Sun, Stone and Shadows: 20 Great Mexican Short Stories
Martín Luis Guzmán (1887-1976) was born in Chihuahua and died in Mexico City. He was an active participant in the Maderista revolution, joining Pancho Villa's forces. He later went on to become a librarian and editor. Of the tow periods he lived in exile, the more productive took place in Spain from 1924 to 1936. Upon his return, he held various public offices, and from 1970 to to 1976 he was a senator. In 1958, he received the National Prize for Literature. He is the author of the classic trilogy of the Mexican Reviolution: El águila y la sepriente [The Eagle and theSerpent]. La sombra del caudillo [The Shadow of the Leader], and Memorias de Pancho Villa [Memoirs of Pancho Villa]. "The Carnival fo the Bullets" faithfully distills the essence of the Mexican liberal tradition, as inherited by more than one revolutionary soul.
Alfonso Reyes (1889-1959), the son of General Bernardo Reyes, was educated primarily in Mexico City. In 1909, he and other like-minded young intellectuals such as Martín Luis Guzmán and José Vasconcelos, founded the Ateneo de la Juventud to promote new cultural and aesthetic ideals and educational reform in Mexico. At the age of 21, Reyes published his first book, Cuestiones estéticas. The following year, 1912, he wrote a short story, La Cena ("The Supper"), considered a forerunner of surrealism and of Latin American magical realism. In that year he was also named Secretary of the Escuela Nacional de Altos Estudios at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
Reyes obtained his law degree in 1913 and joined Mexico's diplomatic service. From 1914 to 1924, he was posted in Madrid. He also pursued a literary career as journalist, investigator, translator, critic, and writer. By virtue of this extended stay in Madrid, he was spared the violence of the Mexican Revolution. In 1915, he wrote what is probably his best known essay, "Visión de Anáhuac (1915)," with its famous epigraph, "Viajero: has llegado a la región más transparente del aire", the source of the title of Carlos Fuentes's novel La región más transparente. In 1939, he retired from the diplomatic corps and returned to Mexico, where he organized what is today El Colegio de México and dedicated himself to writing and teaching.
The great Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges paid homage to the excellence of Reyes's style with the following words: "Alfonso Reyes, the greatest prose writer in the Spanish language of any age, said to me: 'Groussac taught me how to write in Spanish.' "
Juan De La Cabada (1901-1986) was born in Campeche. When he died in Mexico City, he left behind a body of work that, while small, reveals thoroughly Mexican characters and customs. Devoid of moral judgments and ideological considerations, de la Cabada records in blunt prose the course of everyday life, as well as different social classes and their divergences. “The Mist” reminds us that appearances can be deceiving and that on any given night; we are capable of switching places with ghosts of flesh and blood.
Francisco Rojas Gonzalez (1903-1951) was an ethnologist and a researcher at the Institute for Social Research at the National Autonomous University of Mexico as well as a contributor to various periodicals, author of two novels, and recipient of the National Prize for Literature in 1944. He is recognized mainly as a short story writer, especially for "The Medicine Man," which depicts both indigenous religions and the unfathomable miracle of chance.
Efrén Hernández (1904-1958) and his story "Tachas" share a gift for constant revelation intertwined with constant amazement. The title of this, his most widely read short story, became the author's nickname, perhaps because his biography and the plot tht unfolds in "Tachas" are both so enigmatic. Hernández was born in León, Guanajuato, and died in Mexico City.
Francisco Tario (1911-1977) was born Francisco Pelaez, and could well be considered a strange writer in the best sense. He was a professional soccer player—goalie for the First Division Asturias Club-a passionate moviegoer, and the owner of three cinemas in Acapulco. He stayed on the margins of literary circles despite his friendship with Octavio Paz, Jose Luis Martinez, and Ali Chumacero, and remained apart from these circles despite being the author of "The Night of Margaret Rose," which is, in the opinion of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, one of the best short stories of the twentieth century.
Jose Revueltas (1914-1976) was born in Durango and died in Mexico. He was a short story writer, essayist, novelist, playwright, and a champion of social and political causes that led him to endure persecution and imprisonment. An incisive critic, Revueltas deserves greater recognition. As his short story "The Little Doe" demonstrates, he was a prose master who reveals intense emotions and lyrical shades of meaning.
Octavio Paz (1914–1998) received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1990, the only Mexican writer so honored to date. Born in Mexico City, Paz soon became a brilliant student and a promising member of important literary circles and publications. He participated in the founding of Taller, a magazine that marked the dawn of a new literary sensibility among many young writers.
