The Enchanting Magical Realism of Juan Rulfo in 4 Books
Juan Rulfo was a Mexican author who wrote key pieces of Latin American literature. Acclaimed by Nobel laureates and praised by literary giants, his work quickly became a mandatory reading in schools and a universal reference of his writing style.
Juan Rulfo’s books aren’t plenty, unfortunately, but they are certainly enough to consecrate him as a first-class prodigy writer of the Spanish language. Read ahead to find all of his literary works as well as some facts of his life.
Benefits of Reading Spanish Literature
According to experts, learning Spanish by reading Hispanic authors is a powerful and useful tool. Engaging and noteworthy literary material will not only motivate you to understand forms of speech and idioms but also semantics, syntax, and writing styles. It will also enrich your learning experience and invite you to ask, discuss, and do more research on diverse subjects out of curiosity.
You will gain a critical view of the pieces you read and improve your reading comprehension skills as you contextualize and internalize the material. Remember to choose relevant and engaging titles to ensure your path to becoming a native-level speaker.
At the end of this post, there is an extra tip for learning Spanish effectively.
Biography of Juan Rulfo
Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Luis Borges, Dolores Castro, Susan Sontag, Jaime Labastida, Elsa Cross, Tomás Segovia, Hugo Gutiérrez Vega, Elena Poniatowska, and Evodio Escalante are some of the writers, philosophers, and poets that have openly said they look up to Juan Rulfo for being Mexico’s best narrator—incarnating a permanent lesson or even a pure miracle for other authors.
Juan Nepomuceno Carlos Pérez Rulfo Vizcaíno, better known as Juan Rulfo, was a photographer, screenwriter, and book author. He was born in Jalisco, Mexico in 1917 and was raised by his grandmother since both of his parents passed when he was a young child.
Juan Rulfo studied elementary school and did a technical year on bookkeeping. He couldn’t continue his studies due to a student strike in the local university. He moved to Mexico City to enter the Military Academy but dropped out shortly after. He managed to get into the Autonomous National University of Mexico, ranked as one of the world’s best, and co-founded Pan (bread), a literary journal. He later worked as an immigration and sales agent before obtaining the Mexican Writers Center fellowship. He married Clara Aparicio by then, and they had 4 children together.
Later, he wrote Pedro Páramo and a collection of short stories called El llano en llamas. Afterward, he worked for a government institution that focused on the development of little communities near the River Papaloapan.
His last job was at the National Institute for Indigenous People, where he edited one of the most important collections of ancient and contemporary anthropology. He died of lung cancer in 1986.
4 Major Works by Juan Rulfo
Dare to enter his fascinating unearthly worlds and prepare to be transported to a setting where time and space do not exist but magic prevails.
1. Pedro Páramo
We will start with the crown jewel of Juan Rulfo’s career and Mexican literature: Pedro Páramo. This novel is about Juan Preciado and his quest to find his father in Comala after his mother passed away. Little does he know Comala is a ghost town with eerie appearances from different timelines.
The transcendence of this masterpiece is hard to dimension. It only sold two thousand copies in the first four years after its publication. But later both experts and the general public highly acclaimed the book and the author. It has been translated 50 times to more than 40 languages and has sold millions of copies around the world.
Pedro Páramo is a key literature piece in Latin America and one of the best to represent the magical realism movement. Just to get a clear idea of the influence it has, take the words of Nobel prize winner Gabriel García Márquez who said that he had an artistic blockage after writing four books and couldn’t get out of it. According to him, the discovery of Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo was life-changing and a career turning point for him as it freed the way to write his masterpiece, One Hundred Years of Solitude (Cien años de soledad).
He assured he “could recite the whole book, forwards and backward.” Márquez also said that all of Rulfo’s work “add up to no more than 300 pages but that is almost as many and I believe as durable as the pages that have come down to us from Sophocles.” Gabriel also said that nothing had ever made him feel like Kafka’s Metamorphosis until Pedro Páramo came along.
