Juan Rulfo is one of the most important writers of twentieth-century Mexico, though he wrote only two books—the novel Pedro Páramo (1955) and the short story collection El llano en llamas (1953). First translated into English in 1967 as The Burning Plain, these starkly realistic stories create a psychologically acute portrait of poverty and dignity in the countryside at a time when Mexico was undergoing rapid industrialization following the upheavals of the Revolution. According to Ilan Stavans, the stories’ “depth seems almost inexhaustible: with a few strokes, Rulfo creates a complex human landscape defined by desolation. These stories are lessons in morality. . . . They are also astonishing examples of artistic distillation.”
To introduce a new generation of readers to Rulfo’s unsurpassable literary talents, this new translation repositions the collection as a classic of world literature. Working from the definitive Spanish edition of El llano en llamas established by the Fundación Juan Rulfo, Ilan Stavans and co-translator Harold Augenbram present fresh translations of the original fifteen stories, as well as two more stories that have not appeared in English before—“The Legacy of Matilde Arcángel” and “The Day of the Collapse.” The translators have artfully preserved the author’s “peasantisms,” in appreciation of the distinctive voices of his characters. Such careful, elegiac rendering of the stories perfectly suits Rulfo’s Mexico, in which people on the edge of despair nonetheless retain a sense of self, of integrity that will not be taken away.
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 Coraz n 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.