Mexico: A Novel

Mexico: A Novel


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Pulitzer Prize–winning author James A. Michener, whose novels hurtle from the far reaches of history to the dark corners of the world, paints an intoxicating portrait of a land whose past and present are as turbulent, fascinating, and colorful as any other on Earth. When an American journalist travels to report on the upcoming duel between two great matadors, he is ultimately swept up in the dramatic story of his own Mexican ancestry—from the brilliance and brutality of the ancients, to the iron fist of the invading Spaniards, to modern Mexico, fighting through dust and bloodshed to build a nation upon the ashes of revolution. Architectural splendors, frenzied bullfights, horrific human sacrifice: Michener weaves them all into an epic human story that ranks with the best of his beloved bestselling novels.
Praise for Mexico
“Michener the storyteller at his finest . . . There are splendid and authentic scenes in the plaza de toros that are as dramatic as any written by Ernest Hemingway or Barnaby Conrad.”The New York Times Book Review
“Astounding . . . fast-moving, intriguing . . . Michener is back in huge, familiar form with Mexico.”—Los Angeles Daily News
“An enthralling story . . . Michener artfully combines the history of Mexico with the art of bullfighting, teaching the reader about both and telling a grand story at the same time.”St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“A novel of epic proportions, abounding in visual and historical detail.”Richmond Times-Dispatch

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812986716
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/07/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 656
Sales rank: 178,725
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

James A. Michener was one of the world’s most popular writers, the author of more than forty books of fiction and nonfiction, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning Tales of the South Pacific, the bestselling novels The Source, Hawaii, Alaska, Chesapeake, Centennial, Texas, Caribbean, and Caravans, and the memoir The World Is My Home. Michener served on the advisory council to NASA and the International Broadcast Board, which oversees the Voice of America. Among dozens of awards and honors, he received America’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1977, and an award from the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities in 1983 for his commitment to art in America. Michener died in 1997 at the age of ninety.

Date of Birth:

February 3, 1907

Date of Death:

October 16, 1997

Place of Death:

Austin, Texas


B.A. in English and history (summa cum laude), Swarthmore College, 1929; A.M., University of Northern Colorado, 1937.

