Mexico is one of my favorite destinations. Between visits, I pacify my wanderlust with books set in Mexico. I especially enjoy the unique perspective provided by Mexico’s longtime foreign residents. Here are some of the best books about Mexico by expatriate writers.
1. First Stop in the New World: Mexico City, the Capital of the 21st Century
By David Lida (2009)
A must-read if you are going to Mexico City. David Lida is an American journalist and writer who has called the city home since 1990.
His writing offers enlightening insights into the Mexican culture and psyche. A fascinating series of chapters riffing on different aspects of life in the capital, from lucha libre to street food to strip clubs.
2. Mexico, A Love Story: Women Write About the Mexican Experience
Edited by Camille Cusumano (2006)
An inspiring collection of stories by a unique cast of women of all ages and backgrounds.
A wide variety of firsthand experiences are represented, from a woman who works as a teacher in a prison, to one who volunteers in a squatter settlement and lives in an abandoned school bus, to an American woman unjustly incarcerated in a Mexican jail.
Engaging and easy to read as each story is only 10-15 pages.
3. Prayers for the Stolen
Beautiful, haunting coming-of-age tale. Ladydi and her two close friends grow up in a mountain town in Mexico terrorized by cartels, where being a girl is a dangerous thing.
Author Jennifer Clement was born in the US but raised in Mexico City.
I also recommend the critically acclaimed film adaptation, which was Mexico’s official submission for the Oscars.
4. The Interior Circuit: A Mexico City Chronicle
Author Francisco Goldman, the US-born son of a Guatemalan mother and a Jewish American father, has adopted Mexico City as his home.
This fascinating, moving memoir is part personal journey as Goldman tries to recover from the tragic accidental death of his young Mexican wife, and part investigative reporting on a chilling mass kidnapping in DF.
5. Oh Mexico!: Love and Adventure in Mexico City
Chick lit meets Mexpat lit. Witty memoir about the adventures and misadventures of a twentysomething Australian woman who moves to Mexico City to work as an English teacher.
The author’s experiences and insights make a captivating, fun read. Her behind-the-scenes tale of working as an extra on a Mexican telenovela is especially hilarious.
6. The View from Casa Chepitos: A Journey Beyond the Border
Delightful account of a Seattle family’s impulsive purchase of a house in San Miguel de Allende and how they grow to be part of their local Mexican community.
Gille describes Mexico’s culture, history, and people with charm and insight. A compassionate, thoughtful look at the relationship between two countries.
7. La Perdida (Pantheon Graphic Novels)
Written with Spanglish dialogue, this graphic novel features the story of Carla, a young American woman estranged from her Mexican father, who moves to Mexico City on a whim to search for her identity.
Along the way, she encounters a variety of colorful characters and is eventually dangerously exposed to the city’s criminal underbelly. An intense, suspenseful read.
8. One Life
Long-time Mexico City resident David Lida’s latest novel is a dark, gritty thriller set in Michoacán, Juárez, and the American South.
The story follows Richard, a mitigation specialist who tries to save the lives of undocumented immigrants facing the death penalty in the United States, and Esperanza, an impoverished young Mexican woman accused of murdering her baby.
An addictive read. The interwoven stories are captivating and suspenseful and provide compassionate insight into the struggles of the Mexican rural poor.
I also found it fascinating to learn more about the work of a mitigation specialist, a job I knew very little about. The book’s themes are even more relevant given the current political climate in the US.
9. This Is Mexico: Tales of Culture and Other Complications
Touching, witty memoir by another San Miguel de Allende resident. The essays examine Mexican culture and expat life in a loving way and with a large dose of self-deprecating humