my defender was transformed into authority over a herd that counted its own strength in numbers and not in courage. The professorial whistle for order finally sounded that afternoon, which otherwise was stormy because the morning sun was leaving to bathe in cataracts of punctual twilight rain.

“It’s the rainy season,” said my smiling defender, resting his hand on my shoulder.

I thanked him. He said he could not stand cowards who fight only in a gang. He became distracted and offered his hand to the bald kid to help him up.

“Don’t be late for class, asshole,” he said.

The bald kid wiped the blood from his nose, turned his back on us, and ran away.

Together my new friend and I walked the length of the large yard, a space surrounded by two floors of classrooms and auditoriums, with a frontón court at the end.

“If they were a little more educated, they’d have called you Cyrano.”

“They’re sons of bitches. Don’t give them any ideas. They’d call me Sir Anus.”

“And if you were lame, Nureyev.”

My savior stopped and looked at me astutely.

“You don’t have a big nose. It’s only a long nose. Don’t let that bunch of bums get to you. What’s your name?”


I was going to add the standard “at your service” that dates from colonial Mexican courtesy, when my protector threw back his head and began to laugh.

That’s how I always want to remember him, the way he was at that moment. My height, but the reverse side of my coin. A face tending to plumpness, with the cheeks of an infant not yet weaned. Yes, the mouth of a nursing baby, and eyes so tender and bright they almost demanded a pacifier. His body, on the other hand, was vigorous, his walk decisive, perhaps too sure of his strong step and firm forward motion, while my movements tended to slip away from me, subtle and even a little hesitant, as if they weren’t sure if at my feet they would find earth or the void, solid ground or swamp, light or mud . . .

Meet the Author

Carlos Fuentes is the author of more than twenty books, including Happy Families, The Eagle’s Throne, This I Believe, The Death of Artemio Cruz, and The Old Gringo. He served as Mexico’s ambassador to France from 1975 to 1977. He has received many awards and honors, including the Rómulo Gallegos Prize, the National Prize in Literature (Mexico’s highest literary award), as well as France’s Legion of Honor medal, and Spain’s Prince of Asturias Award. His work has appeared in The Nation, Vanity Fair, and The New York Times. He currently divides his time between Mexico City and London.

Edith Grossman, the winner of a number of translating awards, most notably the 2006 PEN Ralph Manheim Medal, is the distinguished translator of works by major Spanish-language authors, including Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Mayra Montero, and Álvaro Mutis, as well as Carlos Fuentes. Her translation of Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote was published to great acclaim in 2003.

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Destiny and Desire 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
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IQ_Mom More than 1 year ago
His literary style and imagination make him one of the best Latinamerican authors.A musr read!