Veteran traveler Paul Theroux explores our complex neighbor to the south in "On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey."
Accomplished travel writer and novelist Theroux has been writing about his travels for more than 50 years. Like his previous accounts, this journey, narrated in his usual, easygoing, conversational style, includes countless lovely descriptions of Mexico’s landscapes and insights into the country’s history and literature, including Mexican magical realism. Being a naturally inquisitive guy, Theroux talks to the people he meets, everywhere and often, because “it is in the nature of travel to collect and value telling anecdotes.” This “shifty migrant” chronicles his navigation of cities, towns, and tiny villages on both sides of the borderlands, a “front line that sometimes seems a war, at other times an endless game of cat and mouse.” Most Mexicans Theroux met “said urgently to me, ‘Be careful.’” He cites harrowing statistics of the violence that occurs near the border. “On their trip through Mexico,” he writes, “… migrants are brutalized, abducted, or forced to work on Mexican farms, as virtual slaves. In the past decade, 120,000 migrants have disappeared en route, murdered or dead and lost, succumbing to thirst or starvation.” The author also discusses NAFTA and how it turned the “Mexican side of the border into a plantation, a stable supply of cheap labor.” He writes about the thousands of gallons of water at aid stations destroyed by the border police and his encounters with Mexican police who, with a wink and a nod, accepted bribes for made-up charges. Outside Mexico City, he visited Frida Kahlo’s Blue House, a “kind of habitable sculpture.” He also experienced a Day of the Dead ceremony and drank homemade mezcal. “I had made friends on the road through the plain of snakes,” he writes, “and that had lifted my spirits.”
Illuminating, literate, and timely — a must-read for those interested in what’s going on inside Mexico.
(Theroux will speak and sign copies of his book at 7 p.m. Tuesday at BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd. Information: bookpeople.com.)
A timely memoir about sexual assault
Chanel Miller, a victim of sexual assault, speaks out in her eloquent memoir, "Know My Name."
Miller’s riveting book begins in January 2015, when she awoke in a hospital bed bruised, bloody, with pine needles in her hair. She was 22 and the night before had gone with her younger sister to a fraternity party at Stanford, where she drank enough to black out. Two Swedish graduate students saw her splayed on the ground, unconscious, beside a dumpster, a young man molesting her; he ran, and they chased him and pinned him down until the police arrived. Miller creates a brisk, vivid chronicle of three years, from the assault by 19-year-old Brock Turner, a Stanford student and swimming athlete, to its dramatic aftermath. Called Emily Doe to protect her identity, the author told only two people outside of her family during the first year after the assault and only a few more later. Victim Emily, she writes, “lived inside a tiny world, narrow and confined” to the courtroom and lawyer’s office as Miller — daughter, sister, girlfriend, comedy club performer, art student — struggled with anger, sorrow, depression and often incredulity. “I didn’t know,” she writes, “that being a victim was synonymous with not being believed.” Victims, she learned, were held “to an impossible standard of purity.” Turner’s high-priced lawyer “littered my night with intentions and poor decisions.” Women claiming assault were always asked if they said no. Although a jury unanimously found Turner guilty of three charges, felonies that could have carried a 14-year prison sentence; although Emily Doe’s 12-page victim’s statement went viral and was read by 18 million readers (including Joe Biden, who sent a supportive message); the judge, noting Turner’s upstanding family and bright future, imposed a six-month sentence, of which he served three. That decision caused an uproar, resulting in an unprecedented vote for the judge’s recall. Despite that outcome, Miller had learned from the trial “whose voices were amplified inside the courtroom, whose were muted,” inspiring her “to expose the brutality of entitlement, gender violence, and class privilege.”
A powerful narrative that couldn’t be timelier and deserves the widest possible audience.