Another emblematic Latin American author Jorge Luis Borges said this book was one of the best novels of Universal Literature. Susan Sontag calls Pedro Páramo “not only one of the masterpieces of 20th-century world literature but one of the most influential books of the century.”
To add more value to this book and to the endless imagination of Juan Rulfo, Comala is a real town in México and if you’ve ever been you know it is the living, ideal representation of magical realism. Always foggy and humid, with street slopes where cars go up instead of down. You feel like you are in Juan Rulfo’s Comala and you are about to encounter Juan Preciado in any second.
The literary complexity of this novel is high due to the series of timelines, the depth of the characters’ construction, and the nature of the storyline that more of a storyline is a story in circles.
Check out this article about The Magical World of Isabel Allende in 6 Essential Books!
2. The Plain in Flames (El llano en llamas)
El llano en llamas is a collection of short stories by Juan Rulfo. The most famous ones among the 17 pieces are Macario—which many directors and producers have adapted to plays and movies—, and Tell Them Not to Kill Me! (¡Diles que no me maten!).
Macario is the town fool who describes many little things of his day to day in a monologue. His caregivers, his Godmother, and the servants, all seem to disrespect him. A negative environment develops as the past and present start to mix, generating a feeling of desperation, terror, and hunger.
In ¡Diles que no me maten! the main character Juvencio is trying to stop the firing squad to kill him by begging his son to intervene. He had killed a man 40 years earlier and his actual prison guard is the deceased son.
All of these stories are anecdotic and many expose the inner communication of the characters and monologues. They develop in the Jalisco region of Mexico, where the author was raised, and contain diverse tragedies of the locals with a long history of family drama, economic deprivation, and crime.
Juan Rulfo’s exceptional ability to indagate within the character’s soul, feelings, and internal demons collide with a magical setting where anything can happen.
According to a reviewer, Pedro Páramo and El llano en llamas “prove Juan Rulfo to be one of the master storytellers of modern Mexico.” The French Nobel laureate J.M.G. Le Clézio mentioned Juan Rulfo, Pedro Páramo and El llano en llamas in his Nobel lecture.
You can find the English version as The Plain in Flames, The Burning Plain, and Other Stories, or simply The Llano in Flames.
3. The Golden Cockerel (El gallo de oro)
This Juan Rulfo’s short novel is about the love story between a gallero (a person that owns cocks, trains them to fight, and bets on them) and a palenque (fair) singer while they go from one fair to the next throughout the center of the country.
Before publishing this book, the writing work was the base for notable authors Gabriel García Márquez and Carlos Fuentes to write the screenplay for a movie with the same name. Other adaptations include movies, TV shows, and even telenovelas or soap operas.
4. Letters to Clara (Cartas a Clara)
Letters to Clara is a compilation of 84 letters Juan Rulfo wrote to his beloved Clara Aparicio while they were separated. And what is the work of Rulfo if not an intimate relationship of the human being with himself and others?
In this book, you can follow him to the places he knew, the restaurants he ate at, and all the simple things he did—which somehow transformed into major love gestures, like sowing a pit of a peach.
While Juan Rulfo writes his masterpieces he can’t stop thinking about the love of his life, and how she makes it all worthy so he tells her through these letters. Desolation, hope, nostalgia, separation, and longing are the main features of these letters where he compares Clara to the magical Comala, as she is “a world of souls.”
Cartas a Clara deserves to be on this list merely because if Juan Rulfo masters the simple and mundane in his books, this is proof it all started in his own real life.
The literary complexity of this publication is moderate as he is not intentionally trying to create an atmosphere or to give depth in each sentence, but just communicating his feelings, his daily life, and the excitement of the future expectations of the author with Clara.
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Learn More about Juan Rulfo and Magic Realism!
As you can see, Juan Rulfo was a key author in Hispanic literature and one of the greatest exponents of magical realism. His stories penetrated all social and economic statuses and had an influence on top writers worldwide.
If you want to get even closer to this genre or other Latin American authors and keep learning Spanish, one of the best ways to do so is by speaking to native Spanish speakers. Here at HSA, we can tailor a Spanish package that meets your every need and interest.
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