13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on January 16, 2006
The countries of Latin America have collectively had a long and tortured history; starting with the wars between the great native empires, the arrival of Columbus and the Spaniards, and finally US imperialism throughout the 20th century. Now, at the dawn of the 21st century, Latin Americans are more conscious than ever of their past, the contributions both native and European to it, and the state of their current economies, societies and culture. Part of this awakening and collective consciousness is the rise of prominant authors born and raised within the Hispanic world. One of these is Carlos Fuentes from Mexico, who in this book examines the origins and evolution of Latin American peoples, countries, and cultures. Paying attention to the influences from Spain, Portugal, France, various current and ancient native tribes, and now the US, this book shows how modern Hispanic culture came together in ways often violent, haphazard and chaotic. Rarely was one person in charge of this process; rare are the works that dominated this evolution. Outside of the Catholic Church, Latin America knows no equivalent of Sun Tzu's Art of War, Homer's epic poems, or the US Constitution. The author then tries to distill what is best about Latin American culture, and in doing so, points a way forward for Hispanics throughout the Western Hemisphere. Overall, a great book to understand this region of the world, its past, its present, and its probable future.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
This book is absolutely spellbinding and captivating in it's presentation that is both an excellent narrative and artistic with imagery to further enhance the experience. The editorial review here at Amazon by Kirkus Reviews is a good synopsis to get a good idea about the books contents. Also there are many sample pages available for your perusal. From a readers perspective this book is one to cherish after the reading experience is over. Carlos Fuentes presents the subject of Spain and it's influence on the new world with clarity and makes his points with the precision of a sugeon, clean and accurate. Beginning with the ancient imagery of the bull found in caves in Spain Fuentes begins his analysis showing how this imagery continues in the arts and culture in such diverse domains as the works of Goya and Picasso, advertisements for brandy and of course the Spanish spectacle of bullfighting. He picks and chooses his historical path, weaving through the centuries concluding with the the growth of Hispanic USA. The book is full oh historical facts, little known bits of information abound as Fuentes draws analogies that stimulate the mind, stimulating the reader to conclude further inferences. The book reminds me of Bronowski's "The Ascent of Man" only on a smaller scope, from a perspective that makes connections between Spain and Latin America as oppossed to the whole of humanity. The "mother" countries influence is expounded upon as only Fuentes can, his use of language is powerful, insightful and revealing all the while showing his keen intelligence and sharp eye for details. The accompanying artwork throughout the book is fantastic and helps the reader to further understand the subject. A moving narrative is delivered by Fuentes and I highly suggest this book to anyone interested in the history of Spain and it's long lasting influence in the Americas. A natural outcome of reading this book is to further explore one of the many topics introduced. Included is a complete lineage of Spanish succession detailing the various ruling families and marriages that created the kings and queens of Spain. Aslo there is an outstanding suggested bibliography. This is a superb book that stimulates the mind while you read and beyond.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 1998
Its a shame more exceptional fiction authors don't take the time to research and publish historical accounts. If the results were as good as Fuentes', many more people would take the time to read it. Ideal for both scholars and anyone looking for an excellent read. Fuentes outlines the progression of Spanish culture from Europe to the New World and the devastating impact it had on the civilizations already living their. While clearly detailing the inherent evil in the actions of the Spanish and English in the New World, Fuentes moves the reader through the evolution of political, societal and cultural development, illustrating the way in which separate cultures evolved into a rich fabric, albeit painfully. Fuentes objectively writes history neither indicting nor rewarding, rather recounting historical occurence and its impact on today's South, Central, and North American peoples as well as the Spanish.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 2007
This book is the English translation of El Espejo Enterrado, by Mexican writer and diplomat Carlos Fuentes. It consists of 399 pages divided into 5 parts and 18 chapters which describe the history of the Spanish speaking people from their Cretan and Greek roots, through their development during the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Imperial Period, all the way to modern Spain and South America.
The book also includes 5 two page tables titled The Monarchs of Spain and showing detailed genealogical information on the families that ruled Spain from 970 ad to the beginning of the 20th century (not included in the Spanish version published by Taurus-Bolsillo 1992), as well as a large number of beautiful black and white and color illustrations (also not included the Spanish version published by Taurus-Bolsillo 1992). I missed such information, when reading the Spanish version, particularly the illustrations, because the author refers to them in the text, often with very detailed descriptions.
