Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo

As one enters Juan Rulfo's legendary novel, one follows a dusty road to a town of death.Time shifts from one consciousness to another in a hypnotic flow of dreams, desires, and memories, a world of ghosts dominated by the figure of Pedro Paramo - lover, overlord, murderer. Rulfo's extraordinary mix of sensory images, violent passions and unfathomable mysteries has been a profound influence on a whole generation of Latin American writers including Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. To read Pedro Paramo today is as overwhelming an experience as when it was first published in Mexico nearly fifty years ago.
Amazon description.

Wow! This is one of those books, which when you read the last sentence you want to immediately turn back to page one and start again. I have never read a novel like it. It is as the description states an extraordinary mix of images, passions and mysteries. So much so that it seems to me to be prose poetry. Indeed the works it most reminds me of are the verse plays by Federico Garcia Lorca, in particular Blood Wedding. This is in part because like poetry the book is a distillation of a story: only 122 pages long, it is what is left after Rulfo cut and cut a much longer book. Having written it, Rulfo wrote no more books, but then why, after writing such a masterpiece, would one feel the need?

This book profoundly influenced South American magic realism. Marquez has said that it is the book he would most like to have written and he is able to quote large chunks of the book. It is hard to credit that such a modern feeling book was written in 1955.  

The book is not an easy book to read and those readers who need to be clear about what is going on and who is speaking will hate it. The book is multi-voiced. It starts simply in the first person: I came to Comala because I had been told that my father, a man named Pedro Paramo, lived there. It was my mother who told me. The speaker is Juan Preciado. But as he arrives in the ghost town of Comala, more voices press in, in the third and first person and in the past and present tense. They are the voices of the dead, confused and confusing, for it becomes clear that Comala is a sort of purgatory. At one point Juan dies: There was no air; only the dead, still night fired by the dog days of August. Not a breath. I had to suck in the same air I exhaled, cupping it in my hands before it escaped. I felt it, in and out, less each time…until it was so thin it slipped through my fingers forever. I mean, forever.  

Juan lies in the ground, listening to the whispering of the dead all around, and we lie there with him. From the words of the dead the picture forms of Pedro Paramo's life. But the dead, like the living, do not always tell the truth and seldom tell the whole truth. The best approach to this book is, to my mind, to relax and let the words and images form, as you cannot get it all at first reading. Then read it again and more will become clear.  

This book was listed by the Guardian newspaper in the top 100 novels of all time. I have to agree. I can't tell you how excited I have been to discover it. It alone makes this magic realism challenge worthwhile.  This book is out of print and is hard to obtain. Beg, borrow, besiege your local library, but get it! 

No comments: