The Golden Cockerel & Other Writings

The Golden Cockerel & Other Writings

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By Juan Rulfo
Translated from the Spanish by Douglas J. Weatherford

“Juan Rulfo is our most important author.” —Yuri Herrera, author of Signs Preceding the End of the World

This work presents Rulfo's cinematic second novel in English for the first time ever alongside several stories never before translated.

Publication Date: May 16, 2017

Paperback: 9781941920589


“Among contemporary writers in Mexico today [1959], Juan Rulfo is expected to rank among the immortals.” —The New York Times Book Review

The legendary title novella from one of Mexico’s most influential writers is published here in English for the first time on the 100th anniversary of his birth. This lost masterwork, collected with his previously untranslated stories, marks a landmark event in world literature.

Biographical Note

Juan Rulfo (1917-1986) was one of Mexico’s premier authors of the twentieth century and an important precursor of “magical realism” in Latin American writing. Rulfo has been credited with influencing the work of several generations of Latin American writers, including Sergio Pitol and Gabriel García Márquez. He is well known for his novel, Pedro Páramo, and short story collection, The Burning Plain (El llano en llamas). Deep Vellum’s forthcoming publication of The Golden Cockerel & Other Writings introduces his cinematic novella, originally made into an award-winning film, into English for the first time, along with a collection of rare, previously untranslated writings. Rulfo received Mexico’s National Prize for Literature (Premio Nacional de Literatura) in 1970, was elected to the Mexican Academy of Language (Academia Mexicana de la Lengua) in 1980, and received the Cervantes Prize (Premio Cervantes), the highest literary award in Spanish, in 1985. Rulfo suffered from lung cancer in his final months and died on January 7, 1986 at his home in Mexico City.


“Among contemporary writers in Mexico today [1959], Juan Rulfo is expected to rank among the immortals.” The New York Times Book Review

“To read Rulfo’s stories is to inhabit Mexico and, in the process, to have Mexico inhabit you.” —Oscar Casares, NPR

“You can read Rulfo’s slight but dense body of work in a couple of days, but that represents only a first step into territories that are yet to be definitively mapped. Their exploration is one of the more remarkable journeys in literature.” —Chris Power, The Guardian

“Rulfo, through his photographs and his books, seems to be saying, Look! See! This world is here before us, it lacerates us with the anguished and ill-fated weight of its tangible reality. Come look!” BOMB Magazine

“Rulfo’s work is at its core about people who do their best to unburden themselves of the stories they never stop telling.” —Peter Orner, The Rumpus

“…This is a book that is valuable in itself for its expression of the narrative talent of Juan Rulfo…Apart from the first images, which are truly cinematic and serve to introduce the protagonist…the reader soon forgets that he is reading a storyline written for the cinema.” —Evodia Escalante, Casa Del Tiempo

“Rulfo’s work is infinitely readable, inventive, and short… The Golden Cockerel & Other Writings shows Rulfo at his most intellectual and socially aware.” —Joshua Foster, Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature and Fine Arts

“Octavio Paz has said that Juan Rulfo ‘is the only Mexican novelist who has given us an image—instead of just a description—of our landscape.’ By the same token we could say that Josephine Sacabo is the only photographer who has given us an image of that most elusive of landscapes conceived by Juan Rulfo—Cosala.” Buenos Aires Herald

“Rulfo’s work is infinitely readable, inventive, and short… The Golden Cockerel & Other Writings shows Rulfo at his most intellectual and socially aware.” Joshua Foster, Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature and Fine Arts

"...This is a book that is valuable in itself for its expression of the narrative talent of Juan Rulfo...Apart from the first images, which are truly cinematic and serve to introduce the protagonist...the reader soon forgets that he is reading a storyline written for the cinema." Evodia Escalante, Casa Del Tiempo


On Pedro Páramo:

“The work of Juan Rulfo is not only the highest expression which the Mexican novel has attained until now: through Pedro Páramo we can find the thread that leads us to the new Latin American novel.” Carlos Fuentes

“[Rulfo’s] work is built on an intricate lattice of time and space, but it doesn’t seem planned so much as grown, something natural, inevitable, efficient, and effortless. All its paradoxes are innate.” —Jim Lewis, Slate

“His is a text in which meaning is subsumed into an architecture of shadows and whispers, and into the ebb and flow of the vernacular.” —Suhayl Saadi, The Independent

“A simplicity and profundity worthy of Greek tragedy ... Wuthering Heights located in Mexico and written by Kafka.” The Guardian

