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A Classic Novel, Haunting & Poignant. A Must Read!
on 8 May 2005
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 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. Margaret Sayers Peden's translation is a good one. This is a literary class and a truly great book. I cannot recommend it highly enough.