The book ends with the credits, acknowledgements, and index.
El Espejo Enterrado is listed as an essay, although it probably should be classified as a history book. Yet it is more than that, because Carlos Fuentes is more than an essayer or a historian. He is a multifaceted artist who sees and describes reality in a more comprehensive as well as captivating manner than the average essayer or historian would. Hence he does not just give the description of the events that shaped the history of the Spanish speaking people, he makes them interesting, he makes the reader want to learn more. For example, by discussing the individuals whose thoughts and actions influenced the decisions of the Spanish speaking people (e.g., Jean Jacques Rousseau and Napoleon); by relating the major world events from which those related to the Spanish speaking people developed (e.g., the Renaissance, the French Revolution, the American Revolution); or by describing the works of some of the major Spanish speaking artists (e.g., Don Quixote, La Vida Es Sueno, Las Meninas, La Maja Desnuda). Hence with this book, you will learn more than the history of the Spanish speaking people, you will meet some of the great thinkers of the Western world, you will be reminded of the history of the Western world, you will learn about the products of the most illuminated minds of the Spanish speaking world. You will also discover about many word origins, (how many among you reading this review know the meaning of the word Saragoza, the origin of the name Malinche, the identity of the woman from whom California got its name, the reason why the Mexicans call the turkey guacolote). And you will acquire an awful lot of useful information which would otherwise not be easily available all in one book, for example, the real significance of Goya's painting Saturn Devouring his Children".
If you are educated in the history and artistic expressions of the Western World and interested in Spain and South America, you will not be able to put this book down until you come to the end. In actual fact, you will probably wish that you never came to the end.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Carlos Fuentes wrote this book to mark the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's "discovery" of the New World. That was the pretext, at any rate. One senses, however, that his real purpose was to emphasize the shared culture of Spanish Americans and from there to argue for "a comparable economic and political identity". Whatever the underlying purpose, THE BURIED MIRROR is a fine overview of the history and culture of Spain and Latin America. It is marked most by Fuentes's superb narrative skills and his passion, which make the book invigorating as well as instructive.
Fuentes actually provides two histories. One is of Spain, going back to the pre-Roman Iberians, continuing through the Muslim occupation and the Reconquest, then from Ferdinand and Isabella through the decades when the Spanish monarchy presided over one of the greatest (and richest) empires in world history, and finally the protracted fading out of Spain as a player on the world stage. The other history, of course, is of Latin America, going back to the Mayans, Incas, and Aztecs, then proceeding to the Spanish conquest and the centuries of economic exploitation, and then the meteoric two decades of the wars of independence, followed by nearly two centuries of alternating hopes and disappointments. In his discussion of Spanish America since the overthrow of Spain, Fuentes focuses much more on Argentina and Mexico than any other countries.
There are some superb narrative passages. One such is Fuentes's account of the Spanish Armada, in which the novelist's skills are at the fore. And several of his discussions of cultural landmarks are keenly insightful, especially that concerning Cervantes and "Don Quixote de la Mancha".
The book is sprinkled with many idiosyncratic opinions of the author. For example, he writes: "Capitalism and socialism have both failed in Latin America because of our inability to distinguish and strengthen our own tradition, which is authentically Iberian and not derivatively Anglo-American or Marxist." Along the same lines: "[T]he fear of being ourselves drove us to be something else, whether French, North American, or English." Sometimes I sense that he has gotten out on a limb with few if any other historians or cultural critics for company. And on occasion he gets his facts plumb wrong. For example, he states that the American war against Mexico "was opposed by a lone representative in the United States Congress, Abraham Lincoln." (In point of fact, fourteen Representatives and two Senators voted against "Polk's War".) Moreover, as an historian, Fuentes is not rigorous nor is he always consistent. Still, the virtues of the book far outweigh its flaws and errors.
One of those virtues is the copious illustrations, many in well-reproduced color. There also are five charts or genealogies of the monarchs of Spain, a better depiction of the material than several scholarly books I have on Spanish history. Even more valuable are the nineteen pages that compose an annotated list of "Sources and Readings".
