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It’s no secret that I love Latin America. Mexico, Central America, South America, I’m a fan of it all. It’s my favorite region to travel in and I can’t wait to go back and see more of it, especially since there are so many great places to go in Mexico since it’s so huge and has so many amazing things to do and see. So, instead of going there right now, I’m going to read and share some of the best books set in Mexico.
I’ve read a few of these already, but I also have a few more waiting on my Kindle and TBR shelf for me. I would also like to add, as I’ve written this, I’ve actually purchased a lot of these and I’m so excited to read them.
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While this isn’t directly set in Mexico, it does start there, so I’m counting it. Salvador Alvarenga left the coast of Mexico for a two-day fishing trip. That turned into the longest time spent adrift at sea by anyone in history – 438 days. A terrible storm killed his boat engine and dragged his boat out to sea where he drifted all the way to the Marshall Islands, 9,000 miles away.
For fourteen months, he was surrounded by sharks, learned to catch fish with what he had on board: empty plastic bottles he collected from the ocean, making fishhooks from his dismantled outboard motor, and using fish vertebrae as a needle to stitch his clothes back together. He contemplated suicide multiple times but kept an alternate reality in his mind that carried him on until he was dumped onto the remote island thousands of miles away.
Paul Wilson jumps at the chance to join two local icons on a surf trip to Mexico in 1978. What he doesn’t know is that they’re jumping right into the heart of drug cartel territory. He’s not sure how he’s going to pay for his portion, so he does the only thing he can think of: he robs a supermarket. And if this wasn’t enough, he soon finds out one of his companions is a convicted killer on the run. If you’re looking for a book about travel in Mexico, this is a great, if unorthodox, option.
Would it even be a booklist without Paul Theroux? He has crossed the globe for decades, but for this book, he heads down south of the border as immigration debates boil around thee world.
In the Sonoran region, he sees a place full of vitality, but also marked by US border patrol and mounting discord from within. He talks to residents, visits Zapotec mill workers in the highlands, and even attends a Zapatista party meeting, getting to know the people south of the border as their loved ones journey north.
I know this book is quite controversial, but I’m including it anyway. I won a copy of this and started reading it in January, then saw all the bad press and stopped for like, two months and finally finished it in March. I probably owuld have read it anyways even if I didn’t win it. I liked the book, but I also understand some of the controversy so I’m also going to read other books on this list (like The Devil’s Highway and Everyone Knows You Go Home) to see other perspectives.
Now the book itself: Lydia lives in Acapulco with her son and husband, a journalist. Lydia owns a bookshop and meets the charming Javier who, unbeknownst to her, is the Los Jardineros Jefe, the newest drug cartel that has taken over the city. Soon, Lydia and Luca are forced to flee and make their way north to get away from all of the violence and death. This is the story of their journey with each other and some new found friends made along the way.
Casiopea Tun is busy cleaning floors for her wealthy grandfather while the Jazz Age is in full swing around her. All this time though, she dreams of a new life that is just hers in southern Mexico even though it seems so far off. At least it did until she found a mysterious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. When she opens it, the Mayan god of death is set free and now she has to help him recover his lost throne from his brother. If she fails, it will bring about her demise, but if she succeeds, all her dreams could come true.
This story follows twenty-six men as they attempt to cross the Mexican border into Arizona in 2001. They are traveling through the deadly region known as the Devil’s Highway. Even the Border Patrol is afraid to travel through this desolate and harsh region of the desert.
The first time Isabel meets her father-in-law, Omar, is as an apparition on her wedding day when he’s already dead. Her husband Martin confesses he never knew his father died. He never forgave him for abandoning him. Omar asks Isabel for the impossible: to persuade his family to let him redeem himself.
Isabel and Martin settle down on a border town in Texas and Omar returns every year on the Day of the Dead, but Martin and Elda, Martin’s mother, still can’t see him. As he visits, Isabel learns the truth about why he left and what Martin’s childhood was like and the way grief can eat away at love. Forgiveness is on the horizon, though, when Martin’s nephew crosses the border and the past, future home, borders, and belonging are all questioned.
Marcelo Hernandez Castillo was five years old when he suffered from temporary, stress-induced blindness as his family was preparing to cross the border from Mexico to the US. He regained his sight but had to live a life of invisibility once they arrived in California. Before he was one of the most celebrated poets of his generation, he was just a boy perfecting his English hoping he might never be seen as extraordinary.
José Olivarez shares the stories, contradictions, joys, and sorrows of life between Mexico and America. He paints vivid portraits of good and bad kids, families clinging to hope, life after the steel mills, gentrifying barrios, and everything in between. It’s full of humor and emotion as we face complex issues of race, ethnicity, gender, class, and immigration.
