It is 1810, and Baltasar Bustos, Manuel Varela and Xavier Dorrego frequent the cafes of Buenos Aires. They're in love with Rousseau, Diderot, clocks and, like all selfrespecting romantics, the prospect of Latin American democracy. In Carlos Fuentes' The Campaign, Varela reminisces 10 years later:
"...The clocks in the plazas ring out on these May days, and the three of us confess how fascinated we are by clocks. We admire them, collect them, and feel thus that we own time, or at least the mystery of time, which is to imagine it running backward or speeding us to our meeting with the future, until we reject that idea and define all time as the present: the past that we not only remember but that we imagine, as much as we imagine the future, so that both will have meaning.
. . ."'Citizens,' exclaims Dorrego when I go into raptures over my religious clock. 'Remember that now we are citizens.' And that seduced us and bound us together as well: the name of our group is the Citizens."
Varela's remembrance echoes Fuentes's central point. The heroes of his novel, The Campaign, want to own time and control history. Their proprietory quest-mythologized through Baltasar's 15 year journey-is intellectual and material, self-serving in its revolutionary selflessness.
Varela narrates the novel, and his appropriation of Baltasar's adventures signals his assertion of historical ownership. Having risen to power surrounded by the comforts of his publishing business and his favorite fashionable haunts, Varela secretly records an epic version of Baltasar's experience as a revolutionary warrior. His source is his friend's correspondence-which, incidentally, is not reproduced in the text. Varela presents speculative history as documented fact, and Fuentes's reader may begin to question the very notion of historical truth.
It doesn't do complete justice to Fuentes to view The Campaign solely as a theoretical commentary on the creation and recording of history. Fuentes also writes an entertaining story.
Baltasar Bustos is an odd hero-chubby and unkempt, literally near-sighted and unabashedly romantic. Obsessed with the young, glamorous Marquise de Cabra, he travels thousands of miles across Latin America to satisfy his passion.
The fact that Baltasar has never met the Marquise heightens the intensity and the futility of his quest, which involves him in military campaigns in the Andes, royalist society in Santiago and religious rebellions in Mexico. Fuentes incorporates a colorful display of the players in the struggle for Latin American independence, with a healthy portion of sex, perversion and violence. Advice-stick around for the ending of the book, a truly masterful culmination.
Fuentes also displays his long-recognized penchant for experimental writing. The Campaign is an extraordinarily complex book, which operates on a number of narrative levels and employs a variety of expository styles. Varela's description of the Citizens' obsession with clocks is typical of Fuentes's beautiful prose, which transmutes fluidly from dialogue to description to polemic, but always operates within its broader thematic program.
The Campaign's density makes for some difficult-although ultimately rewarding-reading. Latin American history fans will value its content, romance fans will enjoy the Marquise and almost anyone can appreciate the book for its profundity.