cover image The Orange Tree

The Orange Tree

Carlos Fuentes. Farrar Straus Giroux, $21 (229pp) ISBN 978-0-374-22683-1

These five bawdy, often tongue-in-cheek novellas seem at first to have little in common with the Mexican author's earlier work ( The Campaign , Terra Nostra ), but one finds similarities, particularly a focus on cultures in collision. ``The Two Shores'' describes the experiences of translators who compete for the attention of the conqueror Cortes. One is a shipwrecked Spanish soldier held captive by Aztecs, the other an Indian woman who becomes Cortes's mistress. Fuentes adds a twist to this tragic tale of betrayal and collusion--the soldier has fallen in love with Mexican culture and seeks to preserve it by feeding the explorer misleading information; the mistress is willing to destroy her native land in order to protect her own life. The less successful ``Sons of the Conquistador'' alternates narrators to provide a perspective on the fate of Cortes's two sons, one a legitimate heir, the other a bastard child. The hilarious ``Apollo and the Whores'' describes the death by heart attack--during a marathon copulation--of an aging movie star in Acapulco: the tale is dolefully narrated from beyond the grave. ``The Two Numantias'' is the bitter story of a Roman general's attempts to bring ``civilization'' to the ``barbarous'' Spanish. In ``The Two Americas,'' a 500-year-old Christopher Columbus encounters Japanese marketing men who are developing the mythical paradise of Antilia. While the quality of these narratives is uneven, Fuentes's technical prowess makes this collection enjoyable. (Apr.)