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Still, he wore almost as a badge of honor the fact that he had once been denied entry into the U.S. under the McCarren-Walter Act for pro-Communist sympathies. “I was in very good company. Garcia Marquez, Graham Greene, Iris Murdoch, of all people.”

Fuentes was elegant that day with silver hair and a dark blazer, his even more elegant wife, Silvia Lemus, at his side. The two had suffered double tragedy in their lives with the losses of two children under dark circumstances. But they didn’t discuss their losses then and in public, at least, they always seemed committed to wringing the most out of life.

Already by then many Mexicans had come to regard Fuentes as their country’s greatest living author. He was often mentioned as a likely candidate for a Nobel Prize for Literature and he often said, as he did with a smile that day, that his friend “Gabo,” Garcia Marquez, had his Nobel. He said he believed he had many books in him yet, and indeed he went on to write at least three more novels.

“If I thought I had already peaked, I wouldn’t be sitting here. There’s always another book in there,” he said.

A prolific writer, he told us he was stronger than when he was a young man. “When I began to write, I was anguished. The psychosis of the empty page. At my age, I know exactly what I am going to do. I sleep, I dream, I get up, I write.”

But he didn’t always know where the writing would take him. “I plan, but with some mystery.”

Leaving the restaurant after lunch, Fuentes stopped to read the directory of tenants at the stately office building. At 77, the author explained, he was always looking at names that might work for new characters.

I asked if he had a preference for any of his books. “They are all my children. Maybe some are cross-eyed, but I love them all.”

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Marjorie Miller is AP Regional Editor for Latin America and the Caribbean based in Mexico City.