on May 26, 2000
Nothing in literature can prepare you for the impact of Pedro Paramo for nothing in literature compares to this novel from Mexican author Juan Rulfo. Published in 1955, and Rulfo's only novel, Pedro Paramo is the story of Juan Preciado's quest to find both his roots and his father. Fulfilling his mother's dying wish, Juan sets out for the rural Mexican village of Comala, the village of his mother's memories, the village where "she sighed about going back," and where Pedro Paramo, lover, overlord and murderer, spent his childhood and his youth. What Juan finds in Comala is something very different from what he expected, something very different from what the reader expects, for Comala is truly a village of the damned, a hell that one literally descends into, never to return. As Juan Preciado meets first one, then another of the inhabitants of Comala, he comes to an astonishing revelation--everyone in Comala, including his father, is dead. The second half of Pedro Paramo concerns itself with the reasons why Comala became a village of the dead and the emphasis then shifts to the enigmatic character of Susana San Juan, the only woman Pedro Pramo ever truly loved and the one who was forever denied him. Although few details are provided about Susana San Juan, we come to see her as the epitome of two archetypes: the heavenly goddess and the overtly sexual madwoman. When she dies and ascends into heaven, in front of Pedro Paramo's own eyes, the fate of Comala and its residents becomes forever sealed. Although this small book may seem to lack structure (there are no chapter breaks), it is highly structured. It is, however, a structure of silences, hanging threads, truncated scenes, and even non-time. Rulfo moves backwards and forewards between the past (the Comala of the living) and the present (the Comala of the dead). The author moves seamlessly between first person and third person; scenes cut into one another and move effortlessly from one location to another and yet nothing is jarring, nothing is out of place. Although more horrifying than any other book I have ever read, Pedro Paramo does not "fit" into any genre and Rulfo uses none of the usual writer's techniques to enhance his story. Rulfo simply uses straightforward narration, moving from conscious thought to memory, from the world of the living to the world of the dead. In an interview in 1980, Rulfo, himself, said that he wanted to allow the reader to participate in the telling of the story, in the filling in of the blanks. Pedro Paramo is a shadowy, eerie, haunting work, and one whose impact on literature cannot be over-emphasized. Gabriel Garcia Marquez has called this book the most influential reading of his early writing years and has admitted to memorizing the entire text. Yet Pedro Paramo completely lacks the humor of Garcia Marquez (in fact, its bleakness is entirely unrelieved) and it is definitely not magical realism. Although this book defies classification, it is most definitely a masterpiece and most definitely one-of-a kind.
Author Juan Rulfo's extraordinarily powerful novel, "Pedro Paramo," captures the essence of life in rural Mexico during the last years of the 19th century, and the beginning of the 20th, like no other work of fiction. Here, in a mere 124 pages, the author vividly portrays the radical social and economic changes which spurred the dramatic migration of the campesinos from ranchos and villages to the urban slums, where they could no longer live off the land, nor find work. Ghost towns mark the places where many had once flourished. I first read this masterpiece in English while living in Guadalajara, Mexico, over 25 years ago. I was absolutely captivated by the haunting story and by the fascinating characters. I reread the book a few years later, in Spanish, and was able to appreciate, first-hand, the authors skillful, nuanced use of language. After a series of surrealistic dreams, which turned my thoughts southward, I recently picked up another copy and began to read once more of the dry, deserted streets of Comala and the man who doomed the town and its inhabitants. I am amazed that the novel remains as fresh, magical and poignant as it did the first time around. I think Juan Rulfo's masterpiece takes on depth and texture with each reading. And it certainly proves true the maxim, "Good/great things come in small packages."
Pedro Paramo, the son of failing landowners, was consumed with love for Susana San Juan. This intense passion lasted a lifetime. Eventually, Pedro's aging father and family died, and Susana moved away. Alone and lonely, he assumed control of the estate and unscrupulously did whatever he had to, fair and foul, to amass a fortune and build his empire. He married the heiress Dolores Preciado, took possession of her land and wealth, and sent her to live an isolated existence with her sister. His ranch, in Comala, the Media Luna, expanded with great success at the expense of others. However, the manipulative, exploitive patriarch would pay dearly, in spades in fact, for his greed and for the sorrow he brought to Comala and her people.