Paramount is Fuentes's plea for Latin Americans to be inclusive: "We are Indian, black, European, but above all mixed, mestizo. We are Iberian and Greek, Roman and Jewish, Arab, Gothic, and Gypsy. Spain and the New World are centers where multiple cultures meet - centers of incorporation, not of exclusion. When we exclude, we betray ourselves. When we include, we find ourselves." (One significant group of people that Fuentes, curiously, omits from that quote and the book as a whole are Asians, tens of thousands of whom began coming to New Spain as sailors, workers, and slaves as early as 1565.)
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 8, 2012
This could be called Carlos Fuentes' Spanish-American History for tourists. This book was the offspring of series of videos Fuentes made for PBS to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the European arrival to (what now are) American shores. Then he added more material and produced this volume.
It is a good read, not necessarily for serious scholarly research, but as a way of reminding oneself of the vast history it covers, in case you forgot or skipped classes or for beginners. This is the kind of historical account you can take it to the beach, sip coffee or beer while reading.
What makes the book entertaining is Fuentes' elegant prose, meaty phrasing and the idiosyncratic views of the fiction writer and public intellectual he was. However, this can lead to problems of essentialism that flirt with self-directed racism and broad generalizations. Fuentes asserts that Benito Juarez incarnated "indigenous fatalism", that Latin American culture cannot be understood without Roman Law (Derecho Romano), or that Spanish people are naturally stoic and sober because they held Seneca's ideals in their spirit, even before Seneca was around. And his main description of culture doesn't come until page 400 (in the Spanish version).
Despite these flaws and the book is a good read for those with cultural and historical curiosity. I was given this book to teach a culture class to college students. I thought I was going to hate it, but my students and I have enjoyed this very much. Granted I always manage to incorporate references to Ricky Martin, The Beatles and Justin Beiber.
One note, keep google images open when reading. Fuentes illustrates his ideas with paintings, sculptures, maps, building, monuments, ruins and cities that aren't printed on the book, but appeared in the video.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on October 19, 2000
Don't use this book to cram the night before the test. Savor it like a fine wine that grows mellower as the evening progresses. Each chapter opens up a whole new world, even if you thought that you already knew all about that subject. This book will expand your horizons and broaden your knowledge, and besides, it's fun to read, like a great mystery!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I've read Carlos Fuentes most famous novel, The Death of Artemio Cruz: A Novel (FSG Classics), twice, and entitled my review "The History of Mexico." I've also read The Old Gringo: A Novel, but was unaware of this marvelous, and much more comprehensive history of Spain and it empire in the Americas until I got a "heads up" from a fellow Amazon reviewer, who subsequently literally put into my hand in a second-hand bookstore in Santa Fe. A "must" purchase.
A novelist can provide insights into the soul of a culture, and how it might be different from another, through happenstance developments. Certainly I think Fuentes did that in "Artemio Cruz." But it is extremely rare - and I can think of no other example - whereby a first-class novelist also can produce outstanding histories, in the traditional format of the discipline, replete with real historical personages, dates, et al. For me, I think this work will be the "standard" historical reference point for Spanish history and culture.
Fuentes commences with the cave paintings of bison at Altimira, in Spain, which were painted between 20,000 and 30,000 BC. From there he segues into "unique" elements of the Spanish culture, such as the bull fight and the flamingo dance. The pre-history of Spain was reflected in the movements of small Celtic tribes in the peninsula. It was Hannibal that brought the Romans to Spain, since he went there first, from Carthage, on his way to Rome. The Romans were met with stiff disorganized tenacious resistance from the tribes. The essence of guerilla war. As we know, Rome eventually prevailed, and the native tribes adapted to Roman culture. Prior to the Romans, there were only cities along the coast, for trading purposes. The Romans built them in the interior also, and connected them with roads. Rome itself eventually succumbed to the Germanic tribes. The Visigoths never got their act together as rulers in Spain; the author highlights the role of Isidore during this period, who was a monk that developed the Church into a mechanism for ruling, which lasts today.
