On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey

by Paul Theroux

Hardcover, 2019

Call number

917.204 THE


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2019), 448 pages


"Legendary travel writer Paul Theroux fearlessly 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."--Provided by publisher.

Media reviews

"On the Plain of Snakes is, in my opinion, the richest portrayal of contemporary Mexico available to Americans, and an urgent one: it’s a picture of the complex country and people upon which many of the privileges of the United States are built. "

User reviews

LibraryThing member SamSattler
Paul Theroux is that rare author whose books I can say directly affected me and my way of life. Theroux is the kind of traveler I try to be (to a much less adventurous degree), a traveler who enjoys straying off the beaten path to explore the places that tourists never get to see, someone who takes the time to meet a few of the locals, eat where they eat, and get a feel for what makes a community tick. Paul Theroux has done that all over the world, often placing himself into dangerous situations in the process. But even those of us who do our traveling in less exotic locales, or even from our own armchairs, consider the man to be a role model.

Theroux’s latest, On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey, proves that the man has not lost a step despite his admittance to himself that his future traveling days are limited by his advancing age. The now 78-year-old Theroux (who was 76 during his travels through Mexico) realizes that younger people see him as an old man well past his prime – the way they see everyone who manages to make it to seventy. To them he is invisible and easily ignored. Well, Theroux is not playing that game. He does concede, however, that his days of driving the backroads alone could end the very next time he has to pass the eye exam needed to renew his driver’s license. As Theroux puts it, his driver’s license now has a “use-by date” on it. So, if not now, when?

Theroux has been in some tight spots before during his travels, but his almost foolhardy decision to travel alone into the heart of Mexico has to rank somewhere among the most dangerous situations he has ever inserted himself into. The author began his Mexican journey by traveling from west to east the entire length of the U.S.-Mexico border, hopping back and forth between U.S. and Mexican border towns. He crossed into and out of those border towns more than a dozen times, the places most prone to the kind of random violence orchestrated by the several drug cartels that control the Mexican side of the border (and some would say also the American side). From the border, Theroux proceeded to Mexico City, where he spent some time teaching a course on writing, before heading further south where he would end up near the Guatemalan border.

And the best part about all of this? Theroux went where the roads took him, figuring all the while that it was best to keep moving no matter how bad or how deserted the next road he turned onto might prove to be. Along the way, he spent time with peasants, artists, writers, students, the leader of a twenty-year-long rebellion, and indigenous inhabitants of the country whose Spanish was worse even than his own. That he was willing to take the time necessary to earn the trust and the friendship of so many Mexicans explains how Theroux survived an adventure that everyone warned him against – including the Mexicans with whom he discussed his general plan beforehand. His friends took good care of him.

Theroux may have been plagued by dejection and self-pity when he began his trip through Mexico, but he ended it on a high note and with a smile on his lips. He proved one more time that there is a huge difference between traveling as a tourist and traveling as a lone observer of the world and its people. Paul Theroux is a role model for real travelers everywhere.
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LibraryThing member maryreinert
Absolutely fascinating account of the country of Mexico, from the border to the far south; from the urban Mexico City to the most remote village in the mountains. Paul Theroux has traveled the world. He took off in his car alone to follow the border between the US and Mexico; he saw both sides. From there he traveled south. He met with ordinary people, stayed in ordinary places, and wrote about his experiences--several that could be considered frightening. This is a view of Mexico from the eyes of an ordinary traveler told with vivid writing, I couldn't help but want to read more. In many cases, I kept my phone nearby to look up images, names, and maps. I never understood the affect NAFTA had on Mexico, now I have some idea. I never really understood why so many wanted to come to the US; now I have some idea--and not always what I have been led to believe.

I loved this book. The only reason I took a half-star away was a few of the times Theroux would get off on a tangent about literature, writing, or some other idea. However, this made me definitely want to read more of his work. I've been a few places in Mexico, but never like this. The only thing that would have enhanced the book would have been maps and more pictures. (There are a few, but I wanted more).
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LibraryThing member untraveller
it was good to see that Theroux went beyond the border to discover Mexico. An excellent travel writer no matter where he goes and a writer whose opinions are generally trustworthy, he travels essentially the length and breadth of the country and does a good job of avoiding most Americans while doing so. Finished 19.08.20.




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