Not even a previous reading of Juan Rulfo‘s novel Pedro Paramo could have prepared me for this collection of short stories (The Burning Plain and Other Stories) that read like a novel painting a dark, sombre and chilling picture of Mexican life- more often than not of the underdog, the thief, the bandit, a murderer or a peasant.
The feeling that one gets while reading is of a smoky, dark night filled with suspicious shadows hiding still darker secrets that pour out of the words and sentences of the stories.
See this description of a daybreak (in the story At Daybreak) in which the main character is accused of killing his landowner, even though it was the latter who kicked him, and then died because of a heart attack.
San Gabriel emerges from the fog laden with dew. The clouds of the night slept over the village searching for the warmth of the people. Now the sun is about to come out and the fog rises slowly, rolling up its sheets, leaving white strips over the roof tops. A gray stream hardly visible, rises from the trees and the wet earth, attracted by the clods, but it vanishes immediately. Then the black smoke comes from the kitchens, smelling of burned oak, covering the sky with ashes.In the distance, the mountains are still in shadow.
A swallow swoops across the streets, and then the first peal of dawn rings out.
The lights are turned off. Then an earth- colored spot shrouds the village, which keeps on snoring a little longer, slumbering in the color of the daybreak.
They gave us land is the story of peasants given a piece of land bereft of water.
A big fat drop of water falls, making a hole in the earth and leaving a mark like a pit. It’s the only one that falls.
The opening story Macario is Kafkaesque and is narrated in a monologue of an idiot boy, in fact most stories are in the form of a monologue, of a people trying to know about themselves, of introspecting, searching for an identity, something to hold on to as they are washed up in a river of tumultuous time.