In 1943, Paz left Mexico for Los Angeles, where he became acquainted with American modernist poetry. He entered the Mexican Foreign Service in 1945 and was posted to Paris, where he collaborated on projects with prominent Surrealists such as writer André Breton. In 1962, Paz was named Mexico's ambassador to India, an experience later reflected in several of his most important books. He resigned from his post in 1968 to protest his government's murderous repression of the student movement at the Plaza of Tlatelolco in Mexico City.
Paz later founded and edited two other very significant literary magazines, Plural and Vuelta, and became one the most brilliant critical and poetic voices of modern Mexico. As an essayist, he published many important books, among them The Labyrinth of Solitude (1950), which remains unsurpassed for its evocation of the Mexican character. Paz died in Mexico City on April 19, 1998.
Edmundo Valadés (1915-1994) was born in Sonora and was one of the few Mexican writers who actually made his living from short fiction. A contributor to various magazines, he edited El Cuento, which he founded and supported, and in its pages published many fine short stories. Valadés was not only a master of the short story, but also the writer who did the most to popularize the form in Mexico. In a single scene, "Permission Grante" summarizes an entire panorama of contemporary Mexican reality. It condenses centuries of history with a bittersweet, even irrational wit.
Elena Garro (1916-1998) was born in Puebla and died in Cuernavaca. A woman of extraordinary beauty and the first wife of Octavio Paz, she wrote half a dozen novels, among which at least Los recuerdos del porvenir (Recollections of Things to Come) can be considered a masterpiece. Too little emphasis has been given to the subtle mastery of with which she tackled the short story. Her story "Blame the Tlaxcaltecs" interweaves the remote era of the Conquest, a passionate love affair, the memory of an innocent childhood, and the maturity of a fiery imagination.
Juan José Arreola (1918-2001) "could have been born anywhere, and in any century," according to Jorge Luis Borges. He was born in Zapotlán el Grande, now Ciudad Guzmán, in the state fo Jalisco, and died in Guadalajara. Multifaceted and tireless, Arreola was an endearing man of letters and voracious reader, a man of unending conversation and constant lucidity. Above all, he dominated the short story. "The Switchman" portrays, in a few short paragraphs, a vast solitude, an age-old illusion, and the proximity of the unreal.
Juan Rulfo (1918–1986) is considered one of Mexico's greatest writers despite having published only two books: the influential short-story collection The Burning Plain (1953), and the immensely celebrated novel Pedro Páramo (1955). In 1970, Rulfo received Mexico's National Prize for Literature and, in 1983, the prestigious Prince of Asturias Award in Spain. Born in the western state of Jalisco in the town of Sayula, Rulfo grew up to capture in words the atmosphere and landscape of his roots.
Not until late in his life did Rulfo become a full-time writer and photographer, and he kept a job at the National Institute for Indigenous Studies even after his books had received international acclaim. He also worked on several film projects. His work has been translated into languages the world over, but Rulfo always preferred to shy away from the limelight and gossip of the literary world.
Rulfo's literature blends the many voices of everyday Mexican life in a prose that also honors the quiet murmurs of the human soul. He transformed this particular world into universally recognizable characters and stories. His life of watchful silence and shadows ended with his death in Mexico City in 1986, but his widespread influence continues to grow.
Rosario Castellanos (1925–1974) was born in 1925 in Mexico City but grew up on her family's ranch in Comitán, Chiapas—an environment reflected throughout her considerable work. For centuries, poet Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz remained the only celebrated example of women's contribution to Mexican literature. In the past century, however, Rosario Castellanos wedged open a door for such contemporary writers as Laura Esquivel and Angeles Mastretta. Castellanos was a poet, novelist, essayist, and a translator of Emily Dickinson. She won the Chiapas Prize for her autobiographical novel Balún Canán (1957); three years later, she received the prestigious Xavier Villaurrutia National Prize for her novel Ciudad Real (1960).
An advocate of the culture and folklore of Chiapas, Castellanos worked at the Institute of Science and Arts in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, and directed the indigenous puppet theater of the Center for Tzeltal-Tzotzil Culture. She dedicated the last years of her life to the Mexican Foreign Service and became ambassador to Israel. The last novel she published was The Book of Lamentations (1962), which recreates an Indian rebellion near San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas. Tragically, she died from an accidental electrocution while trying to plug in a lamp at her home in Tel Aviv on August 7, 1974.
