Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Pedro PáramoPedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Calling Juan Rulfo's "Pedro Paramo" a novel is a little bit misleading. First, it is a montage, a mosaic of short fragments of text that tell the story in a seemingly random order. Secondly, many passages in the book read like poetry rather than prose. On the first page, we learn that Juan Preciado's mother, on her deathbed, tells her son to go to the village of Comala, find Pedro Paramo, who is Juan's father, and demand what is justly theirs. However, chronologically, Juan's trip to Comala comes rather late in the story, which is told through narration that moves between various point of the past and the present.

The first half of the book, in which Juan wanders around Comala, is hallucinatory, hypnotic, totally spellbinding, and written so beautifully that I reread many fragments several times. Juan finds that Comala is populated mostly by ghosts of people who died. He hears echoes locked in empty rooms; he hears past conversations, screams, laughter. He talks to the ghosts and learns about his and his mother's past. The past and the present coexist.

I am a little disappointed with the second half of the book, which deals mostly with the earlier events. We learn about Pedro Paramo, a rich landowner and the most powerful man in the village, and about his love for Susana. This part of the book is rich in social and historical references (the story takes place before, during, and after the Mexican Revolution of 1910), but, to me, it lacks the ethereal, dreamlike mood of the first half, although the scene of Susana's death is moving and enormously powerful.

Juan Rulfo's book brings to mind famous Faulkner's quote: "The past is never dead. It's not even past.” In "Pedro Paramo" the rhythm of the past is the rhythm of dying; deaths, despair, and suffering are the milestones of life. This book has truly magical passages and I only wish I could read it in the original Spanish (I have read it in a non-English translation).

Four and a quarter stars.

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