Stones for Ibarra
by Harriet Doerr
Harriet Doerr published Stones for Ibarra when she was sixty-eight years old and it was an immediate success. An American couple decides to sell their house and move to Mexico, a place they had never visited. Soon after moving the husband discovers he has only a few years to live. As the couple becomes acquainted with their new community and the customs and beliefs of the local people, they begin to accept their own gains and losses. This is a quiet book, filled with joy, sadness and obvious love for Mexico and its people.
"It is so beautiful – a style as lovely and pure as clear water, and as rare. I think in its way it is a perfect book, and will be an underground classic, at least. Harriet Doerr's voice is utterly her own, but there is the faint shade of Katherine Anne Porter lurking somewhere." – Alice Adams
"In Ibarra half a year is no more than a shard chipped from the rock face of eternity and too short a time for newcomers to become known and understood. ...xSo it was that, as late as July and in spite of their thick adobe walls, the Evertons, even when they believed themselves to be alone, were much observed. Only the bathroom of their house had curtains. Sometimes Remedios Acosta and her daughter Paz came quietly up the driveway after dusk and put their faces against the kitchen window. At first the two shawled heads, appearing so abruptly out of the night and at such close quarters, caused Sara a cold contraction of the heart. Then she learned to nod and smilex...x." – Stones For Ibarra, Viking, 1984 edition.
A Visit to Don Otavio
by Sybille Bedford
After World War II, Sybille Bedford decided to visit Mexico with a woman friend. Out of this trip appeared this lively, funny and entertaining travelogue. "I had a great longing to move," she said, "to hear another language, eat new food, to be in a country with a long nasty history in the past and as little present history as possible." Many consider this to be one of the best travel books ever written. And it is certain you will never forget Don Otavio among many of the wonderful characters along the way.
"In 1953, Bedford made a startling literary debut with her travel book about Mexico, A Visit to Don Otavio. ...xThe result is the luminous and funny story of two women in an unruly country." – Brenda Wineapple, The New Criterion
"... What she does convey – here and in all her novels – is that everything is problematic; and that the human condition consists of millions and millions of people being tossed up and down the earth, trying vainly to connect but somehow being prevented from doing so." – Bruce Chatwin
"We have tasted the countryside: we are off. Two days only after Cuernavaca, and we are on a bus. We have front seats; the luggage has been flung onto the roof; our fellow passengers are decorous Indios with small farm animals on their laps, the coachwork rattles and the driver's dashboard is clinking with holy medals and ex-votos. Tonight ... we will be in a town called Morelia. From there we shall go on to a lake. Meanwhile, we are jolted over hill and dale, through lush fields, mango groves, orchards fat with fruit, and sudden brief villages of mud huts and double-towered church where pigs squeal to safetyx...x." – A Visit to Don Otavio, Counterpoint Press, 2003 edition.
Under the Volcano
by Malcolm Lowry
Under the Volcano is not for everyone. The main character Geoffrey Firmin is an alcoholic whose life we watch dissolve around him. Considered by many to be one of literature's great novels, it is often compared to Joyce or Conrad. Despite the intense and often depressing subject matter, the backdrop of Quauhnahuac, the town in which the novel takes place, provides a penetrating and colorful vision of Mexico.
"A work of genius … magnificent … compassionate and beautiful." – The Saturday Review
"A neglected masterpiece … a twentieth-century classic." – Chicago Sunday Tribune
"Two mountain chains traverse the republic roughly from north to south, forming between them a number of valleys and plateaus. Overlooking one of these valleys, which is dominated by two volcanoes, lies, six thousand feet above sea level, the town of Quanuhnahuac. ...xThe walls of the town, which is built on a hill, are high, the streets and lanes tortuous and broken, the roads winding. A fine American-style highway leads in from the north but is lost in its narrow streets and comes out a goat track." – Under the Volcano, Plume Books, 1971 edition.
The Plumed Serpent
by D.H. Lawrence
If you like Lawrence then try this novel, set during the 1920's and the Mexican Revolution. The main character, Kate Leslie, at first appalled, slowly is drawn into the primitive consciousness of Mexico, in particular the revival of Aztec religion. The deep strains of the old religions and ancient pagan ways are depicted with Lawrence's usual passion. Not a light novel, but a profound one.
"This glowing landscape, where flat figures move in ritual patterns, is one of the great creations of our time. Places, people, and actions come from Mexico and New Mexico but, whatever the vividness and actuality of these elements, the whole is far from photographic. ...xThe Plumed Serpent is at once design and vision." – From the Introduction, by William York Tindall.
