National Endowment for the Arts - The Big Read
Sun, Stone, and Shadows

Sun, Stone, and Shadows

by Jorge F. Hernández

The temples and gods of pre-Columbian Mexico are a pile of ruins, but the spirit that breathed life into that world has not disappeared… Being a Mexican writer means listening to the voice of that present, that presence.


Temple of El Castillo in Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico (Copyright Mark Segal/Digital Vision/Getty Images)



Introduction to the Book

Mexico is a country filled with stories, some true, others pure fiction. Those united in Sun, Stone, and Shadows: 20 Great Mexican Short Stories represent a sample of the best Mexican fiction published during the first half of the twentieth century, featuring some of the most important writers of Hispanic-American literature. Those included in these pages compose a literary geography: their birthplaces span nearly all of contemporary Mexico's regions, climates, and cultural zones. The historical perspective, too, is far from narrow, with authors born as early as the final decades of the nineteenth century during the long dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz. Hearing these voices is vital to understanding those to follow.

Once the first shots of the Mexican Revolution were fired, a renewed creative spirit took hold of Mexico's writers and other artists. Such painters as Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros covered buildings with murals, recognizing the wealth of Mexico's past and all that had been disdained by the previous dictatorship. Writers inherited a culture with deep traditional roots, yet saw their works cross artistic borders. Creative minds drew on a cruel irony: while the revolutionary government of Mexico oversaw the consolidation of a modern nation, many politicians continued sowing the seeds of corruption and abuse.

Writers such as Alfonso Reyes and Martín Luis Guzmán suffered firsthand the bloody revolutionary days, but later saw their works widely translated and appreciated. Those in the next generation, such as Octavio Paz or Juan Rulfo, were born to survivors of the Revolution. The next generation included Carlos Fuentes and José Emilio Pacheco, who wrote and lived through Mexico's opening up toward the modern world, braved the fears of the Cold War, and bore witness to the tragic massacre of 1968.

The stories collected in Sun, Stone, and Shadows are gathered into thematic areas, from an exploration of "The Fantastic Unreal," through images of a tangible Mexico, and concluding with an examination of the "Intimate Imagination." Though strong individually, taken together these works offer a glimpse of Mexico's varied faces, its flavors and colors, the echoing screams or bygone murmurs that define an infinitely diverse and complex nation.

"The temples and gods of pre-Columbian Mexico are a pile of ruins, but the spirit that breathed life into that world has not disappeared; it speaks to us in the hermetic language of myth, legend, forms of social coexistence, popular art, customs. Being a Mexican writer means listening to the voice of that present, that presence."
—Octavio Paz, from his 1990 Nobel Prize acceptance lecture

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