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The Yage Letters Redux

3.71  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,692 Ratings  ·  82 Reviews
In 1/1953, Wm S. Burroughs began an expedition into the jungles of S. America to find yage, the fabled hallucinogen of the Amazon. From the notebooks he kept & the letters he wrote home to Allen Ginsberg, Burroughs composed a narrative of his adventures that later appeared as The Yage Letters. For this edition, Oliver Harris has gone back to the original manuscripts &a ...more
Paperback, 180 pages
Published January 1st 2006 by City Lights Publishers (San Francisco) (first published 1963)
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carey lina
Aug 27, 2012 carey lina rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Dear Al,
I'm detoxing. I can't find any little boys to pay for sex. Corruption, whine whine whine. Third world, whine whine whine.

Low points: Cultural observation skips along the path to racism. Whining. Craptacular "routine" play thing, possibly more enjoyable if one knows about the politics of the time, possibly not. Disgusted tone gets me down.

Highlights: Good writing. Good cultural observations. Stubborn scientific approach to looking to score. Bad trips. A freakout at the end. Epistolary. Wo
Patricia Killelea
I spent my teenage years trailing through Naked Lunch, Junkie, and I later devoured Word Virus: A Burroughs Reader. I loved and continue to love those particular works.

I remember reading The Yage Letters for the first time (2002?) and finding it engaging, but upon my second recent reading I am struck with major concerns: 1) Burroughs' effed up characterizations of indigenous peoples; 2) Burroughs participation in what we now call "sex tourism" and the many issues of privilege and dominance that
Pablo Paz
Dec 06, 2011 Pablo Paz rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Le pusé una estrella por que es lo minimo que la página permite.. un libro epistolar donde un señor habla todo el tiempo sobre las iniciativas cleptomaniacas de los prostitutos que contrata,la fealdad de los muchachos que alcanza a ver desde las ventanas de los buses en los que monta, lo espantosos que son los países que visita y por ahí al final del libro menciona el yage. Un libro que parece editado no más por explotar el beneficio economico que representa el uso del apellido de Burroughs y la ...more
Apr 16, 2009 Leeann rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2009
"Meh" is pretty much all I thought about this. White junkie dude traipses through the Amazon and whines about it a whole bunch and is pretty much a jerk to everyone he meets. Whatever. (The Ginsberg part at the end was ok, though.)
Erik Graff
Feb 17, 2015 Erik Graff rated it liked it
Recommends it for: psychonauts, beat fans
Recommended to Erik by: John Elkin
Shelves: travel
I'd been looking for this book for quite some time when my roommate surprised me with a copy for my birthday. Quite interested, I read it immediately and in one sitting.

Although Oliver Harris is only listed as the editor of this edition, his actual contribution, his introduction, constitutes almost a third of the text and is well worth reading. Most of the material, however, is by Burroughs.

Excepting the introduction, the texts in this collection were composed in the fifties and sixties, when re
La scimmia sulla schiena, celeberrimo documentario autobiografico sulla tossicodipendenza, termina con una improvvisa virata avventurosa-fantastica e l'annuncio, da parte dell'autore, di un viaggio alla ricerca dello yagé, una segreta droga usata dalle popolazioni indigende dell'America latina e con supposte proprietà paranormali. Una droga che per Bill, il metaprotagonista/narratore dei romanzi di Burroughs, può liberare l'Uomo dal Virus della Parola, aprendolo al regno della mente (grazie alla ...more
Jan 29, 2014 Pgregory rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The "redux" version of this book contains indispensable history and background. Burroughs and Ginsberg exchanged letters in their quest for yage (or ayahuasca) from Mexico, through Central America, to South America. Today, one can fly to Peru and purchase an ayahuasca experience for less than a hundred bucks, and book your trip through the Internet. Ayshuasca tourism has transformed the experience just as tourism has diminished the entire world, from Machu Picchu to Manhattan. Twenty years after ...more
Feb 02, 2012 Mat rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is probably my third favourite book by William S. Burroughs after 'Junky' and 'Cities of the Red Night'.

This book is not only a first-hand account of his experiences taking the South American drug 'yage' (through the Putumayo Kofan and Vauges methods), but it also showcases Burroughs’ dry, tongue-in-cheek, ‘scientific’ humour. One of my favourite parts which really made me laugh and which is still very relevant in today’s society was, “You can not contact a civil servant on the level of int
Nov 09, 2009 Michael rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
i borrowed this from a friend in a great pile of books given to me, and to be completely honest, i probably would not have read it had i not been in the mood for a quick read.

i've never been much of a fan of burroughs' writing style, but the fact that the bulk of the book is in the form of him writing letters to ginsberg makes it much easier to bear.

i didn't care much for his overall quest for yage in the letters, but rather found enjoyment in his personal descriptions of 1950s south america. he
Jan 21, 2016 Alexander rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
На языке, который не выучить upd: и не перевести
Ничего так не освежает представление, как максимально близкий и не тривиальный первоисточник. Что писать про эту книгу не посмотрев документалку имени его величества.

Билл и Ален, друзья и единомышленники, по совместительству любовники и соигольники (что, впрочем, скорее для красного словца). Находясь на высшей ступени нигилизма, им удалось изменить мир к чертям, хотя их рупор гласил из грязных коморок и дешевых зарубежных отелей. На фоне их величия
Rachel Ghostbear
I got a lot out of Allen Ginsberg's contribution which was spiritual, compassionate, and thoughtful. Personally I wasn't crazy about William Burroughs' narrative since it was mostly him paying boys for sex. Not really my thing. If I were to read it again I would probably just skip to Ginsberg's section. I lent this to a person I don't think I'll ever see again so I think I'll have to buy another copy at some point.
Aug 10, 2015 Mr_wormwood rated it really liked it
Here we find Burroughs performing the 'Ugly American', in terribly fine fashion. And just as the 'Ugly American' forms a central place in the Burroughs mythology, so too does the 'Yage Letters' form an essential element in Burroughs oeuvre. Complaints about the seedier elements conveyed in the letters, the sex tourism, the euro-centric view of the indigenous peoples, need to be tempered with an understanding that the Yage Letters is first and foremost a novel upon which Burroughs worked and re-w ...more
Miguel Soto
Sep 17, 2015 Miguel Soto rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
La misma sustancia, la misma ruta, los mismos lugares, dos viajes muy distintos. Una droga que supuestamente tendría propiedades telepáticas, que podría encontrarse en Sudamérica, en la selva, usada por los indígenas de la región. Burroughs se lanza a buscarla y escribe a su amigo Allen Ginsberg acerca de sus progresos, pero sobre todo, de sus tropiezos, sus frustraciones y sus desencantos ante la aparente dificultad de hacerse con la planta entre esos pueblos sudamericanos donde se vive la esta ...more
Kirk Johnson
Feb 27, 2015 Kirk Johnson rated it it was amazing
I love this book dearly. Editor Oliver Harris sets it up with his scholarship, Burroughs provides some narrative meat with his disrespectful travelogue, and Ginsberg finishes it off with some heart.

Oliver Harris does an especially fine job, and his choice of documents for the appendices are the most finely tuned i've ever seen. The last appendix arguably makes a finer ending to the book than the official ending.

If you've ever taken ayahuasca, Burrough's description seems largely alien to me, bu
Feb 13, 2014 Joe rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A scholarly edition, perhaps a bit too scholarly, of William Burroughs' aborted epistolary novel about searching for "the final fix" in the Amazon jungle. The Yage letters was long thought to be an edited version of actual letters sent by Burroughs to his friend and cheerleader Allen Ginsberg when Burroughs was in South America. This is oversimplified. Burroughs did apparently send some letters to Ginsberg, but The Yage Letters was a project he and Ginsberg worked on for years in the hope of pro ...more
Justin Hampton
Pretty much anyone interested in countercultural tourism, psychedelia or just good old-fashioned misanthropy can find something valuable in Uncle Bill's well-worn travel case. Ostensibly written as a series of letters to Allen Ginsberg back in the States while Burroughs was looking for a possible cure for his nasty junk habit, The Yage Letters forges the link between the pulp-fiction writer William Lee and the postmodern impressionist who crafted Naked Lunch. It appears that while yage could not ...more
Aug 06, 2012 Thomas rated it liked it
I think Burroughs is an amazing writer. His abilities are often overshadowed by the events of his life, the culture he was inadvertently a part of, and the writing techniques he developed (specifically, the cut-up method employed in the Nova Trilogy). Many readers, myself included, have trouble with Burroughs' writings because they seem to lack traditional structure (excluding the later Red Night trilogy). It's difficult to summarize Naked Lunch in any coherent way, though many of the "routines" ...more
Jul 29, 2008 Wendy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who find god in herbal remedies and like young boys, or people who enjoy a good letter
Recommended to Wendy by: Paul Grimsley
This book was interesting in that it showed truly how far a man will go to get high, and how much he'll allow to be done to him when he's drunk and horny.

There are no real revelations here, and nothing to be learned, but as letters go, it hit the mark.

There were some points where Burroughs just rambles off into a reminiscent story while in the middle of writing letters to Ginsberg that are pretty cool. I like reading people's letters.

