21 February 2012

Juan Rulfo in zombieland

Juan Rulfo (1918-1986) was a Mexican writer and photographer who was famous for his so-called "literary silence." In his lifetime he produced only some 300 pages of literary fiction, contained in two books published within two years of each other. The first, El Llano en llamas (1953, translated in English as The Burning Plain and Other Stories by George D. Schade), is a collection of stories.

The Burning Plain's fifteen stories deal with human vices and human-landscape nexus. The setting is the Plain of Mexico, a barren wasteland where the drama of human conflicts plays out. Rulfo's themes are dark, but his expressive language is altogether beautiful and untamed. Here's a link to one of the 15 stories in The Burning Plain: "No Dogs Bark".

A new translation of El Llano en llamas, to be called The Plain in Flames, will be released by Texas University Press, which published the earlier Schade translation in the 70s. This comes out in October of this year. The translators are Latin American scholars Ilan Stavans and Harold Augenbraum.

Rulfo's second book was Pedro Páramo (1955, translated twice: by Lysander Kemp in 1959 and by Margaret Sayers Peden in 1994), a seminal novel and considered to be one of the earliest and most notable manifestations of "magical realism." The book, a haunting ballet of spooks and the spooked, is a brilliant "comedy of manners". A reported fourth film adaptation of Pedro Páramo will star Gael García Bernal and will be directed by Mateo Gil.

Despite this very slim body of work, Rulfo's influence on Spanish-language writing is said to equal that of Borges. In a survey of the greatest Latin American novels of the 20th century among critics and writers, conducted by the newspaper El País in 2000, the highest number of votes was obtained by Pedro Páramo (39 votes), well ahead of Cien años de soledad by Gabriel García Márquez (28), Gran sertón: veredas by João Guimarães Rosa (21), Rayuela by Julio Cortázar (17), Conversación en la catedral by Mario Vargas Llosa (11), and El astillero by Juan Carlos Onetti (11). See the complete list here.



  1. Interesting. I didn't realise Pedro Paramo's stock was quite so high. It is the most viewed review on my site, although that is largely due to the wonderful 'imaginary' cover I discovered.
    It's a wonderful book as well, though.

  2. Glad to see Rulfo getting some love here, Rise, and I have to say those two best-of lists you linked to are way better than most others like that I see. The Plain in Flames is probably a more "correct" translation of Rulfo's short story collection, but I always thought The Burning Plain was kind of a cool title myself. Great cover of Pedro Páramo, by the way.

  3. Séamus, allow me to link to your review (here) for reference. I found out that cover was cropped and color-enhanced from a drawing by Laurie Lipton called "Family Reunion." Rulfo is probably my favorite two-hit wonder author.

    Richard, solid lists I agree. I haven't read much from them, which means I had a great time ahead of me! Rulfo is a very welcome ghost. His DNA should have been preserved for future cloning so his silence will be broken. I also liked El Llano's first English title, despite the faithfulness to word alliteration of the new one. The "newlyweds" was not the cover I read but I wish I had that edition or the one Séamus attached.

  4. Not a writer I was aware of and does sound like an interesting set of tales, thanks for the info.

  5. Gary, Rulfo is a fine writer to try out at any time.