I’m powering through my library stack – two more books down! After a reader commented that I had to read Pedro Páramo because ‘providence, not the librarian, had placed it on top of my pile’, it had to be next on my list.
Juan Rulfo wrote Pedro Páramo when he was into his fifties and it was hailed as an instant masterpiece. It was his first and only novel. Garcia Márquez claimed that this novel along with Kafka’s Metamorphosis (also on my reading list – thanks for the recommendation nyssaneala!) was the most influential work in his early reading, and could recite whole passages of it from memory. The novel follows a man who returns to his mother’s birthplace to find his father, in accordance with his mother’s dying wish. He finds a ghost town; the whole place appears abandoned, but wandering among the deseted buildings he encounters some former residents. The ghosts carry him back in time through their memories and help him gradually reveal the truth about his father and how the ghost town died. Rulfo said of the way the novel is written: “There is a structure in Pedro Páramo, but it is a structure made of silences, of hanging threads, of cut scenes, where everything occurs in a simultaneous time which is a no time.” The translation I read was beautiful; I couldn’t put the book down. It reminded me in some ways of The Obscene Bird of Night which was my read for Chile; many of the same themes, although Pedro Páramo is far shorter and more accessible.
From a Mexican ghost town, I travelled to Kenya and read my first play of the journey! Mugasha is a play derived from an oral legend of the East African region and narrates the birth of one of the most revered deities in that area. Mugasha is a miracle birth to the barren wife of the former king and once born, returns to reclaim his father’s kingdom from the usurpers. He commands the weather, the lakes and the animals, all of whom help him in hs mission. He also takes the opportunity to teach a stuck up princess a good lesson about snobbishness and the duties of a ruler along the way, like all good leaders should. The only complaint I have is that none of the references to aspects of African culture were explained in the volume, especially when the original African words were used. Although this is an old story and I don’t wish to grossly generalise African culture, I did feel some of my impressions garnered from earlier reading were reinforced; the importance of rituals surrounding births and deaths, the relative status and roles of men and women, the strict ethical codes governing life.
Finally, on the way home today (as it was payday!) I stopped at virtually every book shop I came across and ended up with a vintage secondhand edition of A Concise History of Romanian Literature and also To Bury Our Fathers, a Nicaraguan novel. The only book I bought new – very proud of the restraint I exercised – was a memoir by a Vietnamese man whose job during the war was dragging Vietnamese bodies from the jungle. The memoir is called The Sorrow of War – it sounds like an interesting if harrowing read.