Luis Spota had a remarkable career, first as a journalist, then a highly prolific novelist and screenwriter. I’ve probably read 10 of his novels, largely because I was captured by the extraordinary series in which he cynically portrayed the inner workings of Mexican power, politics and wealth in the 1960s and 70s. That series devoted several novels to the gradual corruption of an idealistic young cabinet minister as he jockeys for position, runs for, then is elected president, only to lose focus on what is really important. The series also included books devoted to some of the key players in the fictional power structure, and it stands as one of the most impressive bodies of work that I’ve read.
Several years ago, early in my explorations of Mexican literature, I read Spota’s Casi el Paraíso, which translates as Almost Paradise. Written in 1955, it was the story of a young man who grew up in the slums of Naples, but passed himself off to the highest levels of Mexican society as an Italian prince. The desire of the Mexican “aristocracy” to cut ties to their rough and tumble revolutionary roots, and to be recognized on an international level caused them to open their doors and their hearts to the young prince, without even the most basic due diligence. The book was highly entertaining, and focused on the foolishness of the most powerful members of society. Spota had a strict moral code, though, in which everyone seems to need a good comeuppance, Prince Ugo Conti notwithstanding.
25 years after his abrupt deportation from Mexico, 1980 by now, the young prince has become the middle aged Count Sandro Grimaldi. Surprisingly, the title is legitimate, as he managed to marry a Spanish countess, but was left out in the cold financially when she passed away. The Count becomes involved with one of Mexico’s “Juniors,” one of the young men determined to make his fortune by leveraging the wealth and influence of their families. In this case, the junior is the nephew of the incoming president of the country, and he knows he has exactly 6 years to make his fortune before his influence disappears with the next election.
Luis Spota passed away in 1985, so he won’t be offended if I say I had some trouble getting through this book. The characters are well drawn, and the Count’s back story is fascinating, but there really isn’t much plot to hang on to. The rich kid assumes the European aristocrat has access to huge amounts of capital, so he invites him to Mexico and gives him a whirlwind tour of the stunning magnitude of corruption that goes along with political influence in Mexico. It becomes a series of meetings with other rich or influential people, and descriptions of the outrageous schemes that they are planning. Lots of those meetings, and lots of schemes. After some 350 pages, the Count finally goes home, but with plans to return… That’s the plot.
The Count is never identified as the disgraced prince of 25 years ago, and there is no evidence that the president is party to the corrupt schemes, and there isn’t even any romantic interest to keep our attention. The book felt like a lengthy essay disguised as fiction. My hopes for a follow-up to the witty observational satire of the first book were not fulfilled….
But hey, it’s just one out of many great books by Luis Spota.
Reseña prestada de Librería Gandhi:
Los personajes que nos indignaron en casi el paraíso vuelven renovados y con menos escrúpulos. El príncipe Ugo Conti, con otra identidad, regresa a México veinticinco años después para emprender una especie de revancha, al insertarse nuevamente en el mundo de espejismos y mentiras en el que viven los poderosos: pocos negocios tan rentables como lograr su cercanía. Sin pudor y sin límites, la -juniorcracia – se apoderó del país y toma las riendas de un juego en el que dinero y poder forman una urdimbre invencible. Paraíso 25 es un duro (y desgraciadamente vigente) retrato de la opulencia y la corrupción desmedida con la que se maneja la clase política mexicana.