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On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  1,191 ratings  ·  221 reviews
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
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published October 8th 2019 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Steven Borowiec It's the same observant, narrative style. He has lost a bit of the snark he had in his earlier travel books and a lot more of this one is him travelin…moreIt's the same observant, narrative style. He has lost a bit of the snark he had in his earlier travel books and a lot more of this one is him traveling with the perspective of age, applying all he has learned to this country that has both changed dramatically and remained the same.

I thought this work dragged in the third quarter, but the last section, where he spends time with Zapatistas in Chiapas, is magical. (less)

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Jeffrey Keeten
Mar 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, travel, mexico
”’Do you want to see my papers?’

The hot stink of this decaying part of the city clawed at my nose as he leaned and put his darkened face closer to me, shouting, ‘Do you know what I can do to you? I can take you over there’--he flapped his hand in the direction of the dark end of the alleyway where the slum dwellers had fled. ‘I can take your car. I can do what I want.’

‘Sabes que te puedo hacer?’ Do you know what I can do to you? Spoken by an enraged policeman in Mexico, that statement seizes you
Andrew Smith
Paul Theroux is often lauded as potentially the greatest travel writer of his generation and with this, his latest book, he shows that his power remains undiminished.

Mexico is a big country, something like eight times the size of the United Kingdom, and yet its population is only about twice that of the UK. It’s ethnically diverse with just over half of its people identifying themselves as mixed race. It’s rich in natural resources, but its wealth is unevenly distributed, with the top ten percen
Nov 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: travel
A Migrant’s Prayer

“The journey towards you, Lord, is life. To set off is to die a little. To arrive is never to arrive until one is at rest with you. You, Lord, experienced migration. And then you, yourself became a migrant from heaven to earth. I was just a tourist.” ~~a note found in the pocket of an unidentified migrant’s pocket who had died in the desert.

Paul Theroux is driving to Mexico in order to learn if what Donald J. Trump had said about the Mexicans was true or not. I have a strong fe
May 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, 4-stars
In his latest in a long line of travel writing, Theroux succeeds in destroying the stereotypes of Mexico. It is through his rich interactions with locals, students and activists that Theroux is able to illustrate the complicated cultures to be found throughout Mexico. As Theroux says, it is a culture of contradictions: and it makes for an interesting read.

A nice mixture of history, sociology, literary critique and political commentary. Theroux keeps his political opinions largely to himself exce
May 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey was an intriguing and captivating journey weaving back and forth along the Mexican and United States border and the border towns, and then extensively throughout Mexico's back roads deep into the country, by renowned world travel writer for well over forty years, Paul Theroux. Theroux begins by recounting Jack Kerouac's experience in giving an elderly man a lift in the state of Oaxaca. When he dropped him off, he asked the name of the pueblo and was tol ...more
Mikey B.
Mar 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a heart-rending travelogue on Mexico. Paul Theroux presents multiple views and a large variety of people from this intriguing country. Mexico contains multitudes.

Paul Theroux started his journey by traversing the Mexico – U.S. border from the state of California to the Gulf of Mexico (Texas). Along this route he encounters migrants in shelters on both sides of the border. Many of these shelters were run by Catholic missionaries. He also comes across border patrol forces and attends a mee
Apr 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mexico
Paul Theroux began his motor trip by weaving back and forth on the US - Mexican border. Then he traveled south observing Mexico's diverse communities. Throughout the trip he sees how Mexicans, poor and unprotected, live on a “plain of snakes”.

As is typical of Theroux's travel books there are no restaurant reviews and there is not much on tourist sites. In their stead there are interviews with people he encounters and a few people he seeks out for their local knowledge. He writes of his daily ex
Rating: 4 well-traveled stars

I was so glad to get a chance to read an eArc copy of Paul Theroux’s latest work about his extensive travels in Mexico the last few years. I value Theroux’s perspective on a nation that I have traveled in quite a bit during the last few decades. I read with sadness about the economic, political, and cartel forces that continue to make life in Mexico a hardscrabble and dangerous life for the poor and indigenous populations.

