The Guardian has a very good appreciation and introduction to the stories of Juan Rulfo that is worth a read.
At the turn of the millennium, the Uruguayan daily El País asked writers and critics to vote for the greatest Latin American novel. The winner, by a clear margin, was Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo, the book Jorge Luis Borges called one of the best works of Hispanic literature, or indeed of any literature. If the paper had asked its voters to choose the greatest Latin American short story collection, Rulfo’s The Plain in Flames would probably have come second only to Borges. Remarkably, these two books, published in 1953 and 1955, constitute two-thirds of Rulfo’s entire bibliography, despite the fact that he lived until 1986. “In my life there are many silences,” Susan Sontag quotes him as saying. “In my writing, too.”
The silences yawn in Rulfo’s writing. Its rhythms seem to slow time, and reality’s edges fray into a strange gulf. In a story such as They Have Given Us the Land, where a group of peasants trudge across an arid plain, four pages seem to become a vast expanse. It is a negative space, lacking “the shadow of a tree, not even the seed of a tree, not even a root of anything”. We are in the central-western Mexican state of Jalisco, Rulfo’s birthplace and the territory in which all his startling, bleak fictions unfold. He was born in 1917, and his father and uncle were both killed in the fallout from the Cristero war, in which priests and Catholics tried to overthrow the officially atheist government that formed following the Mexican revolution (1910-1920). Rulfo wrote of his childhood – part of which he spent in an orphanage – that he often saw corpses hanging from posts, and that he spent all his time reading, “because you couldn’t go out for fear of getting shot”. His work, unsurprisingly, is focused on poverty and violence