Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Yage Letters” as Want to Read:
The Yage Letters
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Yage Letters

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  3,219 ratings  ·  109 reviews
An early epistolary novel by William Burroughs, whose 1951 account of himself as as junkie, published under the pseudonym William Lee, ended Yage may be the final fix. In letters to Allen Ginsberg, an unknown young poet in New York, his journey to the Amazon jungle is recorded, detailing picaresque incidents of a search for a telepathic-hallucinogenic-mind-expanding drug c ...more
Paperback, 66 pages
Published January 1st 1963 by City Lights Books (San Francisco)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Yage Letters, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Marmites Junky is a fictionalised version of Burroughs life. Yage letters is a collection of letters between Burroughs and Allen detailing, among other things,…moreJunky is a fictionalised version of Burroughs life. Yage letters is a collection of letters between Burroughs and Allen detailing, among other things, experiences they have with Yage. On the last page of Junky, Burroughs talks about his hope that Yage will help him, so in my opinion the letters make a good sequel to Junky.(less)
On the Road by Jack KerouacHowl and Other Poems by Allen GinsbergThe Dharma Bums by Jack KerouacNaked Lunch by William S. BurroughsJunky by William S. Burroughs
Beat Lit
202 books — 159 voters
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. ThompsonThe Summer of '69 by Todd StrasserChasing the Scream by Johann HariThe Shores We Walk by Gabriel RheaumeThe Doors of Perception & Heaven and Hell by Aldous Huxley
The truth about drugs...
107 books — 123 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
3.69  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,219 ratings  ·  109 reviews

Sort order
carey lina
Aug 15, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
Oct 24, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Jun 10, 2011 rated it did not like it
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
Katalina Padilla
Oct 03, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
As a Colombian and as person who is initiating herself in the world of ayahuasca, I find this book extremely offensive. This man comes to this land looking for nothing more than a drug that makes him hallucinate and disrespects not only what is considered a sacred plant but refers to shamans as ''brujos'', when they call themselves taitas, which is a name that has a deep meaning and respect. Burroughs came knowing nothing and left knowing nothing as well. If you read this book and know nothing a ...more
Feb 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 16, 2009 rated it did not like it
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.)
Harley Claes
Dec 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: the-revolution
What else must a white man do but study that which he does not know? What else must a white man do but learn, educate, experiment? As a woman of color I do not see this book from a narrow lens. I see it as the research it was, the need to educate themselves on culture, psychoactive plants, the world. And what for? For the revolution of the consciousness that was necessary to bring into fruition in America, as they left seeds of their exposure in different sects of the world. The Beats were a con ...more
Will Mayo
Dec 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I read this book hesitantly about Burroughs's search for the perfect high in the jungles of the Amazon wondering if I could at all relate to it since, apart from a couple of all too brief experiences in the 1970s and 1980s, I've shied away from drugs almost entirely. Basically, drugs just never appealed to me. Even marijuana never did anything for me. I was just blasé about the whole thing. But, trust Burroughs, he renders the whole experience vividly here in bright colors including even the vul ...more
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
Erik Graff
Aug 22, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 19, 2011 rated it it was ok
Dear Al,

Sex tourist in search of final fix is no good, no bueno. Full of holes, full of holes. Use that last bit in summarizing new "epistolary novel" I'm writing. With letter, you're now part of novel. Mindfuck using old typewriter instead of Brion's Dream Machine. Annual meeting of society of book reviewers: "Are we to gulp down this slim edition of horseshit? Are we to spend hard-earned money on book ostensibly about yage and presumably visionary experience only instead to endure dry grating
Nov 05, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
Rachel Ghostbear
Jan 04, 2014 rated it liked it
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.
Mar 04, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literature, drugs
Burroughs' search for a telepathy-inducing drug is yet-another indicator of just how serious an explorer of expanded consciousness he was. This bk even includes Ginsberg's drawings of Yage-induced visions. An important bk up there w/ Artaud's "The Peyote Dance", the works of R. Gordon Wasson on mushrooms, & many other works of the same ilk.
Cynde Moya
Jul 31, 2011 rated it really liked it
Bill goes to the jungle and alternately hunts Yage experiences and tricks with uncouth overexperienced native boys, one of whom steals his underpants.
Gia Jgarkava
Not yet quite Burroughs'... as Russians say - "neither fish, nor fowl" :)
antónio alves
16 cartas trocadas entre william burroughs e allen ginsberg durante as suas viagens pela américa latina
Aug 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
15 de Abril de 1953. Hotel Nueva Regis, Bogotá