You can see though, the master/apprentice relationship betwe
Apr 11, 2008 Jesse rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Definitely one of the more interesting books I've read lately. In a nutshell, the book is a composition of letters written by William S. Burroughs to Allen Ginsberg during his trek to the South American Amazon River Basin in search of a rare hallucinogenic drug, yage, which is used by the indiginous indian doctors to find lost objects, primarly bodies and souls.
It takes him a while to score some of the stuff, but as he progresses, he speaks about the peoples of all the countries and cities he
Sara Ximena
Esta sucesion de cartas... me ha causado controversia. No puedo evitar darle la razon al autor en muchas cosas, pero por otro lado, su desprecio y la forma despectiva que tiene de expresarse hacia estos parajes del sur de America me han indignado, pero tambien veo reflajada, apenas, esa sociedad que vio William respecto a la actual.
Bien por algo tambien escribio Allen el poema America. No queda si no preguntarse como seria un poema llamado "America del sur"
Yukina Chukina
Primer libro que leo de Borroughs. Si bien su manera de escribir me resulta un poco rebuscada, admito que es muy ingenioso y tiene un muy bien uso de las palabras a la hora de describir su experiencia. La mayor parte del libro relata su estadía y viajes por Colombia y Perú, siendo la última carta la que cuenta más sobre el yage.
Después de relatar lo vivido, hay una carta de Ginsberg siete años después. Me sentí más a gusto con su manera de escribir, más compatible con mis lecturas y describiend
Daniela Morales.
Vamos, quiero mas estrellas, esta obra maestra merece mas de cinco estrellas.
Con el simple hecho de que haya mencionado y hablado tan bien de mi país (se convirtió en mi autor favorito).
Conoce Lima mejor que yo.
William en hora buena que hayas encontrado lo que querías.
Sep 18, 2013 Esthër rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2013, novel
Apr 11, 2008 Andrew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Wanderers
Recommended to Andrew by: Dan van

Burroughs writing to his crush (ginsberg) re: his search for Yage. (Burroughs intentionally left out the accent in 'yage'-this synonym for ayuhasca is to be pronounced in a manner rhyming with "hay".) WSB travels paths taken by Che a year earlier, noted in "The Motorcycle Diaries". On finding the samanistic plant, his writing changes noticably.

Ginsberg writes back seven years later when he follows Burroughs' trail.

Two more exchanges make for some of the most refined work you wil
Sep 20, 2008 Robb rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2008
A nice look at international correspondence between Burroughs and Ginsberg in the early to mid '50s. The bulk of this writing would provide the story for Burroughs' book Queer.

I like the letters more than Queer, which reads as a little whiny and desperate. The letters give a great perspective not only of travel in the '50s through South America, but Burroughs' personality and actions as well.

Great read, good for anybody who is interested in the past if Burroughs especially, but also Ginsberg (
James Haze
Oct 11, 2014 James Haze rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The genesis of today's ayahuasca interest. It all started here folks, long before McKenna, and even leary, there was Burroughs.
Erik Wyse
An interesting, experimental read with Bill and Allen in the books cruising through exotic jungles on a journey for drugs and boys.
Jun 30, 2015 Scott rated it liked it
For fans only. The opening material detailing the history of this slim book is generally more interesting than the content of the book itself. Burroughs doesn't get too deep into his Yage investigation, and with so much information on the vine now a few finger clicks away, the book simply exists as an historical artifact more than anything.
Dec 03, 2007 Edy rated it it was ok
I liked the idea of an epic quest for hallucinogenics in South America. I liked the idea of reading the correspondence between two eccentric kooks.

I have never enjoyed the epistolary format though, so maybe this is what prevented me from enjoying this book. or maybe I just found the quest boring and unsatisfying after all. I supposed I wanted more chaos to ensue a la Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Aug 25, 2011 Nativeabuse rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The next in line after Queer that usually gets overlooked and not talked about, Yage Letters.

I didn't really like this as well, you can tell that they were trying to keep the back and forth letter format in the writing style, and that is kind of annoying. I feel like if they had converted it from the letters into a normal narrative like Queer it would have been much much better.

The five stars is just a testament to how much I love Burroughs work. This is easily skippable, and will probably only
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William Seward Burroughs II, (also known by his pen name William Lee; February 5, 1914 – August 2, 1997) was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, painter, and spoken word performer. A primary figure of the Beat Generation and a major postmodernist author, he is considered to be "one of the most politically trenchant, culturally influential, and innovative artists of the 20th century ...more
More about William S. Burroughs...

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“Wouldn't you?” 5 likes
“Escúchame ahora. Coge esta carta. Recorta las líneas. Reordénalas colocando la sección uno junto a la sección tres y la sección dos junto a la sección cuatro. Luego léelas en voz alta y oirás Mi Voz. ¿La voz de quién? Escucha. Recorta y reordena siguiendo cualquier combinación. Lee en voz alta. No puedo por menos que oírte. No lo pienses. No teorices. Pruébalo.” 2 likes
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