“My profound exploration of Juan Rulfo’s work was what finally showed me the way to continue with my writing.” Gabriel García Márquez

“The only Mexican novelist who has given us an image—instead of just a description—of our landscape.” Octavio Paz

“A necromancer who is as surefooted among the dead as the living, the peerless Mexican legend Juan Rulfo made into book-flesh the elusive smoke and fire of his country, where the surreal is everyday, and the everyday is surreal: to read him is to imbibe Mexico. The legendary title novella – published here in English for the first time on the 100th anniversary of his birth – is a lost masterwork… The Golden Cockerel offers us the full balance of work by the author of Pedro Páramo: enough said.” Barbara Epler, TANK Magazine

“El gallo de oro and Rulfo’s short stories are not inhabited by living corpses, instead of living beings that die when they die and are born when they’re born… The novel had not been published when I was in my teens. It can be read as a fable of the power of the powerless, and the rotten one of the powerful—even when their roots belong to the powerless. It has many other readings. The novel has gone wild in my mind.” Carmen Boullosa, author of Texas: The Great Theft

“There is an exquisite sense of tension in the stories and novels of Juan Rulfo. The earthly and the ghostly are interwoven throughout.” Dylan Brennan, author of Blood Oranges

“A collection of neglected gems and quirky B-sides.” Henry Zhang, Times Literary Supplement

“A text that is refreshing and diverse… Descriptions of the cockfights and La Caponera’s mariachi band evoke aspects of Mexico’s particular, vibrant culture, but as Weatherford points out in his introduction, there is a timelessness and geographical homogeneity that infuses all of Rulfo’s writing, allowing him to capture a universal quality that speaks to readers across generations and across borders.” Nozomi Saito, Asymptote Journal

“His is a text in which meaning is subsumed into an architecture of shadows and whispers, and into the ebb and flow of the vernacular.” —Suhayl Saadi, The Independent

“Far from the simple imitative realism of earlier Latin American novels, his essentialist work is on the level of myth and archetype.” Rockwell Gray, The Chicago Tribune

"...This is a book that is valuable in itself for its expression of the narrative talent of Juan Rulfo...Apart from the first images, which are truly cinematic and serve to introduce the protagonist...the reader soon forgets that he is reading a storyline written for the cinema." Evodia Escalante, Casa Del Tiempo

"A vivid, brutal depiction of life in Mexico... a literary gem." Unabridged Bookstore


On The Burning Plain:

“What is remarkable about these sketches is that the characters are rendered with deep honesty; their faults are highlighted, celebrated in a way that is reminiscent of Chekhov's peasants.” Publishers Weekly

“As a masterclass in the short story, The Burning Plain is a joy, but it is also a vivid historical document of a terrible and remote historical era.” Andy Thatcher, The Short Review

“The feeling that one gets while reading is of a smoky, dark night filled with suspicious shadows hiding still darker secrets that pour out of the words and sentences of the stories.” Bhupinder Singh, A Reader’s Words


Along the abandoned streets of San Miguel del Milagro, one or two shawl-covered women strolled toward the church, answering the call for first mass. A few others swept the dusty streets.

In the distance, far enough away that his words were imperceptible, one could hear the clamor of a crier. One of those town criers that go from street corner to corner shouting the description of some lost animal, of a missing boy, or of a lost girl… In the case of the girl the account went further, since in addition to giving the date of her disappearance it was imperative to announce the likely culprit who had stolen her away, where she had been taken, and whether the parents wanted to object to or accept the arrangement. This was done to keep the town informed of what had happened and to shame the runaways into joining in matrimony… As for the lost animals, the crier would have to go out and search for them himself if announcing their loss came to naught, since otherwise no one would pay for the job.

As the women disappeared in the direction of the church, the crier’s report could be heard even closer, until, stopped on some street corner and projecting his voice through his hands, he launched his shrill and quick-witted chants:

—Tan-colored sorrel… Of large stature… Five years old… Timid… Mark on its haunch… Branded on the same… Draw reigns… Wandered off the day before yesterday from the Potrero Hondo… Belongs to Don Secundino Colmenero. Twenty pesos reward to whoever finds him… No questions asked…This last sentence was long and out of tune. After a while the crier walked a short ways and repeated the same refrain, until the announcement faded and eventually dissolved into the farthest corners of the village.
The guy who plied this trade was Dionisio Pinzo´n, one of the poorest men of San Miguel del Milagro. He lived in a miserable shack on the edge of town in the company of his mother, an unwell and aged woman, more from want than from years. And even though the appearance of Dionisio Pinzo´n was that of a strong man, in truth he was disabled, with one of his arms disfigured, who knows just how. What’s certain is that this made it impossible for him to complete some tasks, whether as a laborer or as a farmhand, the only occupations that were to be had in town. As such he was good for nothing, or at least that’s how people saw him. And that’s why he dedicated himself to the vocation of town crier, a trade that didn’t require the use of his arms and that he completed quite well, since he had a voice and a willingness to do the job.