Orestes’ father preaches Hellenic virtues and practices the art of the insult while his mother prepares hundreds of quesadilla for the rest of their brood: Aristotle, Archilocus, Callimachus, Electra, Castor, and Pollux. She insists they are middle class but Orestes isn’t so sure. After another fraudulent election and the disappearance of his younger brothers Castor and Pollux, he’s off on an adventure where he meets a procession of pilgrims, a stoner uncle named Pink Floyd, and a politician that teaches him to lie.
Highway is a world traveler, yarn spinner, collector, and auctioneer and his most precious possessions are the teeth of “notorious infamous” people like Plato, Petrarch, and Virginia Woolf. This is an elegant, witty, and exhilarating tour through the industrial suburbs of Mexico City.
Kathrin, a foodie writer in a corporate job, bonds with John over a hatred of the cold. After just three days in a small town Mexican Paradise, they buy a house together. They begin to struggle as a couple but fall for the charm of the characters of the town. In the process, Katharin accidentally starts a mecca for writers and they both learn what had been missing in their lives.
The kid is born in Tennessee in 1833 but at age fourteen he runs away from home to the town of Nacogdoches. There he meets Judge Holden who incites a crowd to violence against a preacher. Soon he meets Louis Toadvine and they burn down a hotel together. He continues on and rides his mule over the prairie, through Texas and finds work at a cantina but ends up brutalizing the bartender. Later he meets Captain White who is impressed by his brutalization and helps fight to reclaim Mexican territories for the US.
If you want historical fiction set in Mexico, this is for you. It’s set in the pre-Columbian age in Mexico City and shows the daily life of ancient Aztec people, both commoners and the upper classes.
Tita has been forbidden to marry, condemned by Mexican tradition, and has to look after her mother until she dies. Tita falls in love with Pedro, though, and he is seduced by the magical food she cooks. To stay close to her, he marries her sister Rosaura, but bad luck and fate finally reunite them against all odds.
Noemí Taboada receives a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin saying she needs to be saved from a mysterious doom in High Place, a house in the distant Mexican countryside. She knows little about her cousins husband or the region and is an unlikely rescuer, preferring chick gowns and red lipstick of amateur sleuthing. She’s also tough and not afraid.
Her only ally in the inhospitable abode is the shy youngest son who wants to help her but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. As Noemí digs deeper into the past, she unearths stories of violence and madness.
The Riveras leave Mexico for America after their daughter Maribel suffers a near-fatal accident. Once they’re settled in the Redwood Apartments off the highway in Delaware, they realize her recovery that they’ve pinned their American Dream on won’t be easy.
Mayor Toro, a high school sophomore, also lives in their apartment building and he sees something in Maribel that others don’t: a gentle, funny, and wise spirit. But as three grow closer, violence casts a dark shadow over all of their futures in America.
With a swimsuit, a couple of paperback books, and a stack of travelers checks in a daypack, Eric hopped on a one-way flight to Mexico in 1994. At 36-years old without any real-world ties, little money saved up, and being done with life in America, he wanted something different, exciting, and off the grid.
He spent the next three and a half years living in a small town on the Pacific Coast called Zihuatanejo where his life completely changed and he experienced excitement, violence, magic, and passion that still exists to this day.
When Clara is fourteen years old, she gets a letter from her grandparents inviting her to stay with them for the summer at their house in Mexico. She has never met them and all she knows about her father’s past is that he snuck over the border from Mexico when he was a teenager.
She agrees to go and is stunned when she sees where they live in a simple shack in the mountains of southern Mexico where most people speak Mixteco, an indigenous language. The village of Yucuyoo is full of surprises like the spirit waterfall that can only be heard, not seen, and Pedro, the boy who wants to help her find it.
Solimar Castro Valdez is eighteen when she embarks on a journey across the US/Mexico border where she finds, then loses love. Weeks later, she arrives on her cousins doorstep in Berkeley, California, pregnant. This wasn’t the plan but she learns that when you have one precious possession, you guard it with your life.
Kavya Reddy always followed her heart and found herself as a contented chef at a UC Berkeley sorority house when the unexpected desire to have a child descends on her in her mid-thirties. Her will, sanity, and marriage are tested when she can’t get pregnant. Soon, Kavya and her husband Rishi, are taking care of Soli’s son when she is detained. Kavya finds herself building her love on a fault line and wrapping her heart around someone else’s child.
An American journalist is traveling to Mexico to report on an upcoming duel between two great matadors. Instead, he is swept up in the dramatic story of his own Mexican anceestry from invading Spainards to modern Mexico and architectural splendors to horrific human sacrifice.
Kurt Hollander spend over two decades living in Mexico City, getting to know every nook and cranny there was. This is a collection of stories from his time in the city observing everything in the city including it’s history, food, cults, drugs, and buildings.
