Like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Mario Vargas Llosa, Fuentes belonged to a generation of Latin American writers who were both literary and political, author and social commentator. He was a public intellectual.
"I wear two hats," he said, likening himself to French author Honore de Balzac in producing a combination of human comedy, acute social portraits and ghost stories. "The imagination exists and social commentary exists. They are not at war with each other."
Though he dressed beautifully and lived well from London to New York to Mexico, his politics were left-of-center, supportive of Fidel Castro's Cuba early on and of the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua. That combination long ago prompted Mexican commentator Enrique Krauze to dub him "the Guerrilla Dandy," and call him an intellectual lightweight next to the more conservative Mexican thinker and Nobel laureate Octavio Paz.
When Castro repressed writers and intellectuals, though, Fuentes spoke out against him.
The son of a career diplomat, Fuentes grew up abroad and spoke English like a native for having studied in the United States. For many years, that branded him as too much of "a gringo" for many Mexicans, while in the States he was seen by many as anti-American for his frequent disagreements with U.S. policy in Latin America and elsewhere.