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The Years with Laura Díaz Hardcover – October, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

A millennial novel with centennial breadth, The Years with Laura Díaz follows one woman through the 20th century in Mexico, witnessing its political upheavals, technological advances, and bitterly uneven social and artistic progress. Born on her grandfather Don Felipe's coffee plantation at Catemaco in 1898, Laura knows both the privilege of wealth and its limitations. Her parents, Leticia and Fernando, live apart, prudently waiting until Fernando can support his family in the larger town of Veracruz. While Don Felipe fights the laurel branches that continually weave their way through his delicate coffee plants, Laura watches as her gifted unmarried aunts are consumed by the forced idleness of their kind: Hilda, who plays Chopin to empty rooms, and Virginia, whose love poems never reach a suitor.

In Veracruz, Laura will find a focus for her own youthful longing, her half-brother Santiago, whose clandestine aid to the anarchist-syndicalists leads to his execution. After his death, she is expected to follow the girlish ambitions of her friends: taking dancing lessons and learning to listen to men. Yet in honor of her half-brother's memory, she embraces the revolution, and, hoping to avoid the fate of her virgin aunts, marries a solemn, dark-skinned, working-class hero. "The active life was preferable," Laura concludes at the ripe age of 22. For a woman, inevitably, this means "a life committed to another life."

A daughter, a wife, and then a mother, Laura is more or less dragged along by history. Eventually she must sacrifice not only Santiago but her own son and grandson to the violent game of musical chairs that is Mexican political life. Perhaps because of the almost laughable instability of power in Mexico, Fuentes is compelled to devote much of his narrative energy to explaining the rapid changes of guard--presidential assassinations succeeded by coups followed by questionable elections.

The poor and downtrodden, by contrast, are always there. Laura's husband takes her to the barrios of Mexico City to dissuade her from assuming anything but a housewife's role in political affairs. Later, a lover leads her through a nocturnal wasteland, a city of the poor, showing her deformed beggars, and stunted, starving children:

Laura, did your husband show you this, or did he only show you the pretty side of poverty, the workers with their cheap shirts, the whores with their powder, the organ grinders and locksmiths, the tamale sellers and the saddlers? Is that his working class? Do you want to rebel against your husband? Hate him because he didn't give you a chance to do something for others, treated you with contempt?
Laura decides that although she can't save everyone, she can save herself through work. And the first work she undertakes--wonderfully and bizarrely--is as a traveling companion to Frida Kahlo.

Given the time span and the gravity of occurrences this epic covers, it is no surprise that this character herself often seems to stand still while events and people move around her. Because of this, perhaps, The Years with Laura Díaz is not the clearest articulation of Fuentes's historical vision, nor his most moving work. Its emotional power is cumulative, however, and few readers will be able to put the novel down after the first hundred pages. --Regina Marler