There was no corner of San Miguel del Milagro where he didn’t shout his news, perhaps working on commission for some client or, if not, searching for the priest’s scrawny cow that had the bad habit of bolting for the hills every time it discovered the gate to the parish corral open, something that happened all too often. And even when there was no shortage of men out of work who, upon hearing the news, would offer to go in search of the aforementioned cow, there were times when Dionisio would take the task upon himself and receive for his efforts only a few blessings and the promise of collecting some payment in Heaven.
Through it all, whether he was paid or not, his voice never wavered and he just kept at it since, to be honest, what else could he do to keep from dying of hunger. And yet he didn’t always make it home with his hands empty, like on this occasion when he had the job of announcing the loss of Don Secundino Colmenero’s sorrel, from early in the morning until late at night, when it seemed that his yelling was blending with the barking of the dogs in the sleepy town. In any event, the horse had not turned up by the end of the day, nor was there anyone who could confirm its whereabouts, and Don Secundino wasn’t going to pay up without first seeing his animal napping in the corral, not wanting to throw good money after bad. And yet so that Dionisio Pinzo´n wouldn’t become discouraged and stop announcing his loss, he gave him a tenth of a liter of beans as an advance that the crier wrapped in his scarf and carried home about midnight, which is when he arrived, burdened with hunger and fatigue. And like other times, his mother had managed to prepare him a bit of coffee and some navegantes, which weren’t anything more than parboiled cactus leaves that at least served to fool his stomach.

But things weren’t always so bad. Year after year, he was hired to announce the celebrations for the fair held in San Miguel. And that’s where he could be found, out in front of the banging drums and the squealing oboe, where his pronouncements would take on a hollow sound as they were shouted through a cardboard megaphone, announcing card games, calf roping, cockfights, and, in passing, all of the church festivities for each day of the novenario, without forgetting the exhibits of the traveling show or some unguent to cure all ills. Much further back in the parade that he was leading came the music of wind instruments that would liven up the moments when the crier rested by playing the discordant notes of a tune known as the “Zopilote Mojado.” While trailing at the end of the procession were a number of carts that were adorned with young women all standing under arches made of reeds and soft cornstalks.

It was in these moments that Dionisio Pinzo´n would forget the privations that filled his life, since he marched quite content at the front of the proceedings, shouting to energize the clowns that strode by his side doing stunts and prancing about to entertain the public.

ONE OF THOSE YEARS, perhaps due to an abundant harvest or some unknown miracle, the rowdiest and best-attended festivities that anyone had seen in a long time were celebrated in San Miguel del Milagro. The excitement was so pervasive that two weeks later people were still contesting the card games and the cockfights seemed to go on for so long that the region’s cockfighters used up their supply of birds and still had time to order more animals, care for them, train them, and battle them. One of the owners who did this was Secundino Colmenero, the richest man in town, who ran out of his supply of fighting cocks and lost during these legendary matches, along with his money, a ranch that was full of hens and twenty-two cows that were all his own. And even though he recovered a bit in the end, he lost everything else in the never-ending wagers.

Dionisio Pinzo´n found himself hard pressed to complete so much work. At that moment not as a crier, but as an announcer in the cockfighting arena where he was able to monopolize almost all of the matches. Thus, in the last days, his voice sounded a bit fatigued, although he never failed to shout the Referee’s commands at the top of his voice.

As it turns out, things were getting tense. The time had arrived when only the big shots faced off, including some famous players who had come from the San Marcos Fair in Aguascalientes, as well as from Teocaltiche, Arandas, Chalchicomula, and Zacatecas, all sporting such fine roosters that it was a shame to see them perish. Also making an appearance were the singing divas who showed up from who knows where, attracted perhaps by the smell of money, since previously they had never come anywhere near San Miguel del Milagro, not even for a peak. At the front of them all was a tough and attractive woman with a flashy rebozo worn across her chest who they called La Caponera, perhaps on account of the sway she held over men. What’s certain is that having these women here, singing their songs while surrounded by their mariachis, only added to the excitement of the cockfights.