The Sierra Madre Mountains begin twenty miles south of thee Arizona/Mexico border and span almost 900 miles reaching nearly 11,000 feet with several canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon. The rules of law and society have never taken hold in thee Sierra Madres where you’ll find an eclectic band of people: bandits, drug smugglers, Mormons, cave-dwelling Tarahumara Indians, opium farmers, cowboys, and other societal outcasts.
Occasionally the Mexican army goes in to burn marijuana and opium crops, but other than that, the government stays away, instead, they have the drug lords who have made it one of the biggest drug producing areas in the world. Enter journalist Richard Grant, fifteen years ago. He developed an unfortunate fascination with the area (his words) and was warned he would meet his death there, but he never believed them, until his last trip.
While he was there, he visited a folk healer who prescribed him rattlesnake pills for insomnia, attended bizarre religious rituals, consorted with cocaine snorting policemen, taught English to Guarijio Indians, and dug for buried treasure. On his last visit, cocaine fueled Mexican hillbillies hunted him through the woods, bent on killing him for sport.
Alfredo Corchado is a noted Mexican-American journalist that refused to shrink away from reporting on government corruption, muders in Juareez, or the ruthless drug cartels of Mexico. In 2007, he received a noted saying he was the next target of the Zetas and he has twenty four hours to find out if that was true.
Instead of leaving the country, he headed to the Mecican countryside to investigate the threat. While he frantically contacts his sources about the threat, he suspects it was because of returning to Mexico against his mother’s wishes. They fled to the north after the death of their youngest daughter, but he returned to Mexico in 1994 believing that Mexico would one day foster political accountability and leave behind its pervasive corruption.
This is the story of a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago, inventing herself to who and what she wants to be. It is told in a touching series of vignettes.
John Grady Cole is the last in a long line of Teexas ranchers while Mexico beckons him just across the border with it’s beautiful, desolate, and rugged landscape. He sets off with two companions on an idyllic and sometimes comic adventure where dreams are paid for in blood.
Nana Reja found a baby abandoned under a bridge and the small Mexican town was changed forever. Simonopio was disfigured and covered in a blanket of bees making him the subject of local superstition as a child kissed by the devil. No matter, he is welcomed by Frasisco and Beatriz Morales who adopt him and career for him as if he were there own.
As he grows up, it becomes evident that he is a gifted child. When he closes his eyes, he can see visions of what is yet to come, both beautiful and dangerous. He is followed by his protective swarm of bees and delivers his adoptive family from threat, showing his divined purpose in life.
A group of friends stumble on a horror like no one can imagine and become trapped in the Mexican jungle while they’re on a relaxing vacation. They’re spending their days in the sun, enjoying drunken nights making friends with fellow tourists, but when one of their friends brothers disappears, they head into the jungle to look for him. What starts as a fun day trip soon turns into a nightmare when they stumble on ancient ruins with a terrifying presence lurking there.
This Mexican memoir is made up of vignettes of Alberto Alvaro Rio’s memories of family, neighbors, friends, and secrets of his youth in the two Nogaleses – in Arizona and Mexico. Theeree are stories of a rickety magician and his chicken, flying dancers and mortality, a British woman waiting for her Mexican GI in Salt Lake City, and the grown son who looks at his father and sees how he has to provide for his own boy.
J.R. Klein finished his doctoral degree at Johns Hopkins University in 1980 and he was burned out by a dull, monotonous life full of routine when he set out on a trek through Mexico and Central America with his photographer friend, Stefan Kale, and just $495 in his pocket.
They trek across raw desserts, up to remote mountain villages, out to pristine islands, and deep into tropical rainforests. They took the most basic forms of transportation and lived an existencee deevoid of plans, destinations, and schedules.
Every summer, Ceyala’s family packs up their three cars and driver from Chicago to Mexico City to see Little Grandfather and Awful Grandmother. She struggles to be heard over her brothers and to find her place on this side of the border. When she starts telling the story of how Awful Grandmother got to be so awful, grandmother accuses her of exaggerating. Soon, the multigenerational story evolves into an exploration of lies and life.
Tochtli lives in a palace, loves hats, samurai, guillotines, and dictionaries, and most of all, wants a new pet for his private zoo: a pygmy hippopotamus from Liberia. His father is a powerful drug baron on the verge of taking over a powerful cartel while Tochtli is growing up in a luxury hideout with hitmen, prostitutes, dealers, servants, and the occasional corrupt politician.
A man in a desperate crisis shows up on the doorstep of a family home in the Sonoran Desert. They attempt to do the right thing and provide food, clothing, and shelter, but fear and xenophobia hamper those attempts. Peg Bowden, a retired nurse and humanitarian aid worker, stands on the side of compassion and examines the moral and ethical values that drive her life choices that don’t necessarily align with the politics of her homeland.