Another unique element of Spanish culture is its long association with Islam. It lasted almost 800 years, from 711, when the first Islamic armies invaded Spain (the place name Gibraltar is derived from an Islamic commander, Jabel al Tarik). Much has been written about the impact of the concept of the "frontier" on the American culture; Fuentes brings to light the impact of the 800 year "frontier" between Christian and Islamic cultures. The three great cities of Andalusia, Seville, Cordoba and Grenada represented some of the finest cultural achievement of Islam in Spain. In 1492, both the Muslims and the Jews were expelled from Spain, and in that tumultuous year a new world was literally "discovered" by Spain.
Much more than half the book is still left (but not of this review!), and Fuentes examines the Indian culture of the Americans prior to the coming of Columbus, and how quickly it collapsed in the face of superior weaponry (coupled with a "Fifth Column" that haunted the Indians - prophecies that this would happen). This led to the "Golden century" whereby Spain ruthlessly exploited the native population (in the process killing the vast majority) while exported vast quantities of gold and silver to the mother country, making it the dominant European power. But imperial "overreach," (too many commitments, too many parasitic nobles) eventually caught up with Spain, which commenced her long decline (Tellingly, Fuentes makes a comparison with his north-of-the-border neighbor).
Politically, Fuentes continues on through the machinations of the Hapsburgs and the Bourbons up to Franco and the Spanish Civil War. In America, Fuentes highlights both the improbability and inevitability of the simultaneous events which occurred in Mexico and Argentina in 1810, with the forces of independence led by Simon Bolivar and Jose de San Martin. After independence, reaction set in during the rule of the "tyrants", which have lasted, in one form or another, up to the present. Fuentes must, of necessity, cover these events with broad strokes.
Culturally, there is a parallel book interwoven, that covers the paintings of Velazquez, Goya, Diego Rivera, and many others. Another extraordinary strength of this book is the numerous quality very well-chosen pictures that should so enhance the reader's enjoyment. Some were familiar, such as Dali's painting, "The Persistence of Memory," but others were unique, and memorable, such as two dancers doing the tango.
For extraordinary books, I like to give a "6-star rating", and up until the final chapter, I would have, without hesitation. I was stunned that the man who would dedicate The Death of Artemio Cruz: A Novel (FSG Classics) to C. Wright Mills would write the following in the chapter "Hispanic U.S.A":
"They are accused of displacing U.S. workers and of harming the economy and even the nation... for one thing, the United States needs five million workers before the century is over, and these people do the jobs that no one else is willing to do anymore...without them, the whole structure of employment in the United States would undergo a drastic change, with salaries coming several notches down and millions of workers and their households suffering as a result."
Wow! Talk about buying, hook, line, and sinker, the CEO's "party line" as formulated over cigars and brandy in the back room. A full and proper critique of his last chapter would at least triple this review. Let's just say: I strongly disagree with his assertions, and would give that one chapter a 2-star. Nonetheless, overall, it is a superlative, well-written, and well-illustrated overview of Spanish history and culture, both in the "Old" and "New" worlds. 5-stars.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 31, 2001
This is by far the best book I have encountered that deals with Spanish and Latin American culture. Fuentes is at once poetic and historically fluente. The book moves smoothly, and the subjects with which it deals (which may be made boring by a less skilled writer) always hold the reader's attention. It's better written in Spanish, but the translation is pretty good too. If you like any of Fuentes' other works, or are simply interested in Hispanic culrture and philosphy, buy this one.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 26, 2012
Carlos Fuentes is an iconic writer for those interested in Central and South American literature/writing. This book is a series of essays that intend to explain how the Spanish conquistadores and the Indian and, later, Black populations of the southern Americas have engaged in a 500 year-long exchange, resulting in a unique, multi-layered, extremely vibrant culture of its own. Fuentes does not short-change the suffering undergone by those who were conquered. Nor does he soft-pedal the extraordinary cruelty and cynicism of the conquerors. But he does a fine job of explaining what existed in Spain and South America before The Conquest, and what has happened in Central and South America in the 500 years since. It happens that this book is a "companion volume" to the very fine PBS series of the same name. I would argue that the series is the companion to the book. Very clearly written, with vast scholarship.
For Spanish-language readers, the book is also available with the title El espejo enterrado.