From Publishers Weekly

In a masterwork imbued with historical anecdotes, mystical imagery and revelations about human existence, Fuentes (The Death of Artemio Cruz) relates the story of 20th-century Mexico through the fictional biography of Laura D!az. Narrated by Laura's great-grandson, a photographer and documentary filmmaker, the central thread is straightforward: Laura grows from an unusually observant child into an attractive and passionate young woman, survives numerous revolutions and world wars, several lovers and one husband. The catalyst that keeps this chronicle engaging is Laura's desire to steer the course of her life above and beyond the political currents surging through Mexican society. Much of her life revolves around her rising and falling romances: with a Casanova who vanishes when Laura gets too close to him, a Communist whose search for his missing wife precludes their relationship and a screenwriter who is slowly dying of emphysema. She eventually marries Juan Francisco, an activist whose political passion initially attracts Laura, but ultimately disturbs and alienates her. The union produces two sons. In her later years, inspired by close acquaintances with the artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Laura becomes a photographer (she photographs Kahlo's body while it is being cremated) and achieves renown almost instantly. While in other books Fuentes's characteristic riffs and dizzying, cascading sentences were intended as potential expansions of the novel, this time these gestures are used for the deepening development of the content of the book rather than of its form. Fuentes's emotional commitment to his subject shows in the lucidity of the book's underlying intellectual dialoguesDthe opposition of communism and fascism, the corrosion of individual identities by historical processesDwhich Fuentes is able to animate with a learned lyricism that should make this volume one of his most admired and memorable. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux; First Edition edition (October 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374293414
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374293413
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,747,938 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Candace Siegle, Greedy Reader on October 24, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Carlos Fuentes' most accessible novel in many years uses one woman's life to encompass a massive chunk of 20th century Mexican history. Fuentes manages to place Laura Diaz at almost every important cultural and political event between 1905 and the 1970's-from pre-revolutionary hacienda life, through the building of Mexico's union movement, to the Spanish Civil War, and the massacre of students at Tlatelolco on the eve of the 1968 Olympics. This might seem like a stretch. Come on, how likely is it that any one person would manage to fit all that in as well as love affairs, a teeming family, and a friendship with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera?
Not likely at all, but Fuentes' has created a rich and readable novel, filled with many characters who exist mainly to express a political point of view but who are complex and interesting people nonetheless. The first part of "The Years with Laura Diaz" works especially well, recording Laura's early years as the granddaughter of German immigrants living in the coastal state of Veracruz and the kind of life enjoyed by the families of landowners. Her marriage to a union organizer who takes her to post-revolutionary Mexico City puts her in the heart of a society recreating itself. No one writes about the Mexican capital like Carlos Fuentes, and Mexico City in the 1920's through the 70's springs to life in all its glories and maddening confusions.
There is a lot of politics, which unfortunately causes "Laura Diaz" to bog down as her cipher of a husband stirs an alphabet soup of labor unions and political parties. It's interesting if you know Mexican history, but I can imagine it's pretty incomprehensible if you don't.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on October 11, 2000
Format: Hardcover
In 1999, he came to Detroit to begin filming a TV special on the famous twentieth century Mexican muralists. However, looking at one of the works, he finds himself captivated by a woman in one of the murals who seems eerily familiar before he realizes that she is his famous great grandmother, Laura Diaz.
He begins to think about the life and loves of Laura. Born in 1898, her lovers include Communists and other activists before she marries and has children. She watches as male members of her extended family die during the constant years of turbulence shaking her country. She becomes friends with some of the artistic elite and ultimately becomes one of them as a renowned photographer. As Mexico lives and dies with each new tremor, so has Laura Diaz.
Renowned author Carlos Fuentes has written his best work to date with the incredible THE YEARS WITH LAURA DIAZ. The story line centers on the life of the title character, but actually serves as a backdrop to the bigger mural of twentieth century Mexico. This entertaining, dark, but powerful novel provides an enlightening look at the nation and its people rarely seen in a novel. Senior Fuentes deserves awards for this classic biographical historical fiction.
Harriet Klausner
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca Brown on February 18, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This is a novel of great depth, written by a man who has lived his life observing, thinking, asking questions, considering and writing. His great talent lies in speaking for many: for fathers, mothers, sons, lovers, passionate revolutionaries and for each of us.
The Years With Laura Diaz, is as great a mural and testament, and as real and colorful as the Diego Rivera mural that graces its cover. Just as the great mural tells the history and stories of a people, so this magnificently written work shows us the colors and contrasts that richly color our world. Do check out our Guest Reviewer Deborah D/M's full review.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Jana L. Perskie HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 4, 2005
Format: Paperback
Like Carlos Fuentes' masterpiece, "The Death of Artemio Cruz," "The Years With Laura Diaz" traces a migration from the state of Vera Cruz to Mexico City, during and after the Mexican Revolution. Here, however, the protagonist is not at all similar to the jaded revolutionary, Artemio Cruz, (who makes a cameo appearance in the novel). She is Laura Cruz, an artist and photographer, a woman of integrity, as well as a wife, mother and lover. Strong and vibrant, she manages to circumvent the Latin machismo which surrounds her and become a person in her own right, able to produce her own creative work, and to love with great abandon. In this sweeping historical saga, which spans a one hundred year period, Laura Cruz meets and mingles with all sorts of 20th century luminaries, like Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, along with numerous political figures. Logically, history is portrayed through the eyes, experiences and ideology of Carlos Fuentes. He incorporates his views on the Mexican Revolution, socialism, Mexico's various workers' and labor movements, the Spanish Civil War, the Holocaust, McCarthyism and other important events which took place during the last century.

Santiago Lopez-Alfaro, a young Mexican filmmaker, is in Detroit to make a documentary about Mexican muralists and their work in the US. He also wants to capture the decay of a great city, "the first capital of the automobile, no less, the place where Henry Ford inaugurated mass production of the machine that governs our lives more than any government." He goes on to narrate, "I wanted to photograph the ruin of a great industrial center as a worthy epitaph for our terrible twentieth century.
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