Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

buy us books !
Amazon wishlist

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada



the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Christopher Unborn

Carlos Fuentes

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Christopher Unborn

Title: Christopher Unborn
Author: Carlos Fuentes
Genre: Novel
Written: 1987 (Eng. 1989)
Length: 531 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Christopher Unborn - US
Cristóbal Nonato - US
Christopher Unborn - UK
Christopher Unborn - Canada
Christopher Unborn - India
Christophe et son oeuf - France
Christoph, Ungeborn - Deutschland
Cristóbal Nonato - España
  • Spanish title: Cristóbal Nonato
  • Translated by Alfred MacAdam and the author

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B : sprawling -- a lot of fun, but also simply: a lot

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Economist . 12/5/1990 .
London Rev. of Books . 23/11/1989 Patrick Parrinder
The Los Angeles Times . 10/9/1989 Marianne Wiggins
New Statesman . 27/10/1989 Robert Carver
The NY Times Book Rev. A 20/8/1989 Suzanne Ruta
TLS . 15/12/1989 John King
VLS . 9/1989 Dan Bellm

  From the Reviews:
  • "Well, hell, this is a protean book: sexy, tumescent, turbulent, rocky, shocky, spermy, wild, controlled and uncontrolled. What it is is masculine. What it is about is Mexico. (...) It is a yarn jam-packed with Sterne digressions and as over-populated as the Mexico the hero might-or-might-not ultimately be born into" - Marianne Wiggins, The Los Angeles Times

  • "There is throughout a display of endless verbal pyrotechnics, a relentless desire to amuse, to be clever which becomes fatiguing and ultimately tedious. Reading this book reminded me of being trapped in an overloud Spanish American restaurant surrounded by a collection of egomaniacs with verbal diarrhoea; they never stop talking, but they never seem to say anything either. (...) The comic invention is sharp." - Robert Carver, New Statesman and Society

  • "In Christopher Unborn, Carlos Fuentes has imagined the worst for his country's near future, but he's done it with so much humor, verve, invention, erudition and baroque whirligig plotting that the result is a vital, hopeful book, a great salvage operation in the trash heaps of Western culture, Spanish literature and Mexican history. (...) It's frenetic, farcical, Rabelaisian and scatological, appropriating plot lines and characters from other writers and from Mr. Fuentes's own earlier work, mixing fact and fiction at will. Mr. Fuentes ransacks Conrad, Cortazar, the satirical poet Quevedo, Kafka, the Bible, Don Quixote, Don Juan, the novelist Juan Rulfo and the Mexican boy-wonder writers of the late 1960's who made rock lyrics, street slang and slum life part of their country's literary tradition. (...) This bare outline of the plot of Christopher Unborn can't begin to suggest the laughs Mr. Fuentes wrings from his pregnant material. And if the satire sometimes strains for effect, the straight-on social observation is always devastating." - Suzanne Ruta, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       Carlos Fuentes wrote Christopher Unborn in 1987, but it is set slightly in the future -- in 1992. It is the five-hundredth anniversary of Christopher Columbus' discovery of America, and as part of the festivities there is a 'Contest of the Quincentennial of the Discovery of America', the grand prize going to the male child born at midnight, 12 October, whose family name most resembles that of Columbus. The kid will be proclaimed 'prodigal son of the nation', and, at age twenty-one, will become 'regent of the nation', "with practically unlimited powers of election, succession, and selection."
       The novel is narrated by the unborn Christopher who will, of course, be born at the appropriate time, the growing foetus of Angel and Angeles relating his womb-life from the moment of conception to his birth. The ultimate interior monologue, it is fortunately based largely on what goes on in the world around him -- mainly focussed on his parents, as well as some other colourful relatives, but above all on the larger picture of Mexico. Because Christopher Unborn is meant to encompass all that is Mexico -- past, present, and future.
       Setting it a few years in the future allows Fuentes also to speak with a more warning voice: it's not the Mexico of 1987, but one gone even more catastrophically awry, "a narrow, skeletal, and decapitated nation" where the Yucatan has been "ceded exclusively to the Club Mediterranée" while the border with the US has been transformed into Mexamerica, independent of both countries, and the oil-producing states are entirely in corporate American hands. It's a world where the bestselling title in the US in 1992 is Why Are We in Veracruz ? by Norman Mailer .....
       All this was, of course, more effective before the fact; almost two decades later it doesn't feel quite as sharp Yet even in what is largely a satire of the late 1980s Fuentes reaches far enough around him to make it a comprehensive Mexico-book -- and he's inventive enough to make even what didn't come to pass quite entertaining.
       This is a no-holds barred, every-which-way novel that tries all the tricks (yes, he even imagines a future Reader "reading a book apocryphally entitled Christopher Unborn by Carlos Fuentes" ...) Literary games are a big part of the novel, and Fuentes offers a geneaology of the tradition in which it is set. Tristram Shandy is the most obvious related novel, but there's also a good deal of Quixotic adventure and play (among dozens of other influences).
       As the books which it builds on also suggest, there's a lot of word-play here, too -- puns and word-coinings, especially. (This is also the rare Fuentes-title where the author shares the translation-credit (with Alfred MacAdam), and given the extent of language-games it's understandable that Fuentes (whose English is very good) could be helpful in finding the appropriate English versions for all that he dreamt up in Spanish.)
       From extensive and intensive political commentary to historical variations (real and imagined) Fuentes tackles every aspect of Mexico, the adventures, stories, and nightmares along the way wild and funny (though the humour is often pitch-black -- lightened only by a sense of hope that Christopher and his parents offer). It is a lot -- and the lively wordplay doesn't always make for the smoothest read. Over more than 500 pages it can be wearing, but it is a fascinating attempt to come to grips with an entire nation (and five hundred years of history) in a single novel.
       Worthwhile, but requiring quite an investment (of time and concentration).

- Return to top of the page -


Christopher Unborn: Reviews: Carlos Fuentes: Other books by Carlos Fuentes under review: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       Mexican author Carlos Fuentes lived 1928 to 2012. Winner of the Venezuelan Romulo Gallegos Prize (for Terra Nostra) and the Cervantes Prize (1997). He has taught at Harvard, Princeton, Brown, and Columbia, among other universities.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2006-2016 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links