I read this in the original Spanish, and then in a bilingual (Spanish-English, facing pages) version. This short novel, or novelette, of Carlos Fuentes, is a jewel. It is packed with the feeling of an unbreakable, relentless destiny in store for a young man in Mexico City. Felipe Montero, a public school teacher, answers a want add in the newspaper because the description of the person being sought for a much higher-paying job seems to be an exact description of Montero, as though it were specifically reaching out to him and no one else. The feeling of implacable fate, expressed symbolically in many ways, is backed even by the grammar: the story is told in the present and the future. A statement like, “You will move a few steps…” in the future tense makes one feel it has to happen, there is no choice. (Unfortunately, this feature is lost in the English translation of the facing bilingual edition I’ve read.)
His employer is an extremely old woman (Consuelo) in a very old mansion sandwiched among modern buildings and businesses. It seems out of place in the commercial district of downtown Mexico City. There are no electric lights in the house, the drapes are always drawn, so that the house, even at noon, is in a deep darkness. Except for the old woman’s bedroom which is lit by multiple candles.
Felipe does not want to live in that house, but it’s part of the deal. He is about to refuse, it seems, when Aura, a beautiful young girl appears. He stays.
An unusual technique used in Aura is the point of view of the second-person singular. The constant use of TU (YOU)as the subject draws the reader into the fictional world, or conversely, pulls the fictional world out into the reader’s world. The reader –with the suspension of disbelief– becomes Felipe Montero, the protagonist, and carries out and will carry out, is fated to carry out, the action of the plot.
For anyone who has read a great deal of Carlos Fuentes, it will be apparent that one of his recurrent themes, almost obsessions, is represented in this work: the heavy hand of Mexican history, of Mexico’s past, weighs on modern life in Mexico. The plot itself carries this symbolism, as do so many other facts and events.
The novel is filled with highly poetic, metaphorical language as well as symbolism, especially color symbolism, with magic and sexual passion. Depending on one’s interpretation, the novel may contain witchcraft and magic, or hypnotism or transmigration of souls. Whichever the explanation you choose, it is a fast-moving, page-turning, fascinating book.