Brilliant evocation of el otro México, “the other Mexico,” by the writer whose inspiration underlies Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Rulfo, who died in 1986, is best known for his odd novel Pedro Páramo, in which ghosts and living beings share the streets of a dusty town out in the middle of nowhere that may or may not belong on this plane of existence. Qualities of that bardolike place are evident in this similarly odd tale of Dionisio Pinzón, a youngish man who sets out to make his fortune in the unpleasant but widespread “sport” of cockfighting. With the long-suffering Bernarda, “a tough and attractive woman with a flashy rebozo worn across her chest,” he travels from town to town, off in the provinces away from the metropolis that, Rulfo suggests, Dionisio barely knows even exists. As he travels, Bernarda turns up at the oddest times; “her calling,” his godfather tells Dionisio, who wonders where he’s seen her before, “is to wander the earth, so it’s not hard to have seen her just about anywhere….” Though his golden cockerel falls in the ring in Jalisco, Bernarda brings him discipline and luck, eventually marrying him not out of love so much as loneliness. For his part, Dionisio, with his huge appetite for success, doesn’t always treat her as well as he should—but winds up, in an ending quite reminiscent of Pedro Páramo, not to be able to live without her. With the novella are collected several sketches and other writings, most of which speak to Rulfo’s preoccupations, chief among them death. “Death is immutable in space and time,” one reads. “It’s just death, without contradiction, not standing in contrast to absence or to presence.” Even so, the narrator warns, it’s bad form to make others weep when you go underground: “It’s a rebuke that endures and that weighs on those who have died.”
A masterful storyteller whose dark view of the world isn’t entirely cheerless or without humor and who deserves to be better known.