60 Years of The Burning Plain by Juan Rulfo

El Pais reminded me that it has been 60 years since The Burning Plain (El llano en llamas) was published If you have not yet read Juan Rulfo’s collection of short stories (or his novel Pedro Parama) it is something you must do. All these years later I still love his work. Even in translation, which is how I first read him, it his work has great power from economy and stories that seem as dry and strange as the barren landscapes they describe. He, along with Fuentes, Yañez, and Azuelo, was my entry in to Spanish language authors and he has remained the one who has remained as intriguing as ever, someone who’s work you would like to return to over and over. For good and bad he only published those two books (there are some film scripts, too). I’ve always wanted more, which is the best way a writer should leave a reader. What I didn’t know, is that in 1970 he added two stories to the collection. I’d be curious which they were as the article didn’t mention them.

“Descubrí a Juan Rulfo en orden inverso. Llegué a él por Pedro Páramo y me dejó asombrada. Luego leí el llano en llamas, y fue como una prolongación del entusiasmo que había tenido con su novela”, dice Cristina Fernández Cubas.

“Con los cuentos logró una nueva representación del campo mexicano y la miseria en la que viven sus personajes. De manera emblemática, uno de los relatos lleva el título de ‘Nos han dado la tierra’. La herencia que reciben no es otra cosa que un montón de polvo. Los ultrajes y la violencia de estos relatos revelan una realidad devastada por la injusticia social. Lo peculiar es que Rulfo narra estas desgracias con hondo sentido poético. Sus cuentos están escritos en un doble registro: las acciones son vertiginosas y la vida mental de los personajes es demorada, de una reflexiva intensidad. Esto establece una peculiar tensión: lo que sucede es rápido y su efecto es lento. En estos cuentos, Rulfo renovó el lenguaje de México. Ningún campesino ha hablado como sus personajes pero ninguno ha sonado tan auténtico. Un milagro de la autenticidad que sólo puede ser literaria”, explica Juan Villoro.

Juan Rulfo’s Short Stories Profiled at the Guardian

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

Juan Rulfo Reading His Stories Luvina And Tell Them Not to Kill Me

Archivosonoro.org has two recordings of Juan Rulfo reading his two short stories, Luvina and Diles que no me maten (Tell Them Not to Kill Me). The way he reads them really gives a different color to the stories than I originally envisioned. Luvina is my favorite Rulfo story and it is great to hear him read it. The recordings are a little scratchy, but certainly listenable.

La Semana De Colores, by Elena Garro – A Review

Elena Garro is not well known in the English speaking world, or if known, she is unfortunately known as the wife of Octavio Paz. She has been called the most important Mexican woman writer after Sor Juana, but for the most part her importance has dimmed over time so that only two books are in print in English.  La semana de colores is not one of those books, although the story Es la culpa de las tlaxcaltecas (It Is the Fault of the Tlaxcaltecas)is quite famous.

The stories in La semana range in style from magical realism to stories of criminal twist. Es la culpa de las tlazcaltecas is the best story in the book and shows a mastery of the magical and historical in a story that blends 500 hundred years of history. Garro tells the story of a woman who meets an Indian on the side of the road. He is dressed for battle and keeps mentioning battles of in the distance. Margarita, a woman domineered by her husband, talks with him, but doesn’t understand what he is doing on the side of the road. Latter she sees him in Mexico City and around her home. The Indian, though, is just more than an aparation of the past, he is her cousin and husband, and Margarita continually says she has betrayed him. Yet she has to wait for him in the home of her husband in Mexico City and even tells him about the Indian, which makes him think she is crazy. Throughout the story Margarita shifts between these two realities: the modern Mexican life, and the Indian who is running from a defeat in battle; a loveless and violent marriage, and the true husband. Es la culpa de las tlazcaltecas plays with the idea of a golden past, the past before the Spaniards came, to create a work that criticizes the macho world Margarita lives in. In the house she is a prisoner; outside she is free. The link is made all the more clear by the repeated references to the Tlazcaltecas who were the tribe who helped Cortés defeat the Aztecs. And when she says she was a traitor she plays on the story of La Malinche who helped Cortés and became his mistress. Garro uses these elements to create an opposing world where she would be free from the machismo of her house in Mexico City. There is also a longing to correct the mistake La Malinche made in becoming Cortés mistress. For Margarita to free herself of her husband, to do what she wants to do, is the way to break with the last 500 years of history and return at once to the past and the future.

If Es la culpa de las tlazcaltecas masterfully blends the magical and the historical, some of the other stories are not quite as well rounded and tend towards a mix of peasants and ghosts or peasants and crime that is tiring. More than a few times I thought I was reading a mix of Juan Rulfo and Edgar Allen Poe. An example of the latter is Perfecto Luna where a man who was so overcome with guilt about killing a friend and disposing of the body parts in the adobe of his home he begins to hear him everywhere. Finally, he has to flee his home and town. As he is fleeing he finds a man on the side of the road and tells him everything. The next morning they find the killer dead. Perfecto Luna like other stories has several elements that run through many of the stories and grow a little tedious: peasants who believe in spirits and which manifests itself as a simple mindedness. While these stories were written in 1964 before Magical Realism became the dominant style, at this point to read stories about ghosts or devils or superstitious people who believe in them seems to insult the characters.