Dolores Preciado, on her deathbed, extracts a promise from her son, Juan, to return to Comala to find his father and claim what is theirs. Juan narrates and guides the reader on his journey to the dusty, desolate village, now populated by ghosts, lost souls who murmur to him, sighing and complaining in desperate voices, until he believes that he too is dead. The story of Juan's experience, his search for identity and his heritage, is interwoven with the tale of his father, Pedro Paramo, and that of sad, beautiful Susana San Juan.
The novel was first published in 1955 and has become a classic, not only in Spanish speaking countries, but worldwide, for its themes are universal. This is a literary class and a truly great book. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
on April 24, 2001
Unfortunately, Rulfo is much, much less known outside Latin America than other writers from the region, due to the fact that he is long dead and that he was a reclusive, almost misanthrope man, a shy and timid character. In contrast, writers like Garcia Marquez, Vargas Llosa, etc., are brilliant men, fond of being celebrities and lecturing around the world, as well as giving their opinions about politics and social issues.
And one more thing: while most Latin American famous writers talk about lush tropical sceneries populated by exotic, wild people with an over-the-top language full of colorful images, Rulfo uses a reworked, concise, precise and dry language to paint sad, desperate, fussy tales of opression, violence, solitude. But oh he writes so well.
Juan Preciado comes to Comala looking for his estranged father, Pedro Paramo. In this town, the dead and the alive mingle together and talk, the epochs overlap. Bit by bit we are told a violent and dark story, with somber and convoluted characters. In the end it is a tale of war, perversion, solitude and other themes common to Latin American literature, but seen from a very unusual perspective. And Rulfo reveals as an extremely self-demanding author: every sentence is worked and reworked to utter perfection. Read it, it's magical.
on January 20, 2000
Rulfo's masterpiece is infinitely complex, a challenging puzzle with countless hidden facets and inter connections, a surreal account of a small town and its inhabitants which defies human conceptions of both time and space. In short, the book is an utter delight for those who enjoy a good challenge. Pedro Paramo is not a book to read just once, and then forget; it stays with you, and requires multiple readings to truly understand and appreciate the brilliant metaphors and plot. After the first reading I was very confused. During the second reading I began to understand how the various narations and story lines fit together. During the third reading I fell in love. The fourth and fifth readings only increased my appreciation of the beauty and power of Rulfo's imagery and symbolism. Who knows what new questions and connections a sixth reading will reveal?
on June 12, 1998
It is hard to imagine a novel from this century that is better written and more complex. Only one such novel -- from any language -- comes to mind: Garcia Marquez' One Hundred Years of Solitude. Like One Hundred Years, Pedro Paramo offers a vision of fatalism, the idea that everything is preordered and that man has no say in the ultimate final word, and he must accept it and go on. But the fatalistic view put forth by Rulfo is not comical, as that of Garcia Marquez. Each page draws you further into a vacuum of desperation and depression, where the sun does not shine and the people do not live, literally, for they are in the grave. The Indians of Mexico believe that the souls of the dead still live; they wander the earth, which is expressed in the novel very well. Yet it can also be said that the souls of the living are dead. Such is the case of the unifying agent of the novel, Pedro Paramo. Absolutely destroyed by the murder of his father and the departure of his childhood sweetheart, Paramo unleashes the anger of his dead soul on his region, turning the once fertile valley into a barren wasteland (in Spanish 'paramo' means just that). Morality and the spirit of the people are also destroyed. Comala (oven in Spanish) becomes Hell on Earth, and, with the death of Paramo, the town dies also.
