The (Arguable) Father of Latin American Magical Realism
When one thinks of an author’s magnum opus they usually picture a novel that runs the length of an epic, a novel in volumes, a novel with more characters and experiences than there are in actual towns across the world. But then there is Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Paramo — short, by all means a novella, but a story of dizzying density and scope with such a reverberating influence on Latin American literature that Gabriel Garcia Marquez claimed to have memorized its entirely by heart.
An eerie story of a son venturing to find his father in the simultaneously populated and deserted town of Comala, Pedro Paramo represented a break from the Latin American literary realist movement of the early 20th century, and to many, sowed the first seeds of magic realism, a literary genre now all too common among native authors.
Critics, however, have argued over whether this designation is entirely accurate. Rulfo’s main character does, after all, question reality from the beginning of the book and can at times be too self-aware and skeptical of his own fantastical and capricious wanderings. But there is no denying the genre’s nascence in the novella, especially among the blurring of objective and subjective realities, the influence of the dead, the awe-striking and horrific depths of imagination.
In all its anachronistic and seemingly boundless journeys, the story is also a prime example how much can be said without saying anything at all, especially opposite a wealth of splendorous prose and verbosity. In this dichotomy, it is brilliantly haunted, like deafening hooves slowly trotting off a cliff — a fate Ruflo keeps suspended, not out of tension or foreboding, but because the fall, in all its torment and agony, has already happened.
Whether or not it is a novel as innovative and fundamental as some claim, one thing is undoubtedly unmistakable — there is magic here.