Books about Mexico

Los Clásicos

*Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry (1947). Written by an English author, this novel centers on the deterioration of a British consul during his service in a small town in Mexico. Much of the plot happens during Day of the Dead celebrations.

El laberinto de soledad by Octavio Paz (1950). The collection of essays centers on themes and tendencies central to Mexican culture, with essays focusing on Day of the Dead, the use of Masks in Mexican dress and performative celebrations, and legacies of colonialism.

La noche de Tlatelolco: Testimonios de historia oral by Elena Poniatowska (1971).Poniatowska’s montage of photographs and testimonies from eyewitness accounts of the event has become the most renowned memorialization of the “massacre in Mexico.”

*Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo (1955/1994). This “classic” has experienced a resurgence ever since its translation to English by Margaret Sayers Peden. Introduction to accompany a reading of the novel.

Mexican Postcards by Carlos Monsivais (1997). Beloved journalist and cultural commentator recognized for his embrace of the everyday and championing of the common people, this English-language edition brings together translations of several of Monsivais’ most fascinating essays about Mexican culture and politics. Several essays are dedicated wholly to salient figures, such as popular culture icons Dolores del Rio, Tin Tan, and Cantinflas, as well as the author Juan Rulfo.

Nonfiction / About Mexican Culture

*The Stray Bullet: William S. Burroughs in Mexico by Jorge Garcia-Robles (1995). This long essay published in book format details the relationship between the Beat Generation and Mexico and draws upon the author’s interviews with Burroughs.

*Mexican Days: Journeys into the Heart of Mexico and On Mexican Time: A New Life in San Miguel by Tony Cohan (2006, 2001). Straddling the genres of travel literature and memoir, both texts deal with Cohan’s move to San Miguel de Allende and his observations as an expatriate.

First Stop in the New World: Mexico City, Capital of the 21st Century by David Lida (2008). Journalist David Lida is not afraid to play up the extremes of Mexico City (the reputation for lots of crime, the insufferable traffic jams, the poverty of which an overwhelming number of the city’s occupants suffer), and paints a thorough–though perhaps exaggerated–portrait of a city characterized by contradictions, both culturally rich and troubled.

Down and Delirious in Mexico City: The Aztec Metropolis in the Twenty-First Century by Daniel Hernandez (2011). Like Lida, Hernandez did not grow up in the DF but brought an outsiders perspective to making sense of the urban chaos and the practices of the less visible, the poor youth, some of whom are labeled as “emos.”

The Interior Circuit: Mexico City Chronicles by Francisco Goldman (2014). The first part is a more intimate portrait of the city that emerges from driving lessons and also discusses the #YoSoy132 student moment after the contested presidential election in 2012. The second part details a recent mysterious kidnapping involving youth from Tepito that illustrates Mexico City’s inequality.


*Mornings in Mexico by D. H. Lawrence (1927). A collection of travel essays, several of which are set in Oaxaca where Lawrence travelled with his wife, Frieda.

*The Pearl by John Steinbeck (1947). This novella is set in Baja California Sur and centers on the family of a pearl diver and the themes of greed and overvaluing material goods.

*Queer by William S. Burroughs (1952/1985). In this unfinished short novel, Burroughs develops an American protagonist who is coming to grips with his homosexuality and travels to Mexico looking for a mystery drug.

*Where the Air is Clear by Carlos Fuentes (1958). Fuentes’ novel was immensely successful and provides various scenes of daily life in Mexico City with an emphasis on corruption and inequality.

*Terra Nostra by Carlos Fuentes (1975).

Las aventuras, desventuras y sueños de Adonis García, el vampiro de la colonia roma by Luis Zapata (1979). This bildungsroman novel draws upon the tradition of the picaresque novel from Spain yet is written in an avant-garde, continuous form lacking punctuation and streaming together ideas and actions separated only by irregular spacing. The story surrounds the adventures of a young male prostitute who struggles to get by and it is set in the Zona Rosa and Colonia Roma, making the book a must-read for Spanish-readers visiting these neighborhoods.

*The Old Gringo by Carlos Fuentes (1985). This was Fuentes’ most popular novel in the US and was adapted into a movie starring Jane Fonda and Gregory Peck.

*Battles in the Desert & Other Stories by José Emilio Pacheco (1987). This collection of short stories is frequently assigned to Mexican students and is well-known in Mexico.

*Amulet by Roberto Bolaño (1999). This novella is set in 1960s Mexico City and told from the perspective of a Uruguayan women living in DF as an exile who becomes involved in the 1968 student massacre in Tlatelolco. Some characters from this text also appear in The Savage Detectives. 

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño (1998/2007). Set in the downtown bohemian neighborhoods of Mexico City, the sprawling novel is renowned for its subject (young poets navigating and its form (narrated by over 40 characters).

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver (2009). The first part of the book is set in Mexico with the protagonist employed by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and the second part is set in Asheville, North Carolina.

Down the Rabbit Hole and Quesadilla by Juan Pablo Villalobos (2012, 2014). Dark and comic novellas adding new creativity to the “narcoliterature” genre.

*Almost Never and One out of Two by Daniel Sada (2008/2012, 2012/2015). Since Sada’s death in 2011, these two works have gained great critical recognition with Sada named among the likes of Juan Rulfo and Roberto Bolaño as a key Mexican author to be appreciated nationally and internationally as well.

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