The Plain in Flames

Juan Rulfo, Author, Ilan Stavans, Translator, Harold Augenbraum, Translator
Juan Rulfo, trans. from the Spanish by Ilan Stavans with Harold Augenbraum. Univ. of Texas, $19.95 trade paper (140p) ISBN 978-0-292-74385-4
Reviewed on: 10/01/2012
Release date: 09/01/2012
Hardcover - 122 pages - 978-0-292-72583-6
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This new translation of a 1953 collection of stories (plus two not previously published in English) from the acclaimed Mexican writer draws readers in with its gritty realism. Each story is told in the first person by characters such as priests and guerilla soldiers, living in the deeply religious and violent countryside of revolutionary Mexico. Rulfo's characters are imperfect, jaded, and often withhold their confidences until the end of their tales, giving the story the air of a confessional. The harsh and beautiful landscape of the Mexican countryside is personified, with stories taking places in towns like Corazón de Maria, translated as the heart of Mary, though in the war-torn country, God is decidedly absent, leaving characters with quiet resignation or haunted despair. The drama spans from the personal, such as in "Talpa," in which a man drags his dying brother on a long pilgrimage to the Virgen de Talpa with the intention of stealing his wife, to the epic, as in the title story, in which a rebel soldier recounts his five revolutionary years fighting Mexican troops under the command of Pedro Zamora. What is remarkable about these sketches is that the characters are rendered with deep honesty; their faults are highlighted, celebrated in a way that is reminiscent of Chekhov's peasants. Yet there is tenderness to their portrayal that seems to say: these are what real people are in their entirety. This brand of honesty is striking, and stimulating. (Sept.)
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