Friday, January 14, 2011

The Haunting and Desolate Landscapes/Mindscapes of Juan Rulfo

Juan Rulfo has written very little, a single collection of short stories and a small novel 'Pedro Paramo'. But his reputation (posthumous) is huge and that is an indication of the quality of his works. I have read his 'Pedro Paramo' and one short story 'Luvina'. I cannot claim to have fully comprehended 'Pedro Paramo' and that what I understood from it is what the author intended to convey. The fault would be with me only in such a case. This post as such would be an short introduction to a writer who has haunted me.

'Pedro Paramo' starts off with the narration being done by 'Preciado' who has promised his mother (who has passed away) that he would  meet his father 'Pedro Paramo' at Comala which is where he is said to live. He reaches Comala, which seems to be a ghost town. The novel then fragments into a polyphony of voices, with Preciado having visions which are hallucinatory. The narration is fragmented and goes back and forth in time with various characters who are supposedly dead come alive and narrative the story of Comala. The childhood of 'Pedro Paramo' is also narrated, his obsession with a woman he loved and the the events that lead up to him becoming a tyrant being explained. It even seems like that  Preciado dies at some point during the narration. (not sure about this), but the other characters continue with  their narration. It is not even clear if the whole thing is a complete imagination of Preciado including his own death. But the narration gives an idea of the  desolation of the area and inner demons which haunt Comala's inhabitants.

The characters in this novel are haunted by their old memories and as such do not seem to be aware of the time/space they are in and indeed not even aware they are alive or not (i.e) if these characters are not a fiction of Perciado's imagination. The atrocities committed long ago, the betrayals done still haunt the minds of these characters. They are also alone and desolate in this ghost town, with only the memories of the past to keep them company. Their wind is a raging whirlpool of past events and it is their burden to live with them.

The desolation is also present his short story 'Luvina' which is more close to reality than the novel. However there too is a ghost town with no rain at all and where only dust filled winds blow all the time. People live there expecting their deaths only. There is nothing else to look forward too. As Juan Rulfo says '... the only people who lived there were the old men who could not travel, the kids too young enough to leave the place, unborn children and the women.'. Others have all left the place. What is haunting about this novel is the atmosphere which Juan Rulfo builds. There is no violence in this novel, no one dies and there is practically nothing happening in this story. It just has descriptions of 'Luvina' made by a teacher who once lived there. He is telling about Luvina to another person (a teacher presumably) who is about to leave for Luvina. The terrifying descriptions of the havoc that nature has played on Luniva is creepy. It also contrasts with the current environment in which the two persons are present, which is a pleasant place, with a stream running nearby, woods nearby and in the evening sun. 

Published in 1955, Pedro Paramo could have been a precursor to the magic realism boom of Latin American that started later, though this work is more in the surreal realm than in magic realism.

'Pedro Paramo' has an introduction by Susan Sontong. Juan Rulfo worked as a travelling salesman throughout his life. One wonders if the pressures and workload of domestic life had a hand in severely curtailing his input or whether he wrote so little because he wanted to. If the pull of day to day life curtailed his input, it is indeed a great loss to us readers, even if he would not be neither the first nor the last person to be pulled down by life. 

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