Paramo's illegitimate son, Juan Preciado, is told by his mother, who is on her deathbed, to go and meet his father, who has died some years before. Basically, his mother is telling him to "Go to Hell", for she herself has been destroyed by Paramo. Juan Preciado (valuable), then, should really be named Juan Des-Preciado, or "worthless". The only thing that Juan finds is Hell, dead souls, and death for himself. The narrator writes that for he who goes to Comala descends, and he who leaves Comala ascends, harking back to the ancient myth of Heaven and Hell.
This Heaven and Hell motif is concisely preconfigured in the Paramo's name: Pedro, or Peter, is an allusion to St.Peter, in whom Jesus fou! nded his church and to whom God gave the keys to the gates of Heaven. As already mentioned, Paramo signifies wasteland, or a type of hell. Thus, as is profoundly demonstrated in the novel, Pedro Paramo controls the destinies of the people of Comala, and unfortunately, he carries all the people with him to Hell.
on November 14, 2004
If in the contemporary literature there are so many writers dealing with the magical realism, we must be grateful to Juan Rulfo and his masterpiece "Pedro Paramo" that brought this kind of narrative to us. The experience of reading this short book can be very difficult to most of us at first, but, once we get used to the magical ideas and the writer's style the narrative flows smoothly.
Juan Preciado returns to a town called Comala, a place his mother left when he was just a baby. That is literally a ghost town -- there are many dead walking people. On arriving there he finds out that his father, a landlord, was a tyrant and people didn't like him. Preciado is taken by some spirits and guide through the story of the city and its death, brought on by Paramo.
Evil and chaos arise from Paramo's hand in the story. That's why Comala has been destroyed. In the early days, the landlord, with the assistance of the church, leads the whole town to corruption, philandering and decay. As a consequence violence suffuses the city. Miguel, Paramo's son, is the personification of that. He is a serial rapist and ends up killed by his horse. When Susana, Pedro's love interest dies, he shuts the entire city down mandating that the farm become dead and funding revolutionaries.
For most, what maked "Pedro Paramo" a difficult book is the style of narrative chosen by Rulfo. His text reads like the hopscotch. Narrative swifts time and place easily -- and to understand the changes and new narratives, the reading of this novel requires double attention. The story can jump which jumps between Juan's dealings with the residential ghosts of the town, his channeling of the non-ghost souls those departed who exist in a mental limbo, and non-linear retelling or straight narration of the past.
In his narrative, the author is dealing with the tragedy -- in an experienced level rather than in a viewed level. The effect intended by the writer is a simple one -- with that he brings his readers closer to his narrative. Contemporary authors try to dead with that, but not many are as successful as Rulfo -- one of the best positive examples is Gabriel Garcia Marquez that with charm and style mastered his own narrative having with basis Rulfo's proposition.
"Pedro Paramo" is a highly recommended book. It is difficult and interesting. But don't let the size fool you. It is short but complex and profound -- and, for many people, disturbing.
on January 30, 2002
... I'd like to say that never in my life have I read a book for school that I have enjoyed more. Never have I seen one human man create so many flowing tangents of possibility using so few words. PEDRO PARAMO is a story told between the lines, as Rulfo said his life was made by the silences. And what's between the lines? The question is left almost completely up to the reader to answer. I've never read a book that is so wonderfully and easily its own inverse. This is not a book to keep as a beach companion, it's a book that makes you think. And though my fellow students might argue that Rulfo's ambiguity is frustrating (I would agree with them at times), I also find it to be so liberating. Rulfo is an author content to lay the framework for the story. He puts his readers down on his forest path and lets them hack their own way through his trees (I know some of us wished we had had machetes at times, hence the hacked). But, to be cheesy, no matter what rout they take, they all reach the other side of the woods in the end.
My advice when reading this book...don't take it too seriously. Let it stimulate your mind, but don't try too hard to figure it out. Sometimes I tend to think that Rulfo would be most disappointed if we actually figured him out. I think he meant to leave this book open-ended to encourage independent reader interpretation, and that if someone sat down and said "this book means this and only this," then he would be disappointed. Yes, this can definitely be upsetting to some people because we like knowing the end to the mystery. But hey, maybe it's nice to know for once that no one's wrong here. The one rule with this book is there are no rules, life is death, death is life. So if death isn't the final answer to the question of life (is life the answer to death?), then why is there an answer to Ruflo's question? Perhaps his question is the answer... hah hah.