The other story that had some real merit was El arból. El arból while using a twist device at the end shows class tensions between an upper class woman and an illiterate woman from the country. The story, of course, shows the classest and racist attitudes of the rich woman, but it dwells more on how those fears become self fulfilling. However, there is, as always in these stories, a question of whether the attitudes bring on the rich woman’s violent end or was it something super natural. Where as some of the stories rely on the simplicity only of the characters, El arból allows for a broader range of thoughts and emotions between the two characters which makes it a richer story. Unfortunately, the ending is a little bit of a one liner that seems a little easy.

While the stories seem uneven, except for the Es la culpa de las tlazcaltecas, there are sufficiently well written to warrant reading one of her few works that are translated into English.

Alberto Fuguet: from Film to Literature, the Hybrid Case of a Writer

La Jornada has an interview with the Chilean Author  Alberto Fuguet is a younger author who as a proponent of Mc Hondo has looked to turn away from the over saturated magical realism that came to define Latin American Literature. His book Shorts is available in English and is a mix of story telling methods, some leaning towards the cinematic and the interview makes it obvious that it is one of his focuses. He does have a new book out:

At the beginning of the year he published a new book in most of Latin America and Spain, a novel “mounted”by Fuguet, My Body Es a Cell, which is an autobiography of Andrés Caicedo, a Columbian cult writer whose book has continued to be the best selling book in Columbia.

A inicios del año, salió en la mayoría de los países de América Latina y España, la novela “montada” por Fuguet, Mi cuerpo es una celda, autobiografía de Andrés Caicedo, escritor colombiano de culto, cuyo libro se ha mantenido como el mejor vendido en ese país sudamericano

The interview covers several themes. First, he talks about hos he wished he could direct films instead of write, yet he isn’t interested in being a screen writer either. He has created a website for hosting independent videos. He has also made several short films.

Second, he talks about what he sees the role of the blog and the new media. It is refreshing for an author not to see it as just another means  of publicity, or a half way step to print.

I think that there are people in the virtual world who are very shy and unknown who write very personal things in their blogs; the people who are less shy use the virtual as a type of trampoline to eventually publish on paper. I am sure that there is a Kafka, a Pavesse, and people like that hidden on the web and that we are going to discover them latter. My idea of a blog is to help myself, to help others, as breaking the circle of books, in my case I see that my books come from the same planet.

Creo que lo que hay virtual es de gente muy tímida y muy desconocida, que escribe en sus blogs cosas muy personales; la gente que es menos tímida lo usa como una especie de trampolín para eventualmente llegar al papel. Estoy seguro de que hay un Kafka, un Pavesse, y hay gente así escondida en la red y que vamos a descubrirlo después. Mi idea del blog es apoyarme, apoyar a otros, como romper el círculo de los libros, en mi caso yo veo que mis libros vienen como del mismo planeta.

Finally, he talks about Rulfo and Bolaño.

Rulfo is super global writer, super preliminary, who seems very interesting to me. In general I have voices and companions that interest me. In the future perhaps one should find that not all of the world is Latin American. I am interested in everything hybrid, like chronicles; in Andrés Caicedo, the Argentine Fabián Casas, or what the small presses are doing.

I think that Blaño is a hybrid writer, but one that has the respect of intellectuals. He is very pop, has a much more mixed world…Rather than writing about a nostalgic Argentine exiled to Paris, he wrote about Mexicans or Spaniards. He dared to with other passports. He took on voices that were not his and transformed them.

Rulfo es un escritor súper global, súper liminar, me parece muy interesante. En general tengo voces y compañeros de ruta que me interesan. En el futuro habría que analizar que no todo el mundo es latinoamericano. Estoy interesado en todo lo híbrido, como crónicas; en Andrés Caicedo, en el argentino Fabián Casas, o en lo que se está haciendo en las editoriales pequeñas.

Siento que Bolaño es un escritor bien híbrido, pero que logró tener respeto intelectual; es súper pop, tiene un mundo mucho más mestizo […] Más que escribir de un argentino exiliado nostálgico en París, él escribía sobre mexicanos o españoles, se atrevía escribir con otros pasaportes. Logró meterse en voces que no eran las suyas y las transformó.

Zoetrope All Story: The Latin American Issue

I finished reading Zoetrope All Story: The Latin American Issue a week ago and have sometime to think about the quality of the stories. Before I start, though, I must say it was a pleasant surprise to have the text both in English and Spanish, which gave me a chance to read the stories in the original.

On the whole I wasn’t impressed with the stories. Many of them just weren’t that interesting to me. I’m not sure exactly why. Some of it was the writing style, which didn’t interest me too much, but mostly it was the choice of subjects. The worst was the story about the porn actor. I stopped reading it after a page and a half.

There were several stories, though, that did stand out. Tuesday Meetings by Slavko Zupcic was probably the best. The writing was fresh and the story about inmates in an asylum waiting for the pope’s visit was interesting and funny. Insular Menu by Ronaldo Menéndez from Cuba talk of the privations in Castro’s Cuba with a humor that didn’t dwell on the politics but human survival, although, cat lovers shouldn’t read the story. An Open Secret by the late Aura Estrada had some nice touches, although I think the story had more to do with Juan Rulfo than Borges. And, finally, Family by Rodrigo Hasbún was had some nice shifting perspective.

Zoetrope All Story: The Latin American Issue isn’t the best of Latin America, but a sampling of young writers. Some of these writers are very good and are worth a further look. Considering it can take years before young writers can make it into English, this is a good collection even if it is a little uneven.