Among the better known of Mexico’s writers are those of the 20th century. Names such as Carlos Fuentes, Octavio Paz, or Elena Poniatowska are probably familiar to the reader. Less well known, but well worth reading, is Manuel Payno (1810-1894), whose works bring post-Independence Mexico vividly to life.
Fans of Charles Dickens are likely to enjoy Payno’s novels. The flagship Los Bandidos de Rio Frio (The Bandits of Rio Frio), and the earlier El Fistol del Diablo (The Devil’s Brooch) are works much in the style of his English contemporary. Through many varied and colorful characters, Payno paints a complex picture of 19th Century Mexican society, combining irony and pathos as he takes his readers on tours of plush palaces where the opulence rivals anything in Europe, then drags them out through the large doors and into the grimy streets where misery reigns. Like Dickens, Payno finds both virtue and vice at the two extremes of the social scale.
These two novels of Payno’s also run long, the author having been in the habit of delivering his works for publication in installments. The shorter, El Hombre de la Situacion, (The Man for the Situation) is a satirical story of an immigrant family in Mexico at the end of the Colonial period.
The complete works of Manuel Payno have been published by the National Council for Culture and the Arts, Conaculta. His novels can be found at most bookshops in Mexico.
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