The premise of The Years With Laura Diaz is simple: follow Laura through the joys and sorrows of life, from childhood to old age. The book itself, however, is less simple. There is a great deal of focus on the political and philosophical interests of the characters, and, especially in the middle part of the book, there are long sections of political debate that are very dry.
We first see Laura at her grandparentsí farm in Mexico, where she is living with her mother until her father saves up enough money to send for them. Fuentes depicts her rather eccentric family very well; they seem so real. Eventually, Laura and her mother reunite with her father, and Laura meets her half-brother from her fatherís first marriage, Santiago. The two become fast friends, although Santiago is several years older, and through him, Laura first begins to see the outside world of art and politics. When Santiago is shot as a traitor, her life will never be the same again.
Her father, a bank president, is transferred to a small, provincial town to minimize the scandal of his sonís death. In this setting, we see her debut, the death of her father and her familyís decline into genteel poverty, and finally her marriage to Juan Francisco Lopez Greene, a politician and union organizer who has come to speak at the funeral of a Spanish anarchist whom Lauraís father had helped.
She moves with her husband to Mexico City and bears him two sons. The couple doesnít really communicate, though, and she finds herself bored, unsatisfied. Following a bitter argument in which he slaps her in the face, Laura leaves Juan Francisco and begins her journey to find herself. She is forced to live off the charity of a childhood friend, as she receives very little money from her husband, and then is supported by her lover, Orlando. When Orlando leaves her, she seeks a job with her acquaintances, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and accompanies them to the United States as Fridaís assistant.
Lauraís life moves on, back and forth, as lives do. This book spans
ninety-five years in all, so there is a lot of material and lots of detail. She
reunites with her husband, has another affair, survives deaths, estrangements
and even an earthquake. Then we arrive at the most rewarding part of the book.
Laura, now sixty years old, at last finds the independence and the lifeís work she had been seeking. She takes up photography.
Photographing the best and worst of Mexico, with the artistic principles she learned from her artist friends and her dead son, she quickly gains critical recognition, then fame and even wealth. There is still sadness and difficulty in her life, but she finally learns to like and accept herself, and gains a serenity that had been lacking since the death of her half-brother decades ago.
This novel, although very moving in parts, is not an easy read. The historical and political information included is interesting, but way too extensive. Although is provides background details about Lauraís surroundings, much of it seems to have little to do with Laura herself. She is just an observer, a listener who drifts through the scenes with little interaction with the other characters. Perhaps that is the intention, as it does seem all the more rewarding to see the Laura who has been ignored by her husband, used by her lovers, rejected by her sons, and has nothing much to show for her life finally find her purpose in the end. But it sure does take a long time to get there.