- The Eagle's Throne
Carlos Fuentes's latest novel, The Eagle's Throne, was published in Mexico nearly four years ago, just after Vicente Fox was elected president, thus breaking the Institutional Revolutionary Party's uninterrupted rule on "the Eagle's Throne" for the previous seven decades. But the novel seems timely, if not indeed prescient, given Mexico's recent political intrigues and disputes over its 2006 presidential election results. While most of the storied "Boom Generation" still living have by now become elder statesmen in their twilight years (some writing their memoirs, others running for political office themselves), Fuentes continues to portray his country's tragic past, corrupt present and uncertain future with the panoramic eye of a Mexican muralist. [End Page 176]
Set in the year 2020, The Eagle's Throne begins shortly after Mexico's ailing president has stood fast during a meeting of the UN Security Council against Condoleezza Rice, now Commander-in-Chief, primarily over the U.S. occupation of Colombia. In response, under the guise of finding a "glitch" in its Florida satellite, the White House has used its technological superiority to block all of Mexico's electronic communications: phones, faxes, e-mails, computers, Internet, satellites, etc. This allows Fuentes the pretext he needs to launch his epistolary novel, an anachronistic form in the age of cell phones and e-mail. If somewhat far-fetched, the "glitch" nevertheless makes for an intriguing device. As the author's Mexican politicians jockey for power and angle to place their next president on the "throne," they are reduced to letter-writing, which puts their defamations, scandals and plots on record. Fuentes's blending of sex and intrigue in epistolary form should instantly call to mind Choderlos de Laclos's Les Liasions Dangereuses; however, The Eagle's Throne also shares much with other voice-driven novels with multiple narrators, such as Faulkner's As I Lay Dying.
Fuentes's aging but still alluring central correspondent, María del Rosario Galván, is a Mexican Lady Macbeth who considers "politics to be the public expression of private passions." María is grooming her handsome and much younger protégé, Nicolás Valdivia, a recent graduate of Paris's Ecole Nationale d'Administration, to fulfill an ambition she cannot realize for herself: to become the next president of Mexico. For them, the "Eagle's Throne" is synonymous with her lover's bed, which María promises Nicolás upon his election. "Beyond the last threshold is my bedroom," she writes him, "The last key unlocks my body. Nicolás Valdivia: I will be yours when you are the President of Mexico." If still an apt metaphor for presidential politics, it is not a terribly original one. But in one of the novel's many plot twists, we learn that María actually conspires with veteran politician Bernal Herrera, her former lover, for more socialistic aims. The two want Mexico to finally become a nation of laws, not of customs and corruption. Those who have read Fuentes's cycle of stories from The Crystal Frontier will recognize María and Bernal as the descendants of this idealistic struggle, now writ large on the national stage.
The Eagle's Throne is a tragicomedy that presents alongside these two former lovers a rogues' gallery of Mexican Machiavellis, aspirant [End Page 177] Pinochets and prolix Senecas—all of whom seek to ascend to the 2024 presidency by any means necessary, including murder. But the novel's most intriguing character by far is ex-President César Leon, known as the "Old Man Under the Arches." From his Veracruz central plaza café, he ostensibly mentors Nicolás Valdivia with political aphorisms and maxims, while putting current events within the grander narrative of Mexican history. But soon it becomes clear that the elder statesman seeks to undermine this member of the rising generation by making another bid for power himself.
For all of this, though, Fuentes offers very little insight into Mexico City's political heart beyond what his readers already know themselves. "Politics," may...