Completed: Pedro Páramo

Cover: Pedro Paramo by Juan RulfoPedro Páramo
Juan Rulfo
(1955, Mexico)
Margaret Sayers Peden, translator

And though there were no children playing, no doves, no blue-shadowed roof tiles, I felt that the town was alive. And that if I heard only silence, it was because I was not yet accustomed to silence–maybe because my head was still filled with sounds and voices. (8)

I had meant to read Pedro Páramo for last spring’s Classics Club “spin,” as well as for Richard’s (Caravana de recuerdos) Mexicanos perdidos en México winter-spring event. I started it, but didn’t finish on time, more due to lack of free time than the book itself. Fortunately, I’ve been similarly remiss in writing up a post as now I find I can make a small contribution to Spanish Lit Month, even if I don’t finish anything else on time.

The story of a man in search of his father, Pedro Páramo can be at times disorienting and confusing, as it flits from present to past, narrator to narrator with no more notice of its current time and location than what context clues may provide. Narrators–even he who opens the story, Juan Preciado–do not name themselves, simply breaking into their little portion, providing their identity only if asked by the audience at hand. It demands the reader’s complete attention, not letting go until the last page is turned.

But at the same time it is engaging, the story of Juan Preciado–young?, middle aged?, we don’t know really–returning to his mother’s hometown, Comala, in search of the father (Pedro Páramo) he has never known, at the request of his dying mother. But it is more the story of Páramo, and to some measure the town itself, and in Preciado’s search for them–learning about them–he becomes ensnared by the dying town. Or perhaps already dead town. It is never entirely clear if all those he meets–and Preciado meets many people–are already dead, or only most of them. It is a ghost story: the ghosts of all the hidden stories of the past, come to light as now the dead are given voice and take the turn to tell their tale, with no more to fear from the dominating Páramo.

‘This town is filled with echoes. It’s like they were trapped behind the walls, or beneath the cobblestones. When you walk you feel like someone’s behind you, stepping in your footsteps. You hear rustlings. And people laughing. Laughter that sounds used up. And voices worn away by the years. Sounds like that. But I think the day will come when those sounds fade away.’

That was what Damiana Cisneros was telling me as we walked through the town. (41)

Reading Pedro Páramo, I could sense–but not put my finger on precisely where I saw it–Rulfo’s influence on Gabriel García Marquez. There was a familiarity to it. There was also perhaps a hint–though maybe I imagine it?–of William Faulkner. I could easily see reading Pedro Páramo again, looking to see all that I surely missed on this first go-round as well as visiting Rulfo’s short story collection, The Burning Plain and Other Stories [El Llano en llamas].

I originally read Pedro Páramo for The Classics Club spring “spin” (ended May 1 – oops!) and Richard’s Mexicanos perdidos en México (ended May 15 – oops!). But it’s worked out nicely for Richard’s and Stu’s Spanish Lit Month and for the category “a classic in translation” for the Back to the Classics Challenge. It is also on my Libros españoles project list.