11 March 08 | Chad W. Post

It kind of makes me cringe to see one of the greatest works of twentieth-century Mexican literature referred to as The Perfect Novel You’ve Never Heard Of, but well, this is America . . .

Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Paramo isn’t just a Mexican classic though—it’s one of the greatest books ever written. One of the strangest, most fully realized books I’ve ever read.

Here’s what Carlos Fuentes said: “The work of Juan Rulfo is not only the highest expression which the Mexican novel has attained until now: through Pedro Paramo we can find the thread that leads us to the new Latin American novel.” And when Gabriel Garcia Marquez first arrived in Mexico City in 1961, a friend pressed a copy of Pedro Paramo on him; he read it twice that night and so often thereafter that, he has said, “I could recite the whole book, forwards and backwards.” Moreover, he acknowledges, “The examination in depth of Juan Rulfo’s work gave me at last the way that I sought to continue my books.” And thus was Magic Realism born, although, in truth, Rulfo’s own book is more diabolical than magical and more phenomenal than real; and, more importantly, none of his descendants are like him at all. [. . .]

I was steered to Pedro Paramo by writer Ruben Martinez. (Thank you, Ruben.) I read it and then read it again almost immediately, and then again, and then again; I was trying to reverse-engineer it, but I never did figure out quite how it works. At the same time, I couldn’t understand how Rulfo had escaped my attention for so long; it was like happening on a new primary color, entirely unlike any I’d seen before. But then I read something else Marquez had to say. He, too, didn’t know Rulfo’s name until he was given the book; he, too, was surprised. How could a book be at once so admired and so obscure? “Juan Rulfo,” he said, “to the contrary of what happens with the great classic writers, is a writer whom one reads a lot, but of whom one speaks little.”


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