11 Sep 2020

A Mexican Literary Odyssey

A Mexican Literary Odyssey

Language and culture are inextricably tied: language use is meaningful only in a context, and culture is part of such context. If you cannot travel to a destination, the next best way to immerse yourself in the place’s culture, is through reading the literary works that have been composed about it. To commemorate the Mexican Independence Day (Día de la Independencia) on 16 September, The Culture Embassy Pte Ltd has curated a series of literature that will help you to gain a better understanding of the heart and soul of Mexico.


The Labyrinth of Solitude by Octavio Paz

Octavio Paz has long been recognized as one of Mexico’s most influential authors of all time. In this literary masterpiece, which comprises of 9 essays and commentaries on Mexico, Octavio Paz has created one of the most enduring and powerful works on Mexico and its people, character, and culture. The Labyrinth of Solitude is a beautifully written and deeply felt discourse on Mexico’s quest for identity that gives readers insights into the country hidden behind “the mask.” For a seminal work which explores the relationship between the indigenous Mexican, the arriving Spanish and the Mexicans, and how these have shaped the psyche of the Mexican people, this is the one.


Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo

An anthropologist by profession and a fierce critique of Mexican society and politics, Juan Rulfo’s novel presents an unequivocally pessimistic view of the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution through the tale of Juan Preciado. Vowing to his dying mother that he’ll find the father he has never met, a certain Pedro Páramo, Juan Preciado sets out across the barren plains of Mexico for Comala, the hallucinatory ghost town his father presided over like a feudal lord. Between the realms of the living and the dead, in fragments of dreams and the nightly whispers of Comala’s ghosts, there emerges the tragic tale of Pedro Páramo and the town whose every corner holds the taint of his rotten soul.


The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela

Published over a hundred years ago, this novel about the Mexican revolution has stood the test of time, and you’ll find yourself transported to the heart of the Mexican Revolution, in which Azuela himself served, in the early twentieth century. When a peasant named Demetrio Macías has a violent run-in with a group of federal soldiers, he decides to leave his family and join the rebels’ cause. As he climbs the ranks of Pancho Villa’s army, the movement begins to splinter from within and Demetrio realizes that he’s no longer sure what he’s fighting for.


The Book of Lamentations by Rosario Castellanos

Originally published in 1962 and inspired by real-life rebellions, The Book of Lamentations gives readers a fictionalized account of Mayan uprisings of 1712 and 1868 and the setting is in 1930s Chiapas, Mexico. The story chronicles the events leading up to an indigenous community’s rebellion against the wealthy ranchers, who are resisting recent land reforms. Castellanos strings together a memorable cast of characters, honing in on each of their motives and actions, and confronting the complexity and violence of cultural, political, and religious conflicts.


Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli

One of the most interesting novels on contemporary Mexico, the critically acclaimed Lost Children Archivefollows the journey of a blended family on a cross-country trip from New York City to the Arizona-Mexico border. During the trip, the father recounts stories of Apache legend, and they listen to news reports of the border crisis, of lost children and broken families trying to piece themselves together. Then, the unthinkable happens to the road-tripping family—the two children get lost, and they must rely on the stories they heard to find their way home.


The Mexican Mind!: Understanding & Appreciating Mexican Culture! by Boye Lafayette De Mente

Boye Lafayette De Mente, renowned internationally for his books and writings on the business practices, customs and languages of China, Japan, Korea and Mexico, asserts that most people are ignorant of the amazing cultural heritage and character of the Mexican people. When most people think of great cultural accomplishments, they tend to think of Europe and when they think of the exotic and perhaps the erotic, they think of the Orient, but in doing so, they may have overlooked one of the most unusual and fascinating countries on earth.

De Mente utilizes key words in the Mexican language to identify and explain the contradictions and paradoxes of Mexico-the omnipresent trappings of Catholicism, the macho-cult of Mexican males, the conflicting treatment of females, the savage brutality of the criminal and the rogue cop, the gentle humility of the poor farmer, the warmth, kindness and compassion of the average city dweller and the extreme sensuality of the Mexican mindset. The book also elucidates why Mexicans are so attached to the culture and why so many foreigners find it so seductive that they prefer to live in Mexico.


This Is Mexico: Tales of Culture and Other Complications by Carol M. Merchasin

This book is a collection of essays on the often magical and mysterious—and sometimes heartrending—workings of everyday life in Mexico, written from the perspective of an American expatriate who worked in a law firm. With touches of humour and witticism, the writer offers her own take of Mexican culture and history, exploring everything from healthcare, Mexican-style, to religious rituals; from the educational role of the telenovela to the cultural subtleties of the Spanish language.


Day of the Dead by Tony Johnston

El día de los muertos, the Day of the Dead is a festival celebrated all throughout Mexico. Above a small town in Mexico, one family begins preparations for an annual celebration of this popular festival. The family will soon venture out into the night, join their neighbours, and partake in a walk to the graveyard to welcome the spirits of their loved ones home again. Framed by decorative borders and filled with Spanish words, Day of the Dead is a fascinating introduction to a unique Mexican celebration. The author has also included a note at the end of the book to provide factual information about the holiday.


Mexico: The Cookbook by Margarita Carrillo Arronte

Featuring an unprecedented 700 recipes from across the entire country, and showcasing the rich diversity and flavours of Mexican cuisine, this is the culmination of Margarita Carrillo Arronte’s 30 years to researching, teaching, and cooking Mexican cuisine. Beautifully illustrated with 200 photographs, the book features dishes such as Acapulcostyle ceviche, Barbacoa de Pollo from Hidalgo, classic Salsa Ranchera, and the ultimate Pastel Tres Leches, each with notes on recipe origins, ingredients, and techniques, along with contributions from famous chefs such as Enrique Olvera and Hugo Ortega. If there is one bible on Mexican gastronomy that you simply cannot miss, this is it!