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This review is from: Pedro Páramo (Five Star) (Paperback)
Published in 1955, "Pedro Páramo" has become an established classic of twentieth-century Latin American literature, and was reputedly a big influence on the like of Gabriel García Márquez, who could apparently recite large chunks of it from memory - yet this is its first accurate and unabridged English translation. Perhaps this is because of the book's initial impenetrability: it's certainly no easy read, and I must confess that I came close to giving up after forty pages or so. However, persevere and the reasons for its classic status do become clearer.
The book's narrator, a young man by the name of Juan Preciado, travels to the Mexican village of Comala in fulfilment of a deathbed promise to his mother to seek out his father Pedro Páramo, the local landowner. On arrival in Comala, he discovers it to be quite literally a ghost town: one by one, he encounters doomed characters from the town's past, who gradually reveal Comala's (and his father's) macabre tale. For Pedro Páramo - unscrupulous philanderer, murderer and double-dealer though he was - is himself a tragic figure.
The ghosts of Comala flit by Juan in a dreamlike, hypnotic progression: the suicide Eduviges Dyada; a pair of incestuous lovers; disillusioned priest Father Rentería... and by the end of the book, Juan Preciado himself has become a ghostly, disembodied presence. The novel often seems to follow dream logic rather than any recognisable linear narrative: this ultimately becomes one of the book's great strengths, but it is initially disorientating. Apparently Rulfo had originally written a much longer novel, and it arrived at its final form - at a mere 122 pages, it reads like the condensed zip-file of a book of epic proportions, rather than as a novella - through a careful cutting and editing process. He once commented, "In my life there are many silences. In my writing too."
The combination of silence, mystery and striking, almost hallucinatory sensory images is what ultimately makes the book unique. Rulfo writes with extraordinary lyrical beauty about his flyblown wasteland village (the name "Páramo" is Spanish for wasteland), and Margaret Sayers Peden's translation sensibly keeps things as simple as possible, letting Rulfo's images speak for themselves: the dust; the rain; the echoing empty streets. Not an easy or a comfortable read, but a very beautiful book nonetheless.