Juan Rulfo

"Pedro Páramo"

(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie AUG 26, 2006)

"I came to Comala because I had been told that my father, a man named Pedro Páramo, lived there."

Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo

Author Juan Rulfo's extraordinarily powerful novel, Pedro Paramo, captures the essence of life in rural Mexico during the last years of the 19th century, and the beginning of the 20th, like no other work of fiction. Here, in a mere 124 pages, the author vividly portrays the radical social and economic changes which spurred the dramatic migration of the campesinos from ranchos and villages to the urban slums, where they could no longer live off the land, nor find work. Ghost towns mark the places where many had once flourished. I first read this masterpiece in English while living in Guadalajara, Mexico, over 25 years ago. I was absolutely captivated by the haunting story and by the fascinating characters. I reread the book a few years later, in Spanish, and was able to appreciate, first-hand, the authors skillful, nuanced use of language. After a series of surrealistic dreams, which turned my thoughts southward, I recently picked up another copy and began to read once more of the dry, deserted streets of Comala and the man who doomed the town and its inhabitants. I am amazed that the novel remains as fresh, magical and poignant as it did the first time around. I think Juan Rulfo's masterpiece takes on depth and texture with each reading. And it certainly proves true the maxim, "Great things come in small packages."

Pedro Paramo, the son of failing landowners, was consumed with love for Susana San Juan. This intense passion lasted a lifetime. Eventually, Pedro's aging father and family died, and Susana moved away. Alone and lonely, he assumed control of the estate and unscrupulously did whatever he had to, fair and foul, to amass a fortune and build his empire. He married the heiress Dolores Preciado, took possession of her land and wealth, and sent her to live an isolated existence with her sister. His ranch, in Comala, the Media Luna, expanded with great success at the expense of others. However, the manipulative, exploitive patriarch would pay dearly for his greed and for the sorrow he brought to Comala and her people.

Dolores Preciado, on her deathbed, extracts a promise from her son, Juan, to return to Comala to find his father and claim what is theirs. Juan narrates and guides the reader on his journey to the dusty, desolate village, now populated by ghosts, lost souls who murmur to him, sighing and complaining in desperate voices, until he believes that he too is dead. The story of Juan's experience, his search for identity and his heritage, is interwoven with the tale of his father, Pedro Paramo, and that of sad, beautiful Susana San Juan.

The novel was first published in 1955 and has become a classic, not only in Spanish speaking countries, but worldwide, for its themes are universal. This is a literary class and a truly great book. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Movies:

  • In the Pit (2006) Sundance winner

 

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About the Author:

Juan RulfoJuan (Nepomuceno Carlos Pérez Vizcaíno) Rulfo was born in 1918 in Sayula, in the province of Jalisco, into a family of landowners. His ancestors came to South America from the north of Spain around 1790.

Rulfo was born at the end of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) and experienced the cristero >rebellion, which caused widespread destruction in the late 1920s. Rulfo's family suffered financial ruin. His father and two uncles were murdered in the troubles, and his mother died in 1927 of a heart attack. No one adopted Rulfo and he was sent to an orphanage. After attending the Luis Silva school for orphans in Guadaljara from 1928 to 1932 and then seminary and secondary school, Rulfo moved to Mexico City, where he studied for a short time law at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Forced to give up his studies, Rulfo worked for the next two decades as an immigration agent in Mexico City, Tampico, Guadalajara, and Veracruz. In 1947 he married Clara Aparicio, they had one daughter and three sons.

Rulfo began writing around 1940. At the age of thirty-five Rulfo published first collection of short stories,which included his admired tale "Tell Them, Not to Kill Me!" Pedro Páramo was published shortly after and it considered one of the foundational classics of magic realism, is credited with influencing Gabriel Garcia Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. In the 1960s Rulfo worked on a second novel entitled La cordillera, which dealt with the Cristero Revolt in the state of Jalisco, but he destroyed it without ever having published it or shown it to anyone else.

From 1962 until his death, Rulfo served as the director and head editor of the publishing department of INI, the Instituto Nacional Indigenista (National Indigenist Institute), a Mexican government agency. Under Rulfo, INI published a remarkable series of photography books documenting the lives of contemporary Mexican indigenous communities.

Mexican writer Juan Rulfo is regarded worldwide as one of the most important writers of the 20th century. He died in 1986.

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