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The Crystal Frontier: A Novel in Nine Stories [Paperback]

Carlos Fuentes
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
Price: CDN$ 16.00 & FREE Shipping on orders over CDN$ 25. Details
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Book Description

Jan. 12 2001 Harvest Book
From Mexicos preeminent man of letters, a Balzacian novel in nine masterly stories (Vanity Fair) that explores the uneven and painful meshing of two North american cultures (Washington Post Book World). A New York Times Notable Book of the Year. A Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year. Translated by Alfred Mac Adam.

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From Library Journal

Leonardo Barroso is an unscrupulous Mexican oligarch whose fortress of a villa is only a short drive from the "crystal frontier" of the title, and each one of the nine stories comprising this work explores the life of someone touched by him. There's Juan Zamora, whose medical studies at Cornell were made possible by the stratagems of Barroso; the beautiful Michelina from Mexico City, whom Barroso marries; off to his son and then takes as his own, and the working girls of Barroso's maquiladoras, who lust after the gringo male dancers of the clubs. The outrageous racism of Fuentes's Anglo characters, such as Miss Amy Dunbar and border patrol Dan Polonsky, may seem excessive and stereotyped, but it is also hard to deny that such attitudes exist along this troubled border. Fuentes masterfully interweaves Mexican politics, economics, and history within the individual stories, giving a brilliant update on relations between an extremely poor country and the richest in the world. A recent (1995) and highly recommended work by Mexico's premiere novelist.?Jack Shreve, Allegany Community Coll., Cumberland, Md.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Fuentes has no qualms about using fiction as a vehicle for social analysis. When this union between art and commentary succeeds, it generates indelible scenes of tremendous passion, of which there are many in this set of nine loosely connected stories, but when it fails, Fuentes' tales turn awkward. It may be that Fuentes' immense sense of responsibility toward Mexico and its people--a commitment that compels him to dramatize the entrenched corruption and ferocious poverty that drive so many people across the border--at times simply overwhelms the delicate emotional balance crucial to the magic of a story. That said, these are nonetheless gleaming fables about the volatile and urgent relationship between Mexico and the U.S., unnerving stories rich in metaphor, wit, and remarkable characters, from Don Leonardo Barroso, an ambiguous figure of great wealth and power, to Juan Zamora, who leaves his oppressively poor life in Mexico City to study medicine at Cornell, where he discovers both his homosexuality and his deep compassion. Then there's young, vulnerable Marina, who dreams of seeing the ocean as she works assembling televisions in a factory along the border, and the hero of the haunting title story, Lisandro Chavez, who, along with dozens of other men, is flown into Manhattan to spend a weekend cleaning the inside of a glass skyscraper, the latest high-tech form of migrant labor. Fuentes boldly shines his high beams on "the illusory crystal divider, the glass membrane between Mexico and the U.S.," thus illuminating both our vast differences and our manifold connection. Donna Seaman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
By Friederike Knabe TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Print on Demand (Hardcover)
The subtitle to THE CRYSTAL FRONTIER defines the book as a "Novel in Nine Stories". Is it a novel at all? Not really, I find. The connections between the stories themselves are tenuous or indirect at best. However, seen as a whole, they present a critical perspective on Mexican society and its complex relations to its northern neighbour. The "crystal frontier" is both real and in the minds of the protagonists. Indeed, it may be useful for the reader to take Fuentes' book as a collection of short stories and ponder the recurrent underlying themes. As a short story collection it is interesting, with some stories more engaging and even moving than others and some characters eventually reappearing briefly.

While some stories appear to be ending in limbo and others more or less abruptly and tragically, taken together they form a portrait of the complicated, often fractious relations between Mexico and the United States, especially in the border region. For us to move beyond the obvious depictions of cross-border conflicts or the plight of immigrant (legal and illegal) workers in the US, it helps to be familiar with Mexican history and politics. Fuentes drops many references to historical events, cultural figures, etc. While most protagonists are from the poorer sectors of society, there are those, like Don Leonardo Barroso, who benefit greatly from US-Mexican border deals and play important political and business roles on both sides of the "frontier". Don Leonardo appears in the first of the story as a central figure and in most others he is a minor, yet powerful, background presence pulling strings...