Theroux takes us on a wide-ranging journey.
Rob Christopher
Apr 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I don't say this lightly, but in his seventy-sixth year, at least among his travel books Theroux has written his masterpiece. It's deeply compassionate, insightful, and amazingly timely. It's an extraordinarily rich journey. He's made me see Mexico in completely new ways and, as usual, sprinkled in bits of his own life and history that allow me to see his whole body of work differently.
Jul 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
On The Plain Of Snakes is such a relevant read. Paul Theroux is one of my favorite travel writers, and his latest offering continues his profound observations and harsh truths. Obviously, there are serious and deadly problems along the United States and Mexico border. This book is sharp, insightful and disturbing. Theroux tells the truth, even when so many would rather not hear it. I highly recommend this book for anyone with even a slight intrest in the welfare of those who cross and protect th ...more
William Koon
Nov 07, 2019 rated it liked it
Paul Theroux’s On the Plain of Snakes reminds one of his last major travel work Deep South. It sprawls. It repeats. It wanders.

Throughout he is on the verge of physical danger; he is shaken down frequently by the police and officials. His notes on the cartels and equally dangerous government corruption are spot on.

His disputation on the country is as wide and unfocused as the country he describes. Although he is writing a travel journal, he takes many time outs to discuss the people he meets.
J.D. DeHart
Sep 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Paul Theroux writes beautifully and with vivid, provocative detail about a complicated place and people in this book.

It’s literary, reflective, geographic, and cultural. Just the kind of book to serve as the centerpiece for conversations about ethnography and society.

Theroux’s work comes not a minute too soon as we circle around questions of place and identity. It’s more than entertainment and more than literary — this book is a descriptive photograph that explores many nuances.
Oct 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars. Feeling old and unappreciated, Paul Theroux decides to undertake two journeys through Mexico: one along the contentious U.S./Mexico border, and then one into Mexico, traveling through Monterrey, to the central highlands on to Mexico City then to Oaxaca, and down south to Chiapas. Along the way, he talks to a wide variety of Mexicans: the destitute to the wealthy, those integrated into the Spanish language speaking mainstream, and those belonging to far more ancient indigenous cultures ...more
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Nov 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
I will go with Paul Theroux wherever he takes me.

This time, it was to Mexico.

Theroux lives in the northern United States, so he hadn't been as inculcated to the dangers of Mexico as we here in Texas are. He was warned to be careful in many areas of Mexico, and he listened to those warnings and tried to create a route around the dangerous parts. I've often wanted to go to Mexico, but I've been repeatedly frightened away from planning a trip there, so I really enjoyed this trip with Theroux alon
Apratim Mukherjee
May 14, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There is no doubt that Paul Theroux is a great travel writer.He not only observes what goes on around him but also mingles with local people.A Theroux travelogue will take a lot of time to read and if one misses a word or a line,the reader will not be able to connect the dots.Paul is not a writer who will go to Mexico City or Tijuana ,write his experiences and publish a book claiming that he has visited whole of Mexico.It takes guts to go to the underbelly of Mexican society and constructively c ...more
Jun 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Paul Theroux is now seventy-nine years old. In this book, he writes on his experiences of driving along the US-Mexican border and then in Mexico, all the way south till the Mexico-Guatemalan border. The drive along the US-Mexican border from California to Brownsville, Texas is a distance of nearly 2000 miles crisscrossed by over 300 transit points between the two countries. This journey is a more adventurous one than his previous journey south within the US. Theroux has lost none of his youthful ...more
Sheri Lutz
Feb 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
My notes:

" Marcos said at the time. “Behind our face masks is the face of all women excluded. Of all the indigenous people forgotten. Of all homosexuals persecuted. Of young people belittled. Of all migrants beaten. Of all people imprisoned for their thought or word. Of all workers humiliated. Of all who died in oblivion."

"García Márquez had said that Marcos did not appear to be a traditional Latin American leftist. Marcos said that such leftists ignored two important social groups, the indigen
Jul 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Well done Don Pablo!
Jeanette (Again)
3.5 stars

Unless I do some serious speed reading between now and midnight, this is my last book for 2019.
Pedro L. Fragoso
Dec 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
“Yes, I was lucky—incredibly so. Lucky in the people I met, lucky in the friends I made, lucky even in my mishaps, my always emerging unharmed, with a tale to tell. More than fifty years of this, ever the fortunate traveler.”

