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À mon chevet: 'Pedro Páramo'

À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.

book cover
"This town is filled with echoes. It's like they were trapped behind the walls, or beneath the cobblestones. When you walk you feel like someone's behind you, stepping in your footsteps. You hear rustlings. And people laughing. Laughter that sounds used up. And voices worn away by the years. Sounds like that. But I think the day will come when those sounds fade away."

That was what Damiana Cisneros was telling me as we walked through the town.

"There was a time when night after night I could hear the sounds of a fiesta. I could hear the noise clear out at the Media Luna. I would walk into town to see what the uproar was about, and this is what I would see: just what we're seeing now. Nothing. No one. The streets as empty as they are now. Then I didn't hear anything anymore. You know, you can get worn out celebrating. That's why I wasn't surprised when it ended.

"Yes," Damiana Cisneros repeated. "This town is filled with echoes. I'm not afraid anymore. I hear the dogs howling, and I let them howl. And on windy days I see the wind blowing leaves from the trees, when anyone can see that there aren't any trees here. There must have been once. Otherwise, where do all the leaves come from? And the worst of all is when you hear people talking and the voices seem to be coming through a crack, and yet so clear you can recognize who's speaking. In fact, just now as I was coming here I happened upon a wake. I stopped to recite the Lord's Prayer. And while I was praying, one woman stepped away from the others and came toward me and said, 'Damiana! Pray for me, Damiana!'

"Her rebozo fell away from her face and I recognized my sister Sixtina. 'What are you doing here?' I asked her. Then she ran back and hid among the other women. In case you didn't know, my sister Sixtina died when I was twelve years old. She was the oldest. There were sixteen of us, so you can figure out how long she's been dead. And look at her now, still wandering through this world. So don't be afraid if you hear newer echoes, Juan Preciado."

"Was it my mother who told you I was coming?" I asked.

"No. And by the way, whatever happened to your mother?"

"She died," I replied.

"Died? What of?"

"I don't really know. Sadness, maybe. She sighed a lot."

"That's bad. Every sigh is like a drop of your life being swallowed up. Well, so she's dead."

"Yes. I thought maybe you knew."

"Why would I know? I haven't heard a thing from her in years."

"Then how did you know about me?"

Damiana did not answer.

"Are you alive, Damiana? Tell me, Damiana!"

Suddenly I was alone in those empty streets. Through the windows of roofless houses you could see the tough stems of tall weeds. And meager thatch revealing crumbling adobe.

-- Juan Rulfo, Pedro Páramo (trans. Margaret Sayers Peden), pp. 41-43
Word arrived over Easter of the death of the great novelist Gabriel García Márquez, so some more of his books will be going onto my nightstand soon. As it turns out, I had already started reading this novel by Juan Rulfo, who was an important influence on García Márquez, at the suggestion of some bookish folks at dinner recently. (His only other work, an equally slender collection of stories called El llano en llamas, is next in line.) After the run-on sentences and stark -- autobiographical -- realism of Knausgaard, Rulfo is a jarring contrast: staccato sentences in short paragraphs, shifts of narrator, dreams within impossibilities within a story. It should be a very fast read because it is so short, but I find myself going back over most of the story's wrinkles again and again, looking for details I missed the first and second time.

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