MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. We've been reporting on the dramatic capture of Joaquin Guzman, the leader of Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel, and as we have for the past few months, we're turning to literature for some perspective on the news. Here's author Zachary Lazar who notes the intermingling in this story of violence and power.
ZACHARY LAZAR: That's a theme that I know well from a great Mexican novel by Juan Rulfo. It's called "Pedro Paramo." A ghost story, an indictment of Mexico's violent past, it was one of the first novels to experiment with magical realism. In less than 125 pages, it takes us deeply into the dark side of power. The book tells a surreal story of a son in search of his father.
The father, Pedro Paramo, like all the characters we meet, is dead, but in the world of this novel, the dead can speak and they tell us of desire, greed, lust and violence. It turns out that Paramo has built an empire based on intimidation and murder. He was born poor and he schemed his way into a marriage with the narrator's wealthy mother.
Soon she flees, but he keeps the money and he uses it to build a fiefdom through land fraud, shakedowns and assassinations. He rapes, he co-ops revolutionaries, he corrupts the local clergy. He's the quintessential tyrant. Even his name, Paramo, is Spanish for wasteland. "Pedro Paramo" came out in 1955. It's Rulfo's only novel, but it has made him one of Mexico's preeminent novelists.
Susan Sontag wrote in an introduction that Gabriel Garcia Marquez could recite from memory long passages and eventually knew the whole book by heart, so much did he admire it. It's a magical book, but in no way whimsical, a ghost story that is truly terrifying, as riveting as it is surreal.
BLOCK: Zachary Lazar is the author of the forthcoming novel "I Pity the Poor Immigrant." The book he recommended was "Pedro Paramo" by the writer Juan Rulfo.