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The Yage Letters

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  3,539 ratings  ·  132 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)
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Paul 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)
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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
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.) ...more
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
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
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
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. ...more
Mar 04, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: drugs, literature
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. ...more
Oct 23, 2007 rated it it was amazing
William S. Burroughs the ultimate adventure. Going for the perfect high. Writing to Allen. Will he come out of the jungle? No, not really.
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" :) ...more
Jedediah Smith
Aug 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Funny how Oliver Harris in his introduction tries to "rehabilitate" Burroughs. He claims that the attitudes shift in the letters in accordance with the signatory nom de plumes: racist, right-wing, ugly American attitudes emit from the "persona" Wm. Lee and more politically correct liberalism comes from the real WSB. He even interprets a mention of Wells' "Country of the Blind" as a coded anti-imperialist message.

It's all nonsense. Burroughs doesn't need rehabilitation to make him safe for femin
Willians Sena
Feb 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing
When I first read this book, as a South American and someone who use ayahuasca for treatment purposes, I found it to be really disgusting and disrespectful, and above all, racist.
But as I read it for a work of my early ears in college, I had to research deeper the conditions of writing and the meaning of Burroughs’ words. And what I’ve found is a tremendous ambiguous book, in which Burroughs put the transgression in conflict by his use of the irony.
He believed he was followed by a spirit “The Ug
Feb 28, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I suppose I'm in the minority here, but Burroughs comes out of this a far more interesting character than the pretentious-lachrymose Ginsberg. Isn't it curious in the goodreads reviews people complain about Burroughs descriptions of erotic fantasies and lift Ginsberg up as the "good guy" when Ginsberg was a member of NAMBLA?
Anyway, this book is valuable for a number of reasons. Written accounts on this topic are rare, still, and rarer are the accounts from those interested, and with a deta
Derek Frasure
Dec 30, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Presented as an epistolary travelogue, this is an extremely tricky text. Burroughs takes us on a postmodern quest where failure is almost entirely the result. He refuses the interiority of experience in a way Ginsberg fleshes out. It's easy to read these as uncurated letters, however these are anything but that. The introductory essay by Oliver Harris is indispensable for clarifying the nuances of textual history that remove this from the merely ethnographic or the vulgar trip report. Many revie ...more
Dana Jerman
Mar 08, 2021 rated it liked it
Mostly Bill- and yes he’s a racist PoS.
Alas there are some hintings of correct administration and cultivation of said plant/bark/tincture.
Otherwise it’s a lot of social commentary:

“South America does not force people to be deviants. You can be queer or a drug addict and still maintain position. Especially if you are educated and well-mannered. There is a deep respect here for education. In the U.S. you have to be a deviant or exist in dreary boredom. Even a man like Oppenheimer is a deviant tol
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.
Colin Baumgartner
Feb 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Much of this book was engaging. Burroughs has a way of describing the darker, gritty parts of civilization in a way that few Beats manage. He delves into the grotesque, the decrepit, and the vulgar and manages to make them almost beautiful with his delicate handling.

I’ve been keen to try an ayahuasca ceremony, so Burroughs’ quest through S America for Yage immediately caught my attention. Now that ayahuasca has become such a tourist attraction, it is fun to read about a time in which the drug wa
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
Jun 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel
Yage may be the final fix
A Burroughs novel that was written using the pen name William Lee. Here he gives an account of his search in South America for the hallucinogenic plant Yage, used by Amazonian doctors to find lost bodies and souls. Allen Ginsberg, as of yet an unknown poet in Manhattan, is the recipient of these letters, and he makes a similar trip seven years later sending messages to Burroughs asking for advice. There's a stark difference between the two. Burroughs letters are hil
W. Koistinen
Feb 08, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: autofiction
Well done research on "letters" that are not really letters at all, but constructed piece of autofiction. Included are also some real letters of Ginsberg, as he was on his own separate journey to find the "vine of the soul" and some of Allen's journal writing of that time. It becomes clear that Ginsberg went in fact much farther into yage tripping than Burroughs, but Burroughs' prose contains more humorous elements.

If you have only read the original Yage Letters I recommend reading this also. A
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.
Tom Schulte
Apr 23, 2019 rated it liked it
I read this epistolary memoir some years ago. When you get based the lonely hunter's complaints about discomforts and a lack of sex, two things emerge: a budding friendship with Allen Ginsberg and a search for a telepathic-hallucinogenic-mind-expanding drug called yage (ayahuasca; DMT is an active ingredient) which has a resonance with True Hallucinations. ...more
Feb 04, 2020 rated it it was ok
I mean, reading about Burroughs journey through a landscape I'm very familiar with sure was very nostalgic and the descriptions of the effects Yagé/Ayahuasca on them also felt very organic...

what bugged me about this the most tho' --and something I am just not able to look past -- is the disgusting way in which the authors refer to indigenous people, Black people, Mestizos, women, and South America overall

they're canceled
Sep 20, 2019 rated it did not like it
I have a problem with Burroughs, as I enjoy translator notes on the background of each book and history behind it, but the story alone is too abstract for me and sometimes I have a lot of 'ugh, not again' thoughts. He's sometimes too graphic for me, monologuing about drugs, and I don't fully dig this topic/style of writing. ...more
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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

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