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This month, the South of the Border Bloggers decided to put our head together and come up with an amazing list about the best books on Mexico.  Here’s my top 5!

Leaving Tabasco

by Carmen Boullosa
I read this book for a class, and the professor just went into little fits of ecstasy with all the magic realism in the book.  Magic realism is an odd quirk found in a lot of Latin American literature.  It tends to take events that could happen and express them or paint them it such a way that there’s an ethereal, otherworldly quality to the experience, as if real life–and possibly the laws of physics–are momentarily suspended.

A year or two after reading Leaving Tabasco, I spent a lot of time listening to my mother-in-law tell stories from her childhood, growing up in a small town not far from Tabasco.  Funnily enough, in plenty of her stories, there are elements of magic realism, too.  When I listen to my mother-in-law for too long, I almost start to wonder if she didn’t write this book!

I’m not sure it is just a literary quirk.  There might be more “real” in the magic realism than many of us believe.  And whether we take it literally or not, it is a beautiful book!


by Sandra Cisneros

Caramelo weaves the story of a Mexican-American family, throughout the generations.  In some ways, it is the mix of Mexican and gringo that I appreciate.  There were plenty of scenes set in Mexico that were so iconic, and so typical of many families in that era, that it really paints a picture of today’s culture being shaped by our grandparents’ culture.  Even though it wasn’t painting my culture, it still spoke to me and shed light on similar intergenerational themes in my life.

I’ve never looked at a rebozo since, without thinking of this book!  That, and men who are feo, fuerte, y formal.

Distant Neighbors

by Alan Riding
I read this back in 1999, so it was ten years old then–but still pertinent.  Now that it’s nearly thirty years old, I wonder if it isn’t out of date.  However, I keep seeing it recommended, so I imagine it’s more along the lines of a classic.  I do know it was eye-opening for me, and one of those books that stuck with me when I did my study-abroad semester.  It’s books like this, that delve in deep to why Mexico is the way it is, historical reasons for that, and just getting beyond obvious surface observances were what made me appreciate this place.

I didn’t come here expecting to be love it.  But I did.

Like Water for Chocolate

by Laura Esquivel

In some ways, I hesitate to put this book on this list, as there are parts I LOVE about it, and there are parts I HATE about it.  But it’s set in the state of Coahuila (where I live, but the book is set on the border by Piedras Negras), so it has a special place in my heart.  Furthermore, through Esquivel’s descriptions, of both time and place, are transporting and breathtaking.  Many of the situations in the book–both the beautiful and the heartbreaking ones–come back to me at the strangest times.  It’s raw and real (surreal at the same time), and it has influenced me more than I realize.

For instance, I think of a certain passage almost every time I get in the shower.  Anybody else?

The People’s Guide to Mexico

by Carl Franz, Lorena Havens, Steve Rogers, and Felisa Churpa Rosa Rogers
I stumbled across this book when I was living in small town Morelos on a very small volunteer stipend.  Back in the day, this book was the bible for hippies in VW buses to travel Mexico.  You know, for those hippies who would travel Mexico with a guide book.  (Traveling with a guide book just doesn’t seem like a very hippie thing to do.)

But this isn’t your average guide book!  It give advice for things like hitching rides.  And actual advice–not just the usual “never, ever hitch a ride in Mexico”.  No, they would explain how to do it, where to go, what to expect, etc.  They tell stories, and the tell it like it is.  There are no recommendations for 5-star resorts here.  Just down-to-earth Mexico, and how to suck the most jugo out of your limón.

This book was getting out of date 15 years ago when I read it.  Maybe they’ve updated it. Maybe they haven’t.  But it’s real, it’s raw, it’s true–and it’s a hoot!

Runner Up:

Arrancame La Vida

by Angeles Maestretta

At first, I jumped into this book, as a cheap plug for Puebla, during those two years of my adult life when I lived in the US.  It’s also a tale that weaves together power, class conflict, politics, hope and misogyny,  painting a beautiful, but tragic picture.  Because really–when we flirt with power, can the story end in anything but tragedy?

Unless you’re writing for Hollywood, of course.

It doesn’t look like this has been translated into English, so Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna is very similar.  And–as a bonus to those gringos reading it in English–it is a bit more hopeful and upbeat.

But–let’s face it–her main character is a man.  Both good books, but–hoo nelly!–when writing a book set in the 1930s, the gender of your character REALLY does matter!  (Now, I’m not bashing men.  Put your fists down, anti-feminists!)  Kingsolver’s character simply has a number of advantages that Maestretta’s character’s doesn’t have.  But comparing these two could be an interesting thesis for anyone writing a paper on Mexican/Mexican-American literature!

Going over these, I’m realizing that I haven’t read much in the last few years.  I need some new titles!  What are your suggestions?  Comment below!

Or, if you’re a blogger south of the border, join our link up below with a list of your favorite books on Mexico!

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Reading Mexico

One Reply to “Reading Mexico”

  1. Did you ever read My Heart Lies South: The Story of my Mexican Marriage? It is by Elizabeth Borton de TYevino, an American wrieater from Caliofornia that married a Mexican from Monterrey in the 30’s and became part of a wonderful family. I knew of her because I read her I, Juan de Pareja that was a Newbury Medal winner years ago. I have always wanted to read My Heart Lies South because my mother loved it and talked about it, however for some reason or other I never got it into my hands. The idea is even more interesting now that I am living close to Monterrey.
    Another book that is a key for beginning to understand 20th century Mexico is Luis Gonzalez’s Pueblo en Vilo: Microhistoria de San Jose de Gracia (1968). i don’t know if it has been translated into Spanish. This book and many of Gonzalez’s other studies have had a profound effect in LA historical studies because he gave great value to what is called “Historia Regional”. We all looked to him, his research and writings to help discover the real history of our countries by investigating the past of our pueblos, states and regions, instead of concentrating on politics and economics as was the general tendency up until about the 90’s.