“As an Ancient Mariner of a sort, I want to hold the doubters with my skinny hand, fix them with a glittering eye, and say, ‘I have been to a place where none of you have ever been, where none of you can ever go. It is the past. I spent decades there and I can say, you don’t
Apr 22, 2020 rated it it was ok
Paul Theroux, the celebrated travel writer, drives the length of the US/Mexican border, going back and forth between the two countries, to observe and document the impact of NAFTA, the "mafia" (how Mexicans refer to the cartels according to Theroux) and illegal immigration on the lives of ordinary Mexicans. He then drives to Mexico City to lead a writing seminar. In the last half of the book, he travels to Oaxaca and Chiapas to observe the lives and villages of the people who make the long dange ...more
Dec 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: travel, mexico
I have been reading the travel books of Paul Theroux for almost forty years now, beginning with his The Old Patagonian Express. During the years that followed, he has had a decisive influence, especially on my own travels. Not that I have traveled anywhere near so widely as he has: I have lived a very responsible life at several underpaid jobs that let me take only one big trip a year.

On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey takes me back to my first foreign trip in November 1975. Since then I
This was definitely not my favorite of Theroux’s books. The topic interested me greatly – what is happening along the Mexico-US border and throughout Mexico, from the point of view of poor Mexicans, especially the indigenous peoples such as Zapotecs, Mextecs, Tzeltal and Tztotzil. Theroux, however, is intrusive in his own book – he has major hang-ups about his age and his importance in the world. There are pages of nearly (for me) unreadable exegeses. Luckily, there are also some interesting, wo ...more
Judy Kugle
Jan 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I am in love with this book. However as a native Texan and border aficionado I often disagree with descriptions of some of the border towns. I was recently on a cross border tour of Brownsville and Matamoros. I was really impressed with Matamoros. I cross several times a year at Progresso for a quick trip to the Pharmacy and lunch at Arturo’s. Next time I’ll try Matamoros. I wish he would have spoken with a member of the Lower Rio Grande AIA chapter. They really love their towns on both sides. W ...more
Apr 20, 2020 rated it it was ok
This book was like being stuck on a long road trip with someone you really don't like very much, but the scenery and people on the trip are interesting enough that you don't want to end the trip.
Mark Walker
Oct 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I’ve travelled much of the world over the last forty years, thanks to Paul Theroux’s many books, which now number 56. I was especially eager to read this book since I’ve made the journey through Mexico several times with my wife in a car (VW bug) and a pickup truck, so I was familiar with some of the challenges and dangers, not to mention adventures the author would encounter.
The “Godfather of Travel Writing” follows his own critique for what makes a superior travel book, “not just a report of
Nov 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
PT doing what he does best, traveling and meeting people and being super pretentious white-man about literature. Some amazing observations about borders and crossings from a man who has probably crossed more borders than people can name countries. I really appreciate that we ended on a somewhat hopeful, rebellious note with the Zapatistas.
Jul 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Insightful into modern Mexico, interesting perspective, and full of thoughtful discussions and descriptions.
Arianna G.
Jan 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Paul Theroux has been one of my favorite travel writers forever ("Dark Star" about his travels through Africa is one of my favorite books), but this book, which focuses on Mexico is an important work.

As a white American cisgender male elderly person traveling Mexico (Theroux), it's his beautiful, honest and eye-opening attempt to see, understand and explain back to "us" (me?--- average Americans?) the complexities of Mexico, the border, the politics, etc. It should be required reading for everyo
Scott Munden
Nov 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Paul Theroux of "On the Plain of Snakes" is a gentler and less misanthropic writer than the Paul Theroux of the earlier travel writing. I like both Pauls. I will always cherish the razor wit and sharp pen of "The Old Patagonian Express". But there is something to "On the Plain of Snakes" that is timely and checks the unforgiving cruelty that is everywhere in the culture of today.

Theroux has always ignored the advice of those who warn him "don't go there because of the 'bad' people." He stay
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Paul Edward Theroux is an American travel writer and novelist, whose best known work is The Great Railway Bazaar (1975), a travelogue about a trip he made by train from Great Britain through Western and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, through South Asia, then South-East Asia, up through East Asia, as far east as Japan, and then back across Russia to his point of origin. Although perhaps best know ...more

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