Collette Sommers, a college student in southern California, decides to study abroad in Mexico City where she is confronted with a culture she knows little about but soon falls in love with. Her heart and mind are stretched from the borders she was born in to understand why it all matters so much.
Primal Awareness: A True Story of Survival, Transformation, and Awakening with the Rarámuri Shamans of Mexico
In 1983, Don Trent Jacobs was caught in a violent rainstorm while kayaking the Rio Urique in Mexico’s Copper Canyon. He was swept into an impassable catacombs of underground tunnels towards what he believed was death. Instead, he was filled with a strange consciousness leaving him feeling at peace and invigorated with confidence when he was soon spit out of the tunnel at the beginning of his journey, not the end. This is the story of his experiences with the Raramuri people of Mexico and his research into other indigenous societies.
Mary Morris traveled from the desert of Mexico, through the highlands of Guatemala, to the steaming jungles of Honduras, and the beautiful seashore of the Caribbean confronting the realities of place, poverty, machismo, and selfhood as she experiences the rawness and precariousness of life in another culture. She begins to overcome the struggles of her past that have hindered her personality.
This fictional account of Frida Khalo’s life comes from the acclaimed Mexican novelist F.G. Haghenbeck when several notebooks were found in Khalo’s belongings in her home in Coyoacán, Mexico City. Haghenbeck imagines she nearly died after a streetcars’ iron handrail pierced her abdomen during a traffic accident and that she reecieved one of thee notebooks from her lover Tina Modotti as a gift.
We are taken on a magical ride through Frida’s passionate life: her tumultuous relationship with Diego Rivera , the development of her art, her complex personality, her hunger for experience, and her ardent feminism.
Harrison Shepherd is born in the United States but raised in a series of provisional households in Mexico from a coastal island jungle to 1930’s Mexico City. He finds precarious shelter, but no sense of home on his journey. What he learns about life comes from housekeepers putting him to work in the kitchen, errands run in the streets, and mixing plaster for famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. He discovers a passion for Aztec history and meets the imperious artist Frida Kahlo, who becomes his lifelong friend.
Meanwhile, the United States will soon be caught up in World War II. In the land of his birth, Shepherd believes he might remake himself, finding his own voice, in America’s hopeful image. He finds support in an unlikely place, through his stenographer, Mrs. Brown. Political winds move him from north to south and back over the darkening years.
Eleven-year-old Luz Castillo has been taken into custody by the state with her older sister in the ICU and her father in jail. She retreats behind a wall of silence in her room, where she turns to her journal and a deck of Lotería cards. Her social worker and Aunt Tencha can’t get Luz to speak and her only confidant is her journal, where she shares her secrets. The Lotería cards are her muse and they piece together her life and events that led to her present situation.
Before his ‘Gringo Dog’ recipe made him famous, he was an aspiring artist, until his would’be girlfriend was stolen by Digeo Rivera and his dreams were snuffed out by his hypochondriac mother. Now, in a retirement home, fending off boredom is much more grueling than making tacos. Hee antagonisees his neighbors, tortures American missionaries, flirts with the revolutionary greengrocer, and does just about everything he can to fend off boredom, all with a beer in his hand.
This is a humorous and poignant collection of essays providing an informed look at Mexican culture and history, exploring everything from healthcare and telenovelas to Mexican-style and religious rituals and more.
Mexico has huge crime and corruption problems, but has had a remarkable transformation over the last two decades that most Americans don’t realize made it more educated, prosperous, and innovative. In Vanishing Frontiers, Andrew Selee shows the emerging Mexico and how it is increasingly influencing out daily lives in the United States in surprising ways.
The Red Shirts, a paramilitary group, have taken control of a poor, remote section of Southern Mexico where God has been outlawed and the priests have been systematically hunted down and killed, except one, who is now on the run.
Sea Monsters brings us an intoxicating portrait of Mexico in the late 1980s. At seventeen years old, Luisa boards a bus for the Pacific coast with Tomás, a boy she barely knows, instead of returning home to Meexico City. He seems to represent everything her life is lacking and he may be able to help Luisa track down a traveling troupe of Ukranian drawfs, an unusual obsession she has.
According to a newspaper, they’ve escaped a Soviet circus touring Mexico and their imagined fates fill her dreams as she settles into a beach community in Oaxaca where she begins to dangerously disappear into the lives of strangers on Zipolite.
On New Year’s Eve of 1975, Arturo Beelano and Ulises Lima, fouders of the visceral realist movement in poetry, leave Mexico City in a borrowed white Impala on a quest to find the obscure poet Cesárea Tinajero who vanished. A violent showdown in the Sonoran Desert turns search to flight and they are still on the run twenty years later. The Savage Detectives follows their path through the eyes of the people they crossed paths with around the world.
Have you read any of these? Which ones? Any I should add?