The arena at San Miguel del Milagro was makeshift, without the capacity to hold large crowds. They used a corral at a brickyard for such events, where they raised a shanty that was partially covered with a straw-thatched roof. The ring was made of wooden boards while the benches that wrapped around it, and where the public would settle, were little more than planks laid on top of thick adobe bricks. Ultimately, this year things had become a bit complicated since no one could have imagined the arrival of such a large crowd. And, if that wasn’t enough, at any moment a couple of poli´ticos were expected to drop by. To accommodate them, the authorities ordered that the first two rows be cleared and that they remain empty until the arrival of those sen~ores and even after that since, when push comes to shove, even though there were only two of them, each came with his own entourage of pistoleros. The latter settled in the second row behind each corresponding boss, with the two main guys up front, facing each other but separated by the cockpit. And when the matches began it became evident that this pair of men, both sporting large sombreros, just didn’t get along. They seemed to have shown up on account of some ancient rivalry that was evident not only in their personal attitudes but also in the very cockfights. If one of them took the side of a particular chicken, the other backed its opponent. And that’s how tempers began to flare since each wanted his own animal to win. It didn’t take long for an altercation to occur: the loser jumped to his feet along with all of his associates, and that was the beginning of a chorus of obscenities and threats hurled back and forth between the opposing bands of hired guns. The spectacle of these two seemingly enraged gangs ended up holding the attention of the entire crowd since everyone expected a fight to break out between two men unwilling to pass on the opportunity to show how tough each was.

A few individuals didn’t waste any time in abandoning the area out of fear that a gunfight might indeed break out. But nothing happened. At the end of the match the two poli´ticos left the arena. They met at the door. There they embraced and were later seen drinking together at a canela bar, along with the singers, the pistoleros who seemed to have forgotten their malice, and the presidente municipal, as if the whole of them were celebrating some pleasant chance encounter.

BUT GETTING BACK TO DIONISIO PINZO´N, it was on this felicitous night that the last cockfight of the evening changed his luck and amended his destiny.
A white rooster from Chicontepec was brought out to challenge a golden one from Chihuahua. The betting was fierce, so much so that someone with five thousand pesos bet it all and still wanted to go higher, putting it all on the cock from Chihuahua.

The white bird turned out to be timid. He showed fight when he was passed in front of his opponent, but when released on the line and facing the first lunges of the golden cockerel he bolted to one of the corners. And there he remained, with his head lowered and his wings wilted as if he were ill. At that, the gold-colored fowl went after the white one in search of a fight. He raised his hackles and stomped the ground hard as he circled the run-away bird. The bolter retreated even further against the barrier, showing his cowardice and, more than anything else, his desire to flee. But finding himself trapped by the bird from Chihuahua, he leapt in an attempt to get away from the attack and ended up falling on the sunflower-colored back of his enemy. He flapped his wings hard to keep his balance and, while hoping to get out of the jam in which he found himself, managed to break one of the golden cockerel’s wings with the sharp blade attached to his spur. The better rooster, now wounded and furious, charged his frightened opponent without mercy, sending him running for the corner where the trapped animal tried with little avail to make use of his limited ability to fly. This continued over and over again, until, unable to endure the loss of blood from his wound, the golden rooster dropped his beak and fell to the ground without the white chicken making even the slightest attempt to counterattack.

And that’s how such a faint-hearted animal won the fight, and that’s how Dionisio Pinzo´n called it when he shouted:

—It’s all over folks! The favorite has lost! —followed closely by—: Oooopen the doors…!

The handler from Chihuahua grabbed the wounded bird. He blew into its beak hoping to clear any obstruction and tried to get the animal to stand on its own. Yet seeing that the chicken just kept falling down like a ball of feathers he declared:

—Ain’t nothing left to do but finish it off.

And he was ready to wring the bird’s neck when Dionisio Pinzo´n dared to stop him:

—Don’t kill him —he said—. He might get better and be worth something, even if only as a brood cock.

The man from Chihuahua laughed derisively and tossed the animal toward Dionisio Pinzo´n as if he were getting rid of a dirty rag. Dionisio caught him in midair, tucked him carefully in his arms, almost tenderly, and left the arena with his prize. When he arrived home he made a hole in the floor of his shack and, with the help of his mother, buried the rooster right there, leaving only the head exposed.