"En cuestón de dos minutos sentí que me arrastraba una oleada de vértigo, y la choza empezó a girar alrrededor de mí. Empecé a ver fogonazos azules delante de los ojos. La choza adquirió un aspecto arcaico, como de los Mares del Sur, con cabezas de la isla de Pascua talladas en las columnas de madera. El ayudante del brujao andaba polulando por ahí fuera, con la evidente intención de asesinarme. Vomité violentamente contra un arbol y caí al suelo, in
Degan Walters
Feb 06, 2018 rated it it was ok
I have read this book before but hadn't saved it to Goodreads and hadn't remembered until I was partway through it. I loved the parts that feel like anthropological and ethnobotanical studies where Burroughs was exploring the jungle and trying to find ayahuasca but I found it quite off-putting when he and Ginsburg are preying on Ecuadorian boys and smearing their white male privilege all over the place, never mind the incomprehensible section on buggery that was likely a trip Burroughs was on.
Jun 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I just finished reading this book for a Ginsberg project I'm working on. I read it a few years ago and again a few years before that, although I think this is the first time with the Redux version that includes some additional material and a long essay by Oliver Harris at the beginning. Overall, a great read.

I did strangely discover something I'd overlooked in my research for Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the 'Weird Cult'. Burroughs' section was written in 1953, six years prior to his
Charles Mitchell
Aug 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
as fun as ever. epic beat epistlery novel of first, Burroughs' trek though South America in search of Yage, an hallucinogenic tree, bark and leaf leading to different experiences, and 7 years later Allen Ginsberg following his S.A. footsteps in search of Ayahuasca, a root similar to Yage in preparation and experience. included is the early genesis of Burroughs' cut up method made famous in Naked Lunch, as well as some Ginsberg sketches and notes, and a banned satire from Burroughs that could sad ...more
Dec 07, 2017 rated it it was ok
Burroughs' writing is stark, evocative and full. It is also trying, racist, cruel and awkward. Then I got to Ginsberg's writing in the epilogues and it was hipster word vomit that made me yearn for when I read Steppenwolf (not a compliment to either text). Just rough overall.

However. The Billy Bradshinkel routine is so good that it deserves its own star. I could re-read that one singular page over and over again and always be satisfied.
Constanza Casagrande
Nov 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
En realidad no se cómo puntear esto.
Me divirtió muchísimo. Burroughs es la clase de tipo que me gustaría tener de showman personal. Perfectamente cínico. No le jode banalizar (y eso me agrada).
Allen Ginsberg me pareció poesía y estamos muy agradecidos por eso. Los dibujos de la edición que manejé son divinos. Digo divinos porque...
Léanlo. Una horita de fiesta.
Paternalista, racista y decepcionante (la única carta que me ha gustado y que realmente hablaba de la ayahuasca fue la de Allen Ginsberg, las de Burroughs me han decepcionado e indignado a partes iguales, aunque reconozco que me encanta su sentido del humor).
Minchaca Santiago
Jan 17, 2019 rated it did not like it
Recomiendo leerlo a partir de la penúltima carta de Burroughs.
Jul 18, 2017 rated it did not like it
Whiny, hyper-masculine horseshit. A wife killer and a NAMBLA supporter can't learn anything from Mother Aya. Hardly a Surpise.
May 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mind-bend, im-a-human
Pharma-Nauts of the super consciousness universe--
Jan 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 28, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A bit brief.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Gentleman Junkie: The Life and Legacy of William S. Burroughs
  • William Burroughs: El Hombre Invisible
  • Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs
  • The Peyote Dance
  • William S. Burroughs, Throbbing Gristle, Brion Gysin
  • Selected Letters, 1940-1956
  • First Third & Other Writings - Revised & Expanded Edition Together With A New Prologue
  • The Horn
  • Herbert Huncke Reader
  • The Fall of America: Poems of These States 1965-1971
  • Memoirs of a Beatnik
  • The Psychotropic Mind: The World According to Ayahuasca and Iboga
  • Gasoline & The Vestal Lady on Brattle
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
“Wouldn't you?” 6 likes
“I tried more than once to tell you, to communicate what I know. You did not or could not listen. You can not show to anyone what he has not seen.” 5 likes
More quotes…