Read an Excerpt

I had been sent to Mexico to cover a murder, one of a remarkable kind. And since it had not yet happened, I had been ordered to get photographs, too.
I was therefore burdened with unfamiliar gear—a large carrying case of Japanese cameras, some of which could photograph swift action occurring at a distance—and as my rickety bus trundled across central Mexico I wondered what I could do to protect these cameras if I followed my inclination to walk into the city from Kilometer 303.
I knew no one in the crowded bus and the cameras were far too valuable to entrust to strangers, so I resigned myself to staying on the bus and guarding them the seven remaining kilometers into the city. But as we approached Kilometer 303 the inchoate longing that had always possessed me at this curious spot in the highway surged over me with terrible force, and I was tempted to jump out and leave my cameras to chance.
Fighting back this childish impulse, I slumped in my seat and tried not to look at the road that had always haunted me, but I was powerless to keep my eyes away from it. Like many Mexican boys of good family, at thirteen I had been packed off to Lawrenceville School near Princeton, “to learn some English,” my father had grumbled, and sometimes on the green lawn of that excellent school I had stopped and gasped for breath, choked by nostalgia for the road I was now on. Later at Princeton, where there were also many young men from Mexico, I would sometimes seek out boys who had known this area and I would ask haltingly, “Have you ever seen anything lovelier than the view of Toledo from that gash in the hills where the road winds down from Kilometer 303?” And if my friends had ever seen this miraculous spot for themselves we would indulge our homesickness and think of our city of Toledo, the fairest in Mexico, as it displayed its golden iridescence in the late afternoon sun.
As a matter of fact, I think I became a writer because of this scintillating view. It had always been assumed by my parents that I would graduate from Princeton as my ancestors from Virginia had been doing since 1764, and that I would then take one year of graduate work in mining at Colorado and return to the silver mines of Toledo, which my family had been operating for many years. But all this changed in my junior year at college, when I wrote a prize-winning essay that occasioned much favorable comment among the English faculty. It described the view of Toledo from a point just beyond Kilometer 303 as it might have been seen in sequence by an Aztec district governor in 1500, by Cortés in 1524, by a Spanish priest in 1530, by a German traveler in 1660, by an American mining engineer in 1866—that would be my grandfather—and by General Gurza in the revolutionary battles of 1918.
Actually, it is not correct to say that I wrote this essay that was to have such influence in my life. I started it, and the visions came to me so vividly, so directly from the heart of Mexico and from my own memories, that I merely recorded them. In a sense, this prize was a damnable thing, for long after I had become a professional writer I remembered the ease with which I had composed the essay. And I was never again to experience that facility. But the visions I conjured up that day have lived with me forever.
Now they possessed me, and I surrendered myself to them, my glowing memories of Toledo, and I was reacting to them in my sentimental way when I saw through the window of the bus a sight that captured my imagination. Two young Indian women wearing leather sandals, rough-cloth skirts and bright shawls, and with their hair in swaying braids, were walking along the road toward Toledo. Obviously, they were heading for the Festival of Ixmiq, the site of my assignment, and the soft rhythm of their movement, from the undulating braids down to their slim ankles, reminded me of all the Indians I had ever seen walking home from my father’s mines, and I wanted to be with them as I had been forty years ago, and I found myself impulsively shouting in Spanish, “Halt the bus! Halt the bus! I’ll walk in from here.”
As the surprised driver ground down on his ancient brakes and as they squealed back in protest, I looked hurriedly about the bus in search of someone to whom I could entrust my bag of cameras, and it may seem curious to a typical American who might have a prejudiced view of Mexico, but I could hear my Mexican mother saying: “In other parts of Mexico evil men may steal now and then, but in Toledo we have only honest people.” Deciding to rely on her judgment, I quickly studied my fellow passengers to identify someone I could trust.
I saw in the rear an unusual-looking fellow who was watching me with aloof but sardonic amusement. He was about twenty-five years old, blond, quite handsome and dressed in what young people called a Pachuca sweater, that is, a huge, woolly, loose-woven affair that looked more like a shaggy tent than an article of clothing. It was much favored by Los Angeles beatniks who were infesting Mexico under one pretense or another and had come to serve as a badge of distinction. Even if the young man had not had his conspicuous blond hair the Pachuca sweater would have assured me that he was an American, for no self-respecting Mexican would have used this sweater for other than its original purpose: to keep sheepherders warm in the mountain pastures.
“You want somebody…” the young man asked, leaning slightly forward.
“I wanted to hike into town.” For some unaccountable reason I added, “The way I did when I was a boy.”
“Memories?” the young man asked with amusement. He reached out with an indolent gesture to indicate that he was willing to carry my case and assured me, “I’ll sort of…” His voice trailed off.
At this moment an older man seated behind me intercepted me as I started passing the cameras back to the American youth, and in excellent Spanish asked: “Aren’t you John Clay’s son?”
“I am,” I replied in Spanish.
“I thought I recognized your father’s bearing. You want me to look after the cameras?”
I considered the question only for a fleeting moment, during which I compared the undisciplined young American lounging in the back in his ridiculous Pachuca sweater with the Mexican businessman in his conventional dark suit. In Spanish I said, “I’d deem it an act of kindness if you took care of them for me.” Thus the motion of my arm, originally directed toward the young American in the backseat, was easily diverted in flight, as it were, to the Mexican closer at hand. To the American I apologized: “He’ll know where to deposit them.”
The young man laughed—insolently I thought. With three chopping movements of his palm as if delivering karate blows, he dismissed me.
“Where are you stopping?” the Mexican businessman asked.
“At the House of Tile,” I replied. “Please leave the cameras with Don Anselmo.”
“He’s dead,” the man said simply. “His widow runs the inn.”
“She knows me,” I replied, starting to dismount, but then I realized that I was about to hike into the city with no camera at all, and it occurred to me that if the event I was concerned about did take place, I might profit from having some good background shots of the festival to provide local color. So I begged the disgusted bus driver to wait for an additional moment while I retrieved one of my rapid-fire Japanese cameras, and with this slung around my neck I stepped down onto the highway at Kilometer 303. The bus accelerated swiftly, leaving a hazy trail of exhaust, and I was alone at four o’clock on an April afternoon at the spot where, above any other in the world, I wanted to be.”

