Legendary travel writer Paul Theroux drives the entire length of the US–Mexico border, then goes deep into the hinterland, on the back roads of Chiapas and Oaxaca, to uncover the rich, layered world behind today’s brutal headlines.
Paul Theroux has spent his life crisscrossing the globe in search of the histories and peoples that give life to the places they call home. Now, as immigration debates boil around the world, Theroux has set out to explore a country key to understanding our current discourse: Mexico. Just south of the Arizona border, in the desert region of Sonora, he finds a place brimming with vitality, yet visibly marked by both the US Border Patrol looming to the north and mounting discord from within. With the same humanizing sensibility he employed in Deep South, Theroux stops to talk with residents, visits Zapotec mill workers in the highlands, and attends a Zapatista party meeting, communing with people of all stripes who remain south of the border even as their families brave the journey north.
From the writer praised for his “curiosity and affection for humanity in all its forms” (New York Times Book Review), On the Plain of Snakes is an exploration of a region in conflict.
Travel writer Theroux (Deep South) finds a Mexico that's vibrant but shadowed by violence, corruption, and America in this dark-edged but ultimately hopeful travelogue. Theroux shudders at Mexico's soulless northern border cities, their touristy downtowns surrounded by grim factory districts and squalid urban sprawl dotted with Walmarts, their newspapers filled with accounts of drug cartel massacres. In Mexico City he gets shaken down for bribes by predatory policemen, whom many Mexicans fear more than the narcotraficantes. Farther south, though, Theroux's spirits lift in towns that retain their indigenous culture of colorful Day of the Dead festivals, exuberant transgenderism, and close-knit communities though many locals have moved to the U.S. to find work. (He includes candid conversations with migrants about their travails in America and calls President Trump's immigration policies "barbaric.") Finally, Theroux discovers a virtual paradise at a Zapatista Rebel Autonomous Municipality in Chiapas, where there are no "American products or American influence," and instead "an utter indifference to El Norte." There, he meets Subcomandante Marcos, a "philosopher-leader" whose "flashing" eyes, "sinuous dialectics," and poetic denunciations of neoliberalism he admires, as Theroux relays in perhaps the most starry-eyed passages he has ever written. Theroux's usual excellent mix of vivid reportage "worshippers crouched on the floor arranging candles... drinking Coca-Cola and ritually burping" and empathetic rumination is energized by a new spark of political commitment. Armchair travelers will find an astute, familiar guide in Theroux.