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On Becoming a Fuentette

Carlos Fuentes’s former translator spent one transformative week sequestered with the author

En español | Fuentettes: During the 1970s, these literary groupies were easily identified, trailing Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes through the University of Pennsylvania campus, where he taught. Characteristics included hanging onto Fuentes’s every word and harboring a deep-seated admiration for his literary prowess.

In my case, a long apprenticeship would be necessary before I joined their ranks.

It began in 1984, when I became editor of Review: Latin American Literature and Arts, a publication of the Americas Society. I thought publishing an excerpt from Carlos’s new novel, Christopher Unborn — which I’d heard him read in English (from his own translation) at the University of Oklahoma — would be a coup. I contacted Carlos, then teaching in Washington, D.C., and he sent me a chapter in Spanish, telling me, “Do whatever you like with it.” I translated it, sent it to him and quickly learned he didn’t like what I’d done.
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