Such declarations reflect his commitment to social change, says his longtime editor and publisher, Marisol Schulz: "He's always aware of what's happening to Mexico, and that's a unique form of community service, a very powerful way of being part of change." And, she says, he supports new and young writers.
One such author is Jorge Volpi, probably best known for his international bestseller, In Search of Klingsor. Reading Terra Nostra was "an awakening" that led Volpi to become a writer and Fuentes's friend. At Fuentes's request, Volpi helped coordinate Mexico's celebration of the author's 80th birthday. "Fuentes is one of the most generous writers I know," Volpi says. "In a field characterized by its meanness and hypocrisy, he never speaks ill of anyone, in public or in private. If there's something to be admired it's his integrity and consistency."
Silvia Lemus. Thirty-seven years haven't dimmed the joy on Fuentes's face upon hearing the name. The two met while he was married to the late Mexican actress Rita Macedo, with whom he had a daughter, Cecilia Macedo Fuentes, now a TV producer in Mexico.
The couple cleaves to their relationship, but not as if to a life raft. "There's always a sense of mystery between a couple," Lemus says. "That's what's most attractive to me, never knowing exactly what keeps us together." Not so mysterious is their shared passion for opera, art, travel and "magnificent food," she says. Then, giggling like a schoolgirl with a crush, she adds, "I don't just love him, I like him."
Fuentes gets serious when he describes their marriage. "We've made a life together by respecting one another. [Our love] springs from our differences, from respecting each other's professions," Fuentes says, referring to Lemus's work as a television journalist. He, too, talks of their shared passions. Then he pauses. "And we had children, whom we lost. The pain, the memory; that also unites us."
Carlos Fuentes Lemus died in 1999, at age 25, from complications of hemophilia; Natasha Lemus Fuentes died in 2005, at age 30, of undisclosed causes.
As parents, each has found a way to cope. "I once was told that when someone dies, you need to let them go in order to go on with your own life," Lemus says. "Not I. I won't let them go. But they don't want to leave, either."
Loss writes itself on Fuentes's face with every mention of his children's deaths: His jaw tightens, his lower lip disappears and his head dips slightly.
"Now they live in my books," he says. "I didn't have to think about them when they were alive because they were right there. But when they died, I brought them into my writing, into my work. I don't write a single line without thinking of them. It's my way of keeping them alive, and it helps me a lot to keep them close."
As his children inhabit his works, so does his soul. "Carlos is each one of his books, each one of his works," Lemus says. "Even when a writer puts on a mask, it's his own mask, the one he chose."
Whichever mask he chooses — political analyst, funny man or grieving dad — Fuentes knows it is painted by life itself: "First comes love, for one's wife, children, family and friends. Then comes what we do as writers. Without that life, I couldn't have written those books; without those books, I wouldn't have lived."