"It was Saturday, so the plaza was very full, and along the cobble streets stretching from the square, many torches fluttered and wavered upon the ground, illuminating a dark salesman and an array of straw hats, or a heap of straw mats called petates, or pyramids of oranges from across the lake. ...xIt was Saturday, and Sunday morning was market. So, as it were suddenly, the life in the plaza was dense and heavy with potency. The Indians had come in from all the villages, and from far across the lake. And with them they brought the curious heavy potency of life which seems to burn deeper and deeper when they collect together." – The Plumed Serpent, Vintage, 1992 edition.
The Power and the Glory
by Graham Greene
I do not believe there is a bad book written by Graham Greene. Pick up any one and you will find it immediately absorbing. This novel revolves around a "whisky" priest in a rural area of southern Mexico. Christianity has been outlawed and this priest has run away only to confront his faith as well as his faith in himself. This novel asks major questions of the reader: What is faith? What is love? How far will one go for one's beliefs? Thus it is a novel less about Mexico than about the human heart.
"... The Power and the Glory's nameless whisky priest blends seamlessly with his tropical, crooked, anticlerical Mexico. Roman Catholicism is intrinsic to the character and terrain both; Greene's imaginative immersion in both is triumphant." – John Updike, The New York Review of Books
"The little plaza on the hill-top was lighted with globes strung together in threes and joined by trailing overhead wires. The Treasury, the Presidencia, a dentist's, the prison – a low white colonnaded building which dated back three hundred years – and then the steep street down past the back wall of a ruined church: whichever way you went you came ultimately to water and to river. Pink classical facades peeled off and showed the mud beneath, and the mud slowly reverted to mud. Round the plaza the evening parade went on – women in one direction, men in the other; young men in red shirts milled boisterously round the gaseosa stalls." – The Power and the Glory, Penguin Classics, 2003 edition.
Almost an Island: Travels in Baja California
by Bruce Berger
Not much has been written about Baja California. Bruce Berger has done Baja lovers a huge favor by writing this account of his three decades exploring and learning about Baja. Wonderful characters abound. One learns much about the history, the land itself as well as why one would want to visit this isolated remote desert area. You will be entranced and astounded by the diversity of the people as well as the flora and fauna.
"I picked up Almost an Island after my first trip to Baja California for background. It did provide that background; it also provided a lyrical, meditative reading experience that still managed to come across as the voice of a friend – one who is a storyteller on a par with John McPhee." – Roland Pesch
"Berger, award-winning author ... erstwhile piano player ready for adventure, chronicles his three-decade love affair with this timeless landscape of desert, lagoons, caves and remote ranges, as well as the people of its cities and towns ... an objective observer." – Publishers Weekly
"Looking back on a three-decade obsession with Baja California, I see that I have been caught by a cul-de-sac. Longer than Florida, longer than Italy, Baja California is an eight-hundred-mile dead end. To the west, the Pacific Ocean stretches a third of the globe's circumference before striking another continent. To the east lies the Gulf of California – more romantically known, particularly to the travel industry, as the Sea of Cortez. A finger of the Pacific, the gulf is a peninsula of water to complement the one of land. The very concept of that land teases the imagination, for it is a shaft of desert surrounded by the substance whose scarcity defines deserts – water – and that particular water mocks the desert by being salty, malign. Literally engulfed by the sea, Baja California is an island with one loose end." – Almost an Island, University of Arizona Press, 1998 edition.
The Hummingbird’s Daughter
by Luis Alberto Urrea
Teresita, the author’s great-aunt, is the real character behind the fictional one in this very readable exciting novel by the prize-winning author Luis Urrea. In a way this novel could be seen as a biography, as the author has done his research on this woman who was a “curandera” or healer in Mexico. A strong sense of place pervades this novel. Mexico, during the late 1800’s struggling to form a modern state, is rich and fascinating. The author describes it with great intensity and beauty.
“Within the wondrous storyline of Teresita’s mystical calling, Urrea effortlessly portrays the turmoil of the times.” – Gail Tsukiyama, Waterbridge Review
“… this gifted novelist has portrayed his ancestor and her life and her country with a vividness reminiscent of the masters of the trade.” – Alan Cheuse, NPR
“On the cool October morning when Cayetana Chávez brought her baby to light, it was the start of that season in Sinaloa when the humid torments of summer finally gave way to breezes and falling leaves, and small red birds skittered through the corrals, and the dogs grew new coats. … On the big Santana rancho, the People had never seen paved streets, streetlamps, a trolley, or a ship. Steps were an innovation that seemed an occult work, stairways were the wicked cousins of ladders, and greatly to be avoided.x…xThe people thought all great cities had pigs in the streets and great muddy rivers of mule piss attracting hysterical swarms of wasps, and that all places were built of dirt and straw. They called little Cayetana the Hummingbird, using the mother tongue to say it: Semalú.” – The Hummingbird’s Daughter, Back Bay Books, 2006 edition.