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Pedro Páramo Paperback – March 10, 1994
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A masterpiece of the surreal, this stunning novel from Mexico depicts a man’s strange quest for his heritage. Beseeched by his dying mother to locate his father, Pedro Páramo, whom they fled from years ago, Juan Preciado sets out for Comala. Comala is a town alive with whispers and shadows—a place seemingly populated only by memory and hallucinations. Built on the tyranny of the Páramo family, its barren and broken-down streets echo the voices of tormented spirits sharing the secrets of the past.
First published to both critical and popular acclaim in 1955, Pedro Páramo represented a distinct break with earlier, largely "realist" novels from Latin America. Rulfo’s entrancing mixture of vivid sensory images, violent passions, and inexplicable sorcery—a style that has come to be known as ‘magical realism”—has exerted a profound influence on subsequent Latin American writers, from Jos’ Donoso and Carlos Fuentes to Mario Vargas Llosa and Gabriel Garcia Márquez.
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
A strange, brooding novel. . . . Great immediacy, power, and beauty.” The Washington Post
A powerful fascination . . . vivid and haunting; the style is a triumph.” New York Herald Tribune
When Susan Sontag, in her foreword to this book, calls Pedro Páramo one of the masterpieces of 20th-century world literature,’ she is not being hyperbolic. With its dense interweaving of time, its routine interaction of the living and the dead, its surreal sense of the everyday, and with simultaneousand harmoniouscoexistence of apparently incompatible realities, this brief novel by the Mexican writer Juan Rulfo strides through unexplored territory with a sure and determined step. . . . Having it now in all its depth and texture is a major event for which the publisher and the translator, Margaret Sayers Peden, deserve thanks.” James Polk, New York Times Book Review
No reader interested in the vitality of 20th century Latin American fiction can afford to miss this work.” Rockwell Gray, Chicago Tribune
As close to perfect as a piece of writing gets.” Sheila Farr, Seattle Weekly
A modern classic. . . . Peden’s lucid translation does justice to a tale that is firmly rooted in its own culture yet so fundamentally human in its focus that it speaks across cultural borders.” Publishers Weekly
- Publisher : Grove Press; Reprint edition (March 10, 1994)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 124 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0802133908
- ISBN-13 : 978-0802133908
- Item Weight : 5.5 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.1 x 0.3 x 7.6 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #36,778 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Reviewed in the United States on September 4, 2016
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When I told my Guatemalan wife about the book, she told me she “hated it.” Evidently, the Belgium nuns who ran her school in Guatemala made this obligatory reading in 6th grade! Oh well, obviously I got a late start to catching this great piece of literature, but was not disappointed one bit.
According to Susan Sontag, an American writer, filmmaker, philosopher, teacher, and political activist described as "one of the most influential critics of her generation,” who wrote the foreword to the book, Garcia Marques said that “Pedro Páramo ” is a legendary book by a writer who became a legend.
The story is about a dying mother beseeching her son to locate his father, Pedro Paramo, whom they fled from years ago With that, Juan Preciado sets out for Comala, a town alive with whispers and shadows - seemingly populated only by memories and hallucinations. Built on the tyranny of the Páramo family, its barren and broken-down streets echo the voices of tormented spirits sharing the secrets of the past.
His only love, from a very young age, is that of Susana San Juan, a childhood friend who leaves Comala with her father at a young age. Pedro Páramo bases all of his decisions on, and puts all of his attention into trying to get Susana San Juan to return to Comala. When she finally does, Pedro makes her his, but she constantly mourns her dead husband Florencio and spends her time sleeping and dreaming about him. Pedro realizes that Susana San Juan belongs to a different world that he will never understand.
When his only love, Susan San Juan, died, the church bells toll incessantly, provoking a fiesta in Comala. Pedro buries his only true love, and angry at the indifference of the town, swears vengeance. As the most politically and economically influential person in the town, Pedro crosses his arms and refuses to continue working, and the town dies of hunger. This is why in Juan's narration, we see a dead, dry Comala instead of the luscious place it was when Pedro Páramo was a boy.
The local priest provides insights into the black cloud that seemed to hang over Pedro.
“It had begun, he thought, when Pedro Páramo, from the low thing he was, made something of himself. He flourished like a weed. And the worst of it was that I made it all possible.” He tells of one of his parishioners confessing her sins, “I have sinned padre. I bore Pedro Páramo’s child…”
The priest remembered the day he brought the child to Pedro Páramo, only hours old. He had said to him:
Don Pedro, the mother died as she gave birth to this baby. She said that he’s yours. Here he is.
Pedro Páramo never even blinked, he merely said:
“Why don’t you keep him, Father? Make a priest out of him. With the blood he carries in his veins, I don’t want to take responsibility.”
Father Rentería lived in hope that he would someday be able to fully fulfill his vows as a Catholic priest and tell Pedro that his son (Miguel, who was killed in a horse related accident) will not go to heaven, but instead, pardoned him for his sins in exchange for a lump of gold because he is too poor to survive otherwise.
The author describes what Pedro’s son, Preciado, finds one evening in Comala,
….Nights around here are filled with ghosts. You should see all the spirits walking through the streets. As soon as it’s dark they begin to come out. No one likes to see them. There’s so many of them and so few of us that we don’t even make the effort to pray for them anymore to help them out of their purgatory. We don’t have enough prayers to go around. Maybe a few words of the Lord’s Prayer for each one. But that’s not going to do them any good. Then there are our sins on top of theirs. None of us still living is in God’s grace….