Inés Arredondo (1928–1989) published just three slim volumes of stories over twenty-three years, yet her reputation as a great writer, "a necessary writer," is firmly established in Mexico. Her works dwell on obsessions: erotic love, evil, purity, perversion, prostitution, tragic separation, and death. Most of her characters are involved in ill-fated searches for the Absolute through both excessively passionate and sadomasochistic relationships. Inevitably, the perfect, pure dyad of two youthful lovers is interrupted or corrupted through the interference of a third party (a rival lover or a child), aging, death, or public morality.
Set at the beginning of the twentieth century in the tropical northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa, the stories collected in Underground River and Other Stories focus on female subjectivity. Arredondo’s adult male characters are often predators, depraved collectors of adolescent virgins, like the plantation owners in "The Nocturnal Butterflies" and "Shadows in the Shadows" and the dying uncle in "The Shunammite," who is kept alive by incestuous lust. Since the young female protagonists rarely have fathers to protect them, the only thing standing between them and these lechers are older women. Perversely, these older women act as accomplices–along with the extended family and the Roman Catholic Church–in the sordid age-old traffic in women.
Jorge Ibargüengoitia (1928-1983) may be one of the writers dearest to Mexico, and his tragic death at the Madrid Airport was a great loss to literature. Born in Guanajuato in 1928, Ibargüengoitia amassed a solid body of work in his lifetime, including unforgettable novels, ingenious plays, and entertaining reviews. He was also a master of the short story. Ibargüengoitia wrote clear prose devoid of pedantry or false erudition, and he knew how to use humor and irreverence. In "What Became of Pampa Hash," Ibargüengoitia’s two main characters survive the bewildering and hilarious mishaps of a bizarre love affair.
Carlos Fuentes (1928- ) served as Mexican ambassador to France from 1975 to 1977, and through his writing, he remains Mexico's foremost literary ambassador to the world. Fuentes was born in 1928 and, owing to his father's diplomatic career, spent his childhood in Chile, Argentina, Washington, DC, and other international postings. In college, he co-founded the magazine Universidad de México in 1955, which soon grew into the influential Mexican Review of Literature. In 1957, he also founded and directed the Department of Cultural Relations of the Mexican Foreign Service.
Fuentes published his first novel, Where the Air Is Clear, in 1958, and took his place alongside Gabriel García Márquez, Julio Cortázar, Mario Vargas Llosa, and José Donoso in El Boom, the international explosion of Latin American literature in the 1960s. His later novels include The Death of Artemio Cruz (1961), Aura (1962), and The Old Gringo (1985).
In his stories and essays, Fuentes consistently opposes injustice and authoritarianism, championing the individual through a literature composed of many cultures and voices.
Juan Garcia Ponce (1932-2003) was born in Merída and died in Mexico City. An exemplary journalist, art critic, playwright, and essayist, García Ponce cultivated aphorisms, novels, essays, poetry, and theater in the abundant orchard of his imagination. Though the victim of a rare disease that limited his mobility, in his work García Ponce knew no bounds. "The Square" conveys a kind of public compassion which is not exempt from healthy nostalgia for fleeting, perhaps imperceptible sensations.
Salvador Elizondo (1932-2006) was born in Mexico City. He was a man of letters whose superior prose barely harnessed the power and breadth of his imagination. Elizondo was tireless reader who provided generous support to than one author in distress. He was a prolific journalist, a precocious autobiographer, a learned essayist, a lucid translator, an exemplary novelist, and a master of the short story. A lover of the cinema, music, and after-dinner conversation, Elizondo was also a bullfighting aficionado.
"History According to Pao Cheng," our chosen story, is just a small taste of Elizondo’s great work, and an example of the universality of the unreal: that unending game of mirrors every writer plays.
Sergio Pitol (1933-) lives in Xalapa, Veracruz, although he inhabits at least two other worlds: the Europe he toured as an ambassador of Mexico, and the literary world he occupies as both distinguished author and passionalte reader. The Cervantes Prize for Literature he received in 2005 is one of various honors acknowledging the superior quality of Pitol's work. Readers revere his books, in which essay, novel, chronicle, and short story are continuously interwoven into a sort of fine cloth. "The Panther" exploits fears that sensitive soul may harbor, but that few writers would think to set down on paper.
José Emilio Pacheco (1939-) was born in Mexico City. A poet with many important honors to his name, Pacheco is also a generous writer of articles and reviews, a thoughtful essayist, and the author of two brief, gem-like novels. Hs stature as a poet does not overshadow his mastery of the short story. Rather, Pacheco's poetic language carries over into his stories. As with his other memorable writings, in "August Afternoon," Pacheco evokes the innocence of grownups who disown neither the past nor its magic.
8600 University Boulevard - Evansville, IN 47712-3596 - 812/464-8600
Copyright © 2013 University of Southern Indiana. All rights reserved.