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Mexico 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
BryanThomasS on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved this. Another of my favorite Michener books. As usual, rich characterization and plotting mix with history and historical figures. Certainly a good look at upper class Mexican life and culture. Helpful to me in understanding Mexico better and a very worthwhile read.
griggit on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Michener is always good, but this novel is sub par when compared to great books like Alaska, The Source, Caravans, and Centenial. I was hoping for more history and the detailed description of bullfighting became tedious at times.
jpsnow on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read most of this book during my first week in Mexico. It explains the unique culture of Mexico through the combined histories of its native and Spanish peoples. It relies heavily on the art of bullfighting as a metaphor. It's more captivating than others of his works I've read. I especially appreciate that, for once, the moral that always comes in the last 50 pages was more personal (involving the narrator, who resembles Michener, acting on his own inspiration). Now I just need to catch myself before referencing his city of Toledo and other fictional elements as historical realities.
santhony on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Typical Michener historical fiction novel, with Mexico as the subject.
BugsyBoog on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I would call this one a historical epic! This is my first Michener epic, and I am sure I will read others. This novel was very long, but still a great story with great characters. Seems to me you need to have a decent amount of patience and time to devote to a book like this. It is centered on Mexico, specifically, the narrator¿s family history from ancient times to present. It shows a grand view of Mexico and its people and gives you many sides to the story of this very intriguing place. The narrator, Norman Clay, comes from a Mexican family with very important ancestry. Indeed this story could not be told from an average person¿s viewpoint. Norman¿s family line goes all the way back to important Indians who lived and worked to build the giant pyramid and on the other side, the Spanish settlers who came to bring Christianity and to see what they could take. Norman is an important journalist, back in Mexico after many years away to cover an important bullfight, mano y mano¿two matadors (one Spanish, one Indian) who are going to fight it out. Mexico is an amazing history of bullfighting, a well constructed novel with subplots that are all tied together. An epic, definitely a learning experience.
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TS_JoNo More than 1 year ago
I chose to read this book on my vacation to Mexico because no other author so consistently provides me with the flavor of a region like Michener. The frame story in this book is an epic show-down between two matadors in the bullrings of Mexico, and after the amazing bullfight descriptions, I had to avail myself of the opportunity to see a fight while I was there. Yet another great story by one of my favorite authors.
SDSteele More than 1 year ago
This is not a typical Michener novel. Nor is it historically accurate.This is a flight-of-fancy "Mexico a la Michener". And he has taken liberties in strange ways. But I still liked it as I am facinated by the history and culture of Mexico, especially now as we are unearthing more and more evidence of ancient advanced civilizations. Even though it is not spot-on in accuracy, Michener has painted the right feel, created the right sensory atmosphere for the setting and the tumultous historical backdrop. He apparently really loved visiting Mexico and treats in a very romantic manner. A major plus to reading this book is that you will have a much better understanding of the sport of bullfighting.It is very obvious that the bullfight was a sport close to his heart. It is a little evident that he wrote this in his early career, before honing down his magnificent approach to research. He started this in the early 60's and then abandoned the project.I suspect he just got too entwined in too many intricate plotlines, or realized that the main plotline suffered in comparison to the bullfight chapters. But he dusted it off in the 90's and offered it up 4 years before he died, and I'm glad he did. Regardless of it not being as well-researched and written as others, this is still a very worthwhile read and belongs in your Michener collection.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a great book. I agree with 15-year-old reviewer, John. I don't normally read history, but this book was truly great. The descriptions are absolutely amazing. I thot the book was about bullfighting at first. Bull preparation and action do play a large part in the novel, but the sad history of Mexico is also discussed. Then their is the eroticism, which seems to be Michener's own, which is strewn throughout and layered in through a present day cast of characters who are visiting Mexico. I can see why some might not find the book interesting: Michener goes into great detail. I, however, am sucker for detail. It's not a 'light read.'
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have loved many of Michener's books (Hawaii, The Source, Texas) - but this was thoroughly disappointing. There was no passion and certainly minimal history of Mexico in this book. Instead, it seemed to be an expository writing on bullfighting. If you want to read a good historical fiction on Mexico - read Aztec by Gary Jennings - an excellent captivating book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Names that were very hard to pronounce, and difficult to keep track of. You could tell that the thirty years between the start and end of the book were a change of the writers views. I enjoyed the bullfight part of the story, and a few of the facts of Toledo, but the rest was useless information.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The most boring book i have read it is too big and boring and when it does ever get intresting it goes to another topic that is boring. The book goes through ancestors too and it is hard to keep track of who is who and hard to remember people's names.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Mexico, is a terrible novel. You should just read a text book. This is a soporific novel.
Guest More than 1 year ago
An exelent book, that keeps the reader so entraped in the book you cant put it down. Michner vividly describes the modern bullfight.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am a Reading Specialist and a true bibliophile to begin with and Michener never ceases to satisfy my unsatiable desire for good literature! I have read some of his other works (Alaska, Chesapeake, The Drifters, Hawaii) and of course, Mexico (2X). This is by far my favorite because in my opinion Micheners'style is best represented in this work. Michener brilliantly intertwines both interesting fictional characters with interesting historical events and people which makes a very entertaining and educational read. I particularly enjoyed Mexico because it was NOT just about Mexico; the novel delved deep into the history of Old Spain, the conquering of Mexico by Spain, the Civil War of the United States all under the umbrella of a contemporary visit to Mexico to learn more about bullfighting. When he does venture into the ancient history of Mexico, it is vivid, realistic and fascinatingly dramatized by well-developed characters that seem to be real. One really gets a sense of 'being' there and both laments and rejoices at Mexico's tragedies and triumphs. I enjoy learning about history through the use of colorful characters such as the one Michener develops. Much more interesting than when I was in school! When I finish reading a Michener book, particularly one as engulfing as Mexico, I feel like my mind and perspective has noteably expanded. Not only do I derive great please from the characters, but I also feel like I just did some heavy duty travel! A great book to read over the summer! I plan to re-read it as well as attack his Centennial, Hawaii and The Source. I am well aware that some (much?) of the history may not be verifiable, but the general idea is there and I still enjoy the learning experience.