Carlos Fuentes   The Campaign.
Translated from the Spanish by Alfred Mac Adam.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 246 pages, $22.95

The major literary export from Latin America nowadays seems to be bad historical novels. In 1990 The General in His Labyrinth, Gabriel García Márquez’s slapdash hagiography of Simón Bolívar, appeared in English translation. Now Carlos Fuentes’s latest book, the first part of a trilogy on the wars of independence, has been rendered into English. The Campaign is more intellectually honest than García Márquez’s effort. But it is so hokey in its plotting, so lazy in its characterization, and so labored in Alfred Mac Adam’s translation that this reviewer found herself pining for the at least occasionally enjoyable Bolivarian labyrinth.

Fuentes’s hero is a fictional Argentine named Baltasar Bustos. Baltasar...

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