[diary] 17 – mexico

Buenos días everyone !

Following the recommendations that people made me at the beginning of my challenge (thanks Maria !), I decided to present you a major piece of Mexican literature : Pedro Páramo, by Juan Rulfo. I took it at the library with full trust, without even knowing what it was about (the back cover didn’t display a synopsis but more a praise about the book) and I was all ready to be surprised. In the end, I think the perfect word to qualify this text is certainly “strange”, but “good strange”, and I absolutely do not regret to have been able to discover such an atypical and stunning piece.


The story starts with one character : Juan Preciado. This man has promised his dying mother to go back to her home town Comala (in the West of Mexico) and claim what was due to them from his father. When he arrives at the end of his journey, Juan discovers that his father, Pedro Páramo, is dead, and he tries to learn more about the place (an empty and grim village) by meeting people.

What marked me the most in Pedro Páramo is its structure…which is more than de-structured ! In the first pages, everything is okay : we are in the head of Juan and learn about the reasons of his trip through his own thoughts. But soon enough, things get complicated and from this point (something like the 11th page) until the end, narrators start multiplying, story fragments in a myriad of narratives (in the past, in the present, in one place and then in another), and the number of characters raises as well as the amount of information given. Indeed, we quickly understand that what is told here is not Juan’s adventure but clearly the life of his father, don Pedro. Testimonies complement each other and intersect, sometimes incomprehensible at first but progressively making sense as the book goes on. Some characters or even some lines which importance we do not realize when they are first evoked (for example the persona of Susana) are explained later in the text and give a totally new sense to what we may think as insignificant or isolated. Typically the kind of books that we immediately want to read again so we can re-discover them with all understanding keys in mind.

I found in Pedro Páramo the same mysterious atmosphere of “magical realism” that I enjoyed so much in The House of the Spirits : the whole story seems to take place in a dream, and comes a moment when we do not know anymore where is reality and where is illusion (who is alive ? who is dead ?). In this rural village, deserted like a ghost town, apparitions and shadows are everywhere : Comala is haunted by its former inhabitants’ spirits, remnants of persons who died at the beginning of the XXth century and who will appear to Juan to recount him their fates and torments. These restless souls seem lost in what looks like a hell on Earth ; the moist in the air and the stillness of Comala are pregnant, and make it a suspended place, an escapeless purgatory where religion is powerless (for example we can follow a disillusioned priest who lost the hope of absolving his community’s sins).

The character of don Pedro who emerges through the pages is clearly a reason for this noxious atmosphere : his lust, his lack of scruples and his iron grasp on the village make him a dreadful and dreaded boss who always goes for what is good for him without thinking about the lives he destroys and whose domination is never challenged. And though, as we progress in the book, we discover hidden aspects of his personality, flaws and in particular his main vulnerability : his painful passion for the woman he loves. Juan is more a secondary character, used by everyone else – may it be Abundio, Dorotea or all the other persons who echo each other – as a receptacle for their secrets. The only point that I found disruptive in this book is the multiplicity of actors : too many names, too many roles – and for me who does not have a good memory for names, it was sometimes hard to remember who was who.

My conclusion ? Pedro Páramo, with its elliptical and exploded narration, its numerous protagonists and its much peculiar ambiance, is a read during which it is important to stay focused and hold on to keep going… but is is so worth it ! This effort is indeed rewarded by the discovery of a perfectly controlled plot, a rich text and a very agreable writing style. The style of Juan Rulfo, efficient and dreamlike, gives a singular importance to landscapes, to smells, to sounds and voices ; it is full of details and silences, stunningly vivid to describe this universe in which dead are kings. In fact, I loved each page of this book and couldn’t let it go until the end – even if when I started I really didn’t know where I was going with this piece. A journey toward the unknown, that I highly recommend if you are not afraid of letting yourself go with the wind of Comala.

> The next review will be about The Yacoubian Building, by Alaa El-Aswany.

> RULFO, Juan – Pedro Páramo, Gallimard – translated from Spanish by Gabriel Iaculli.
> written listening to “Himno Nacional Mexicano” .

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