Survivors in Mexico


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Rebecca West; Edited and introduced by Bernard Schweizer

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The publication of Rebecca West’s Survivors in Mexico marks an important literary event: the rescue from oblivion of a daring and provocative work by a major twentieth-century writer. This book is West’s exhilarating exploration of Mexican history, religion, and culture—a work the author clearly conceived as a companion and sequel to her masterpiece about the Balkans, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941). Although West never brought Survivors to completion, she left behind a series of extensive drafts and revisions that Bernard Schweizer has meticulously assembled and edited. The result is a welcome addition to the Rebecca West canon—a compelling travel memoir/history comparable to her best work, and one certain to gain readers and critical acclaim.

West’s narrative takes on all of Mexican history—the conquest by Spain, the Mexican Revolution, and the muralist movement—and explores the inner lives of such figures as Cortés, Montezuma, the Reclus brothers, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Dr. Atl, and Leon Trotsky. Highlighting contradictions and paradoxes in the personal and public spheres, she offers brilliant insights into Mexican art and culture as well as human culture and destiny.

Rebecca West (1892–1983) wrote prolifically through most of the twentieth century. Her first novel, The Return of the Soldier (1918), is the only novel by a major woman writer to deal with World War I experiences. West wrote additional novels, journalistic studies of the Nazi war crimes trials in Nuremberg, and a travel memoir/historical meditation on Yugoslavia, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, for which she is best known.

Bernard Schweizer is assistant professor of English at Long Island University (Brooklyn). He is the author of Radicals on the Road: The Politics of British Travel Writing in the 1930s and Rebecca West: Heroism, Rebellion, and the Female Epic.

 “West portrays an intricate ancient culture with compelling authority and dazzling wit. Her luminous, heretofore unpublished meditation on Mexico—its landscape, its history, its politics—is a gift from the twentieth century to the twenty-first, a magical masterpiece.”—Sandra M. Gilbert, coauthor of Madwoman in the Attic and No Man’s Land 

“From the beautiful, doomed palaces of the courtly Montezuma to the curious travels of that strange aesthetic revolutionary and volcanologist ‘Dr.Atl,’ Rebecca West portrays an intricate ancient culture with compelling authority and dazzling wit. Her luminous, heretofore unpublished meditation on Mexico—its landscape, its history, its politics—is a gift from the twentieth century to the twenty-first, and we should be grateful to Bernard Schweizer and Yale University Press for transmitting this magical masterpiece from past to present.”—Sandra M. Gilbert, Professor of English, University of California, Davis, coauthor of Madwoman in the Attic and No Man’s Land


"Far more than a piece of literary archaeology. . . . [West’s] book is so interesting because she can encompass the beauty and the genius of the place and its artifacts while turning her always beady eye on the malefactors who despoiled one of the world’s greatest, and aesthetically most distinguished, ancient civilizations for private gain. . . . Survivors in Mexico belongs on the same shelf as those other classics on the subject. Graham Greene’s The Lawless Roads and D. H. Lawrence’s Mornings In Mexico."—Tom Rosenthal, Daily Mail
Survivors in Mexico belongs on the same shelf as those other classics on the subject, Graham Greene’s The Lawless Roads and D. H. Lawrence’s Mornings in Mexico.”—Tom Rosenthal, Daily Mail (London)

“Bernard Schweizer has pulled off an excellent editorial feat in knitting a coherent whole from West’s fragments. . . . The book is never less than riveting for its stylistic spit and polish and for its biographical sketches. . . . One is grateful to Schweizer for the labor that has made available [West’s] unfinished and previously unpublished final work.”—Janette Turner Hospital, English Literature in Translation

"An enthrallingly readable book. . . . Very few writers have managed to be more knowledgeable and profound in their thinking. . . . Survivors in Mexico is an astonishingly fertile book, full of sharp impressions and stimulating insights, whether West is pondering the question of why miners have been among the most mistreated of all laborers or speculating about the social and political effects of the Aztecs’ lack of domesticated animals. . . . West’s deeply personal take on Mexico is ultimately a meditation on the meaning of life itself."—Merle Rubin, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"A commendable, painstaking, and timely edition. . . . One of the most original and intelligent attempts at comprehension of the ’eccentric outpost of the West,’ as Octavio Paz called Mexico. . . . [West] studied Mexico not only with intelligence, but also with love."—Enrique Krauze, New Republic

"Previously unpublished matter, arising from a New Yorker assignment for an article on Trotsky in Mexico and given form by a professor of English, this posthumous survey, full of commentary and rumination on 1960s Mexico, is full of durable insights into the country’s past and its problems."—New York Times Book Review

"Survivors in Mexico is the book everyone who has ever written anything would love to write. Witty and entertaining, substantive and reflective, insightful and well documented, in splendid and uncommon prose, Rebecca West’s travelogue—meandering commentary and ruminations on Mexico from pre-Columbian civilization to traffic in the capital during the mid-1960s—is a model of British sophistication and knack for seeing the other. . . . A collection of insights and intelligent, well-informed notions. . . . Mexico, with a little help form its friends, and with more reflections and insights like the ones West offers her posthumous readers today, will undoubtedly succeed at doing a bit better than just surviving."—Jorge G. Castañeda, New York Times Book Review

"Survivors in Mexico provides an indelible portrait of a great mind encountering a beloved country. . . . It is always a beautiful thing to see the effects of love on a person, and there can be no doubt about Rebecca West’s abiding love for the land and people of Mexico, on whom she brought to bear her formidable intellect and her warm heart."—Martin Rubin, San Francisco Gate

“A highly readable, illuminating version of West’s unfinished travelogue. . . . Survivors in Mexico provides an additional modernist view of Mexico that can stand firmly beside the work of D.H. Lawrence, Graham Greene, Malcolm Lowry and Aldous Huxley. . . . Bernard Schweizer has done the field a favour by making this work widely available.”—Loretta Stec, Studies in Travel Writing

"[A] marvelous book. . . . Survivors in Mexico is a collection . . . full of good sense, amazing stories, pungent political comment and excellent jokes. . . . [West’s] voice, seriously educated in that and every other sense, speaks clearly in these welcome bits and pieces of a book."—Lucy Hughes-Hallett, Sunday Times

"Too smart to be a specialist, too engaged to study history for history lessons or art for art’s sake, West endeavors to understand Mexico as a whole: military history, agricultural advances, everyday life, revolutionary politics, and pseudo-revolutionary art included. . . . West’s bold strokes make for compelling writing. . . . Note the relentless emphasis here on greatness, which is what West gets from Mexico, and what she gives to it."—Jori Finkel, Village Voice Literary Supplement

"A volume that makes for luscious reading. A good portion of the book is West’s survey and commentary on the collision of Spain and the Aztecs—among the most wondrous tales human history has to tell. . . . The book succeeds beautifully as a travelogue thanks to West’s intellect and experience, with Mexico serving as the vehicle for it all. . . . Readers should come to Survivors in Mexico expecting less of Mexico and more of the vital mind of Rebecca West, but that’s not a bad thing."—Sam Quinones, Washington Post Book World

"[West’s] writing can be both exquisite and precise. . . . Most of her writing on Mexico comes from her reading, which is not to say that this book is ever pedantic. No reader has ever turned what she read into material that carries her own stamp and characteristic way of looking at things more than did West, who chose her reading well."—Stephen Goode, Washington Times
ISBN: 9780300098860
Publication Date: April 10, 2003
304 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
Selected Letters of Rebecca West

Rebecca West; Edited, annotated, and introduced by Bonnie K

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