I'm done being all pondery now. In closing, this book rocks. It's innovative, it's mysterious, it's interesting, and, even if you don't like it, it makes you think.
on January 29, 2002
Pedro Paramo is, without a doubt, the strangest and most original book I have ever read. The story focuses on the character of Juan Preciado and his search for his origins after the death of his mother.
The flawless writing is both surrealistic and impressionistic and the story Rulfo tells is the most horrifying I have ever read.
The plot of Pedro Paramo contains many shifts in time that might be confusing for some readers. So might the story's many layers of complexity. Is Pedro Paramo simply a story of unrelieved horror, or is it a metaphor for Latin America itself? Perhaps it is both.
The book may scare the daylights out of you, but the story never lags. On the contrary, it picks up pace as it evolves toward an inevitable, though not predictable, ending.
Although Juan Rulfo wrote many short stories, Pedro Paramo is his only novel. It is definitely a masterpiece and definitely one of a very different order. Pedro Paramo may shock you, horrify you or leave you feeling bewildered, but it will certainly be a completely different story from anything you've ever read before.
I've yet to read a book quite like this one. This book is written in simple language but creates a complex imagery that is surreal and haunting, revealing a story for the ages. It is one of those books that takes the reader on a journey that is nonexistent, into a world that is part real, part myth. The interweaving of ghost like characters into Pedro Paramo's search for his family history unviels things from the past that are possibly left buried with the dead. A truly bizzare piece of fiction that is like a fine herringbone weave, the threads all intertwined , that upon closer examination reveal an orderly pattern in a new creation, covering the subject beautifully in classic detail. Juan Rulfo was a master of uncanny prose, he creatied poetic imagery that is alive amidst the ghosts of Pedros Paramo's past. This book is difficult to understand without complete attention given , I also think this book deserves more than one read. Having recently read the original Spanish version it will be interesting to compare the translation on my next reading of this book. The conversations in this book stir up genetic memories that are haunting peeks into the past. Considered a classic, this book is a beautiful yet eerie glimpse into one mans search for his identiy.
on February 18, 2004
Short review - Amazing
Long review - I was very impressed with this book. The story - if it can be summed up so simply - is of a man who goes to the town where his father lived on the request of his deceased mother. He wanders about the dead town, running into the ghosts of previous residents, discussing his father with them and getting a glimpse into their lives.
The story soon shifts focus away from him - and the 'I' narration - and instead moves about from person to person, each little experience illuminating the life of his father, Pedra Paramo, in greater detail. In some people's minds he was a villain, in others, a good man, in others, simply a rich man who did what rich men do. Occasionally little snippets of conversation float through the book, often these aren't attributed to anyone and would require a re-read to recognise as the reader becomes more familiar with the characters.
Later, the narration moves away from 'he said she said' back to 'I', but this time the 'I' is Pedro himself. Here he pines for his dead wife, Susana, and his thoughts are only of love and glorifying her image. Yet, generally in sections immediately following it, we witness scenes where he either takes part in or is a silent witness to horrible deeds, so we are left to wonder just what sort of man Pedro Paramo is? And the best part of the book is that it does not try to answer this for us.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez lists Rulfo as one of the two great influences of his life, as well as Kafka's Metamorphosis, and it shows. In Comala, people who die never really leave and an air of magic and realistic exaggeration (if that makes sense) permeates every person and every action. The seeds of Macondo (from 100 Years of Solitude) are more than evident here, in some ways this seems like the skeleton novella for Marquez's masterpiece. Often this was a bad thing, in that I felt I was getting a watered down version, but in other ways it was simply amazing to read another take - and the original Latin American take - on magic surrealism.
This book is short, 124 pages, and a quick read. I highly recommend it, particularly if you enjoy Marquez.