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Book News: The FBI Monitored Mexican Writer Carlos Fuentes

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • A recently released FBI file calls legendary Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes a "communist writer" and refers to a "long history of subversive connections." The dossier, which starts in the 1960s and spans decades, also reveals that the FBI had informants track his movements while in the U.S., and details the agency's attempts to delay and deny his visa applications. Asked whether Fuentes, who died last year, was a communist, his biographer and former colleague Julio Ortega told NPR via email: "Not at all! He was critical of Communism, and a close friend and supporte[r] of [Milan] Kundera [a writer whose works were banned in communist Czechoslovakia] in difficult times for him. It is true that Fuentes supported the Cuban revolution as well as the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, but because both were rooted in Latin American history of utopian will and emancipatory ideals." Fuentes became a vocal critic of Fidel Castro after the poet Heberto Padilla was arrested in Cuba, and he once called the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez a "tropical Mussolini." Fuentes was no less harsh toward the U.S. — he once turned down a teaching position at Columbia University in protest of American air attacks in Vietnam, writing that it would be "impossible to talk serenely about literature while American imperialists murder women and children." But in a 2006 interview, Fuentes said, "To call me anti-American is a stupendous lie, a calumny. I grew up in this country. When I was a little boy I shook the hand of Franklin Roosevelt, and I haven't washed it since."
  • Daniel Handler, the grown-up alter-ego of Lemony Snicket, speaks with NPR's Neal Conan about his latest book, The Dark: "I can't think of a story that doesn't have something terrible in it, otherwise it's dull."
  • Seven writers, including Margaret Atwood, Julian Barnes and Will Self, reflect on failure for The Guardian. Self writes, "[T]o continue writing is to accept failure as simply a part of the experience — it's often said that all political lives end in failure, but all writing ones begin there, endure there, and then collapse into senescent incoherence."
  • The literary critic Terry Castle writes about Sylvia Plath for The New York Review of Books: "I find her tasteless, grisly — unbearable, in fact — precisely because, even five decades after her suicide, she and her corpse-infested verses hold on with such ghoulish tenacity. She seems never to tire of creating tragic inhuman mischief from beyond the grave."

The Best Books Coming Out This Week:

  • A.S.A Harrison's The Silent Wife is a clean, understated thriller about a philandering husband and his murderous wife. The suspense comes not from twists and turns — you find out on page 2 that the placid, WASPy wife becomes a killer — but from the quiet force of her writing.
  • Stay, Illusion! The Hamlet Doctrine was written by a psychoanalyst and a philosophy professor (who also happen to be married to each other). Simon Critchley and Jamieson Webster take on the writings of Nietzsche, Lacan and other thinkers on Hamlet in this thoughtful, elegant work of criticism.
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