Sometimes the order and nature of events that occur in the work are not as they first seem. Midway through the book, the original chronology is subverted when the reader finds out that much of what has preceded was a flashback to an earlier time.
Initially, the novel received a cold critical reception and only sold two thousand copies during its first four years until it was highly acclaimed as a key influence on Latin American writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Marquez claimed that after he discovered Pedro Páramo (with Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” the most influencing reading of his early writing years), he could recite from memory long passages, until eventually he knew the whole book by heart, so much did he admire it and want to be saturated by it.
Marquez also revealed that he felt blocked as a novelist after writing his first four books and that it was only his life-changing discovery of Pedro Páramo in 1961 that opened his way to the composition of his masterpiece, “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” Jorge Luis Borges considered “Pedro Páramo to be one of the greatest texts written in any language. Evidently, it has been translated into 30 different languages, and the English version has sold over one million copies in the U.S. According to “WorldCat” the World’s largest network of library content and services, his works have been published in 40 languages.
Juan Rulfo was a Mexican novelist, short story writer, and also a photographer. He is acknowledged mainly for two books. One of which is El llano en llamas (1953), a collection of short stories. Fifteen of these stories have been translated into English and appeared in The Burning Plain and Other Stories, which also includes his much-famed tale, Diles que no me maten! (Tell Them Not to Kill Me!). The second book is the novel, Pedro Páramo (1955), after which Rulfo did not write another novel. His photography works are archived at the Juan Rulfo Foundation, which bears more than 6,000 negatives of his photographs.
Everyone asked Rulfo why he did not publish another book, and according to Sontag, who wrote the foreword to the book, “…as if the point of a writer’s life is to go on writing and publishing. In fact, the point of a writer’s life is to produce a great book—that is a book which will last”---and this is what Rulfo did.
After burying his mother, Juan sets off for Comalá where his father's ranch is located. When he reaches his destination, he finds an eerie, nightmarish town, inhabited entirely by ghosts. Comalá is a veritable graveyard where the dead relive their intolerable memories. All of those memories revolve around Pedro Páramo, the corrupt local boss, who turned Comalá into a hell on earth.
Juan Rulfo's writing is surreal and dreamlike. This novel reads as if the main character is experiencing a nightmare. The narrative contains many abrupt shifts in time and frame of reference. These rapid shifts are disorienting, and greatly enhance the novel's disturbing effect. There is one memorable passage, where Juan is wandering the deserted streets and houses of Comalá, when suddenly the whole town fills up with water and Juan experiences the sensations of drowning. I could swear that passage is right out of one of my own nightmares.
This book is far more than a ghost story. Like Toni Morrison's Beloved, Pedro Páramo is a social allegory in the form of a ghost story. The novel is filled with symbols and double-meanings. For example, Páramo means wasteland in Spanish (in fact, the Mexican edition of T. S. Eliot's The Wasteland is titled El Páramo). Juan Preciado is on a quest for his legacy. Instead, he finds a hellish wasteland, populated by ghosts. The novel is a social allegory of mid-twentieth century Mexico. From 1910 through the 1940s, Mexican society endured civil unrest, a revolutionary war, the anti-clerical purges of the Porfirio Diaz dictatorship and increased urbanization. An urban Mexican,seeking his roots, finds a bleak legacy of war, rampant poverty, destroyed haciendas and disbanded monasteries. Author Juan Rulfo was born to an upper class Mexican family. By the end of the Mexican Revolution, Rulfo's parents were dead and Rulfo himself was in an orphanage. Rulfo experienced firsthand the losses symbolically portrayed in his only novel, Pedro Páramo.
Although this short novel is difficult to follow, it contains some of the most surreal and imaginative writing I've ever read. Margaret Sayers Peden's English translation keeps all of the beauty, imagery, symbolism and wordplay intact. The book is both remarkably beautiful and remarkably disturbing. I recommend reading it through once and then skimming through it a second time in order to put it into context and perspective. This novel is particularly worthwhile for readers with a Spanish language background and an interest in Latin America.
Top reviews from other countries
Brevity is the key here,within 122 pages this novel is full of backgrounds and what ifs, as ghosts haunt the streets of Colama,where the despot Pedro Paramo cast his evil eye many years before.
The skill in Rulfo's style is where he manages to make the novel seem longer,small paragraphs follow mini-chapters where the meat of the story is laid.The dying despot sitting as his town starves is a great image, still causing distress even as he is dying.
The clipped style hints at so much more,the lives long faded and the intrigues,murders and deaths. Rulfo manages to bring southern mexico into the northern lands with the rain,the crops,the Villastas and many other small elements in this tale.
Really requires a 2nd attempt but as a fan of S. American lit I wouldn't be without it
I have to admit that the book confused me when the main subject, who went looking for his father, Pedro Paramo suddenly disappears? Becomes his father? Dies? It was an unsettling feeling. Having said this, I loved the idea that everyone he meets is dead or about to die in the empty town of Comala. The eeriness and almost magical feeling certainly predates any of the magic realists and yet the story unravels nicely (despite my confusion).