Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez (two contrasting forewords)

Reading literature about, or associated with, the Mexican Revolution (1910-20) I was struck by the contrasting styles in two of the forewords I read in two back-to-back titles. Whilst this is a post that doesn’t directly address the literature of the revolution, the different approaches by Carlos Fuentes in his “Foreword” to ‘The Underdogs’ by Mariano Azuela (tr. by Sergio Waisman) and Gabriel García Márquez,  ‘Pedro Páramo’ by Juan Rulfo (tr. by Margaret Sayers Peden) piqued my interest and I thought it may also interest other readers.


Carlos Fuentes opens his short piece with a precis of the events of 1910-20:

The Mexican Revolution (1910-20 in its armed phase) began as a united movement against the three decades of authoritarian rule of General Porfirio Diaz. Its democratic leader, Fransisco Madero, came to power in 1911 and was overthrown and murdered in 1913 by the ruthless general Victoriano Huerta, who promptly restored the dictatorship and was opposed to the united forces of Venustiano Caranza, Álvaro Obregón, and Francisco “Pancho” Villa in the north and those of the agrarian leader Emiliano Zapata in the south. But when Huerta, defeated, fled in 1915, the revolution broke up into rival factions. Zapata and Villa came to represent popular forces, agrarian and small town, while Caarranza and Obregón were seen as leaders of the rising middle class that Díaz had suffocated under the patrimonialist regime of huge haciendas using low-paid peon labor.

He then explains Mariano Azuela’s direct involvement with Carranza, then Villa, and continues:

The people of Mexico are “the armies of the night” in Azuela’s book. They give the reader the impression of a violent, spontaneous eruption. But be warned. The immediacy that Azuela brings to the people is a result of the long mediacy of oppression: half a millennium of authoritarian rule by Aztec, colonial, and republican powers.

This “foreword” gives context to the Revolution, and Azuela’s novel’s place in it and the issues his book addresses. “’The Underdogs’ thus present us with a wide view of the social, political, and historical traits of Mexico and, be extension, of Latin America: it is a degraded epic but also a chronical of political failure and of aspiring nationhood.”

Carlos Fuentes then goes on explain how dictatorships “censor writing, burn books and exile, imprison, or murder writers”, musing on the question of authoritarian repression and the importance of literature.


Gabriel García Márquez’s “Foreword” to ‘Pedro Páramo’ by Juan Rulfo is translated by N.J. Sheerin and opens:

My discovery of Juan Rulfo – like that of Kafka – will without doubt be an essential chapter in my memoirs. I had arrived in Mexico on the same day Ernest Hemmingway pulled the trigger – the 2nd of June 1961 – and not only had I not read Juan Rulfo’s books, I hadn’t even heard of him. It was very strange: first of all because in those days I kept up to date with the latest goings on in the literary world, and even more so when it came to Latin American novels; secondly because the first people I got in touch with in Mexico were the writers who worked with Manuel Barbachano Ponce in the Dracula’s Castle on the streets of Córdoba, and the editors of the literary magazine Novedades, headed up by Fernando Benitz. Naturally, they all know Juan Rulfo well. Yet it was at least six months before anyone mentioned him to me. Perhaps because Juan Rulfo, contrary to what happens with most great authors, is a writer who is much read but little spoken of.

As you can see Gabriel García Márquez places himself front and centre, even drawing a long-bow connection between himself and Ernest Hemmingway, he is heavily involved in the Mexican literature scene, the names he drops etc. The tone of the “foreword” continues in the same vein – what apartment he lived in, who he lived with, his living conditions, where he wrote, the novels he’s published, how Elena Poniatowska had lost his short story collection drafts. “I was already a writer with five underground books”.

Eventually Gabriel García Márquez is prompted to read ‘Pedro Páramo’:

That night I couldn’t sleep until I had read it twice. Not since the awesome night I read Kafka’s Metamorphosis in a down-at-the-heels student boarding house in Bogotá – almost ten years earlier – had I been so overcome.

Carlos Fuentes does rate a small mention in Márquez’s “foreword”, apparently Carlos Velo and Fuentes asked Márquez “to read and critique their screenplay for a film adaptation – the first – of ‘Pedro Páramo’.

This is a “foreword” that adds little to the setting, placing, timing of Rulfo’s novel, the approach being and extended blurb on the wonder of the book. Márquez does acknowledge his self-obsession, closing with:

I wanted to write all this to say that my profound exploration of Juan Rulfo’s work was what finally showed me the way to continue with my writing, and for that reason it would be impossible for me to write about him without it seeming that I’m writing about myself.

Both book covers feature a statement “Foreword by xxx”, neither have the names of the translators of the books on their cover, I wonder if “foreword’s” make any difference to sales?

6 thoughts on “Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez (two contrasting forewords)

  1. I don’t think that forewords really do, though I’d have to qualify that a little. There are *some* names e.g. Sontag, Calvino, that would make me look twice at a book I knew nothing about. But if I was going to read a book anyway, the foreword is pretty irrelevant and I often find commentary or introductions by the translator to be of more use.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Funny you mention Sontag as she did the afterword first the Rulfo title!! I think they may help sales, this post has created heaps of traffic, maybe the names of Fuentes/Márquez brought people here.
      Interestingly I think the Fuentes ‘Foreword’ brought context & history to the book, Márquez more just a credibility statement.

      Liked by 2 people

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