BOOK REVIEW / Ghostly voices on an arid plain: 'Pedro Paramo' - Juan Rulfo Tr. Margaret Sayers Peden: Serpent's Tail, 7.99 pounds
Saturday 09 April 1994
From these slender elements, the Mexican novelist Juan Rulfo weaves a story that relentlessly draws the reader in, and says more about life as well as death in rural Mexico than many longer and more elaborate works. Rulfo is a story-teller who is well aware that poetry comes from knowing what to leave out as much as what to leave in.
The narrative of Pedro Paramo - the name of the protagonist's father - consists of some 60 fragments. These fragments are the voices of the ghosts still present in the village of Comala, who between them gradually build up the jigsaw of his father's life and death. Pedro Paramo, we discover, was the local landowner, who accumulated his lands and power by treachery or by brutally arranged marriages, until at last he fell for a woman he found it impossible to win, as she retreated first into madness and then - inevitably in this novel - death.
The 100 or so pages of the novel are held together not only by the gradually unfolding story, but by repeated images and expressions that broaden out the impact of the local events and endow them with a more general resonance. The voices of the former inhabitants of Comala give a stark impression of life as something suffered rather than created. Pedro Paramo has a tone akin to some of the most haunting Scottish border ballads, like a Mexican Wife of Usher's Well, although more modern influences such as Faulkner are clearly important as well.
Pedro Paramo was originally published in Mexico in 1955, though this is the first translation in England. Despite the fact that Rulfo wrote only this novel and the short stories of The Burning Plain, he has been universally acknowledged as one of the masters of recent Mexican writing, both because of the sobriety and resonant understatement that he consistently achieves, and because of the way he uses these gifts to capture the emptiness and despair of rural Mexico. This is a Mexico which has been abandoned to suffering for centuries, but which still retains its capacity to burst into shocking life, as the recent indigenous revolt in the southern state of Chiapas - something straight out of the pages of this novel - has shown.
Susan Sontag provides an eloquent foreword to the novel. She is surely right to assert that: 'Pedro Paramo is a classic in the truest sense. It is a book that seems, in retrospect, as if it had to be written. It is a book that has profoundly influenced the making of literature, and continues to resonate in other books.'
Arts & Ents blogs
Sherlock's Benedict Cumberbatch 'first sexy Holmes', says Mark Gatiss
Liam Neeson turned down James Bond role to marry Natasha Richardson
Jared Leto: Best Supporting Actor Oscar sparks backlash from transgender community
In Kony's shadow: Shocking photographs reveal brutality of Lord's Resistance Army
Captain Phillips actor Barkhad Abdi struggles financially despite Oscar nomination
Apple's Tim Cook: Business isn’t just about making profit
Thousands of young people forced to go without food after benefits wrongly stopped under 'draconian' new sanctions regime
Ukraine crisis: New navy chief 'defects' and surrenders Crimean HQ as Putin claims ultranationalists forced intervention
Britain's top vet sparks controversy with call for ban on slashing animals' throats in 'ritual' slaughters for halal and kosher meat products
Ukraine crisis: Russia dismisses '3am ultimatum' as 'total nonsense'
If you're horrified by a flame-roasted dog, you should be shocked at a hog roast
- 1 The future of sex: The first female condoms were derided, mistrusted and shunned - but will their modern counterparts catch on?
- 2 South African rhino finally put down after roaming Kruger park for days with horn hacked off and bullet in brain
- 3 Italian pensioner hires an escort who turns out to be his son's girlfriend
- 4 Orgasm machine to deliver climax at the push of a button
- 5 Liam Neeson turned down James Bond role to marry Natasha Richardson