Wednesday, December 20, 2017

breaking the laws we make

Hi. My name is Steve. And I am a slacker.

Of course, you already know all that by my absence.

Robin headed north on Saturday afternoon, and I started to sit down to write up a series of essays on where to take visitors in our little corner of Mexico. And then -- I didn't.

And I am not going to do it now.

Don't worry. I will share my travelogues with you. But something glittery just passed by and caught my attention.

A blogger friend once complimented Mexpatriate as being "like The New Yorker." At least, I took it was a compliment. If the metaphor works, today will be the book review section.

Several years ago, long before I ever thought about moving to Mexico, I read what has become one of my favorite books -- Pedro Páramo. It is Juan Rulfo's sole novel. Other than a collection of short stories and a few film scripts, it is what he left us when he died in 1986.

On its face, the plot offers nothing special. Mexico is replete with social-realist novelists who have told similar tales in the first half of the last century.

The novel opens in pre-Revolution Mexico, and is narrated by the son of 
Pedro Páramo, the main character. Pedro is a cacique, a local boss, who rises to power by snatching up all of the land in his village through bullying and violence. Along with the land came many of the local women.

He sums up his ethic: “From now on we are going to make the law.” The villagers fear and loath him. But, he placates the local priest with a handful of coins.

When guerrillas of the Revolution show up, he has to make a choice. Having no other moral compass, he supports them with men and funds: “You have to be on the winning side.”

Rulfo's writing style saves what could be just another regional novel. He grew up in rural Jalisco. A background that made him particularly sensitive to the rhythms and feel of rural Mexico. What Faulkner did for the South, Rulfo does for Mexico.

But it is the surrealism that makes the novel come to life. Time is simultaneous, not sequential. A trait he shared with Carlos Fuentes.

Death is everywhere in the story. As is myth. I will not give away one of the novel's strengths. But, the reader will gradually realize that there is something awry with the characters to whom we are introduced.

I first read the novel in English. I have learned enough Spanish to know that certain verb tenses are ignored in English. Rulfo's literary surprise should be even more surprising in Spanish.

And why am I dusting off my age-old relationship with a Mexican writer?

The answer is simple. The novel's story is fresh. Not only because a lot of its events have echoes in modern Mexico, but man's use of power is so universal, it is impossible to not see the leaders of the two countries north of Mexico in the tale of Pedro Páramo.

If you have read the novel, or if you now read it, I would be interested in your perspective.

We seem to be surrounded by men who make their own law. And they often show up in our mirror each morning.

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