Sunday, May 20, 2007

Pedro Paramo

Magical realism is fantasy written in Spanish.

--Gene Wolfe

I had no intentions of reading Juan Rulfo's Pedro Paramo for the Once Upon a Time Challenge; in fact, I had no intentions of reading it this year at all. But Emma went missing for several days the week my son ventured into Austen territory and he picked up this one while waiting for her eventual reappearance; we had it on hand since R. had read it for IB English a few years back. His comments soon led me to conclude that he just might need a discussion buddy and it wasn't long after I'd started it that I realized Pedro Paramo was a perfect selection for the Challenge.

It starts as many quest stories do with a boy going in search for his father. Juan Preciado promises his dying mother that he will go to Comala, the town from which she fled years ago when she'd left his father, Pedro Paramo, to go live with her sister. Her instructions: "Don't ask him for anything. Just what's ours. What he should have given me but never did. . . . Make him pay, son, for all those years he put us out of his mind."

At a crossroads Juan Preciado meets a man driving burros to Comala who answers his questions on their walk down to the town. Abundio tells him that Comala "sits on the coals of the earth, at the very mouth of hell." (Juan's mother had remembered it as a paradise.) Abundio says that he is also Pedro Paramo's son; in fact, Pedro Paramo has fathered most of the children in the town, "but, for all that, our mothers brought us into the world on straw mats. And the real joke of it is that he's the one carried us to be baptized."

Abundio describes Pedro Paramo as "living bile" and tells Juan that their father died years ago. And the reason Comalo looks deserted? It's because no one lives there any longer.

Well, no one except for tormented ghosts and one arguably alive couple very anxious to leave. Juan will die in Comala and spend the second half of the novel buried, eavesdropping on and conversing with the other graveyard inhabitants, learning more about his father's life and that of Susana San Juan, who lies buried nearby.

Written in fragmented segments, shifting between characters and narrators, rich with imagery and symbolism, Juan Rulfo presents the rise of a manipulative, ruthless landowner at the time of the Mexican Revolution, who, following the death of Susana, the only woman he'd ever loved, wreaks a final vengeance on his town.

Highly recommended.


  1. I am not familar with this author, but your description has me curious and intrigued. I'll definitely have to check this one out. Thanks for the great review.

  2. This sounds unusual. I don't know this author, but I have to look for this book now.

  3. It's a very odd book, a favorite of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who evidently quoted from in it one of his novels.

    I hope you both enjoy it. My son loved it--even before he got a handle on what exactly was going on.

  4. I read this one in Spanish back in college, but I must admit I don't remember any of the plot details you posted. Maybe I should go back to my college assigned books, Marquez and Rulfo and that labyrinth guy (can't remember his name) and read them in English translation. I think I missed something there.

  5. Borges, that's it. I think I liked him the best of the lot actually. Garcia Marquez made me doubt my Spanish reading abilities when it literally started raining flowers out of the sky.. I kept thinking I was just not understanding correctly ---my introduction to "magical realism."


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