Carlos Fuentes is widely respected as one of the primary writers of Mexico.
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2.0 out of 5 stars A Fragile Crystal Aug. 15 2002
Format:Paperback
Carlos Fuentes is a major author in Mexican literature, with notable successes in history and fiction. In this book of 266 pages, he introduces us to the lives of a spectrum of persons living on both sides of the Mexican Border, particularly with Texas. He speaks with authority about the historical injustices involved in the American conquest of Texas, the War on Mexico, and our continuing hostile dependency on each other. The Americans need cheap labor and the Mexicans need jobs. In nine vignettes (chapters), he gives us a glimpse into the lives of various persons on both sides of the border. The Mexicans come North to go to school legally or to do menial work illegally or legally. The message in this book is quite clear. We want the Mexicans when we need them to do tasks cheaply that our own labor force will not do. We do not want the Mexicans when they become dependent on us and stress our social system for such things as health care or education. Carlos Fuentes points to the type of economic slavery that this creates, not much better than the era of slavery which Abraham Lincoln fought against. Fuentes achieves some balance in showing also the internal corruption of Mexico, and the many ways that they miss opportunities to improve themselves. The vignettes are funny, sad, passionate, and sometimes lacking in clear focus. Some characters fade into and out of various chapters creating a fabric of impressions about the life on the border. The reader has to relax and let the images flow past, with the poetic inserts by Fuentes about the various conflicts. This is clearly not his best book but in some ways it perhaps reveals more of his own most heartfelt conflicts which accumulated while he spent many years as a child and young adult in the USA. It is a particularly good book to read while you are traveling near the Mexican border and can get your own impressions of this SCENE.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Insights from the Outsider Jan. 22 2002
Format:Paperback
Fuentes does not bridge the gap between two colossal cultures, he defines that gap. As a gringo in his own country Mexico, and a foreigner in the US, he is qualified and capable to draw a honest and sensitive picture of these two countries and its characters. He uses the physical divide to draw a picture of what really matters to him - the poverty and impasse existence of myriads of people in Mexico. Luckily, there is only a hint of his (far leftist) politics, and we are allowed to enjoy his cultural insight, deep understanding of characters, compassion for suffering, and sense of humor. A powerful author, but short of the genius of friend and peer Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Un libro muy bueno. June 30 1999
Format:Paperback
If you want to understand the complex relationship between Americans and Mexicans this is an excellent read. You'll get more out of it than any dry textbook on Mexican identity and relations with the US. It's not his best work but it is very good.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A ROLL OF THE EYES June 29 2002
By Sesho
Format:Paperback
Anytime you write a bunch of short stories and try to thread them together with a cameo of characters from previous stories you're going to get into trouble. Because that's what it ends up being. A bunch of short stories that is said to comprise a "novel". It's hard to remember who's who from one story to the next because you've only been exposed to the characters for a short glimpse.
"The Crystal Frontier" is an unimaginative attempt at metaphor concocted by Fuentes to symbolize the frontier between Mexico and the United States. That boundary is not only the physical presence of the Rio Grande River but also of the differences between cultures.
The character that threads the stories together is a powerful Mexican businessman named Leonardo Barroso whose main export to America is cheap labor. He is introduced in the first story, called "A Capital Girl" in which he sets up his bookish son to be married to a beautiful girl. He also sets her up to be his mistress. Like a demented Amelie, Leonardo has a direct or indirect impact on all the short stories that follow. I guess it has something in common with chaos theory, but instead of a butterfly causing a hurricane, here we have a money grubbing exploitive Enron type affecting lives that he knows nothing about.
A few of the earlier stories are interesting and good. "Pain" is about a doomed love affair between two medical students, one of which got a scholarship from Leonardo. "Spoils" was a great story about a famous food critic and chef who offers his philsophy of why America is obese. It is also in that story that the book starts to destroy itself for me. Fuentes starts coming in through his characters about how America stole half of Mexico and about how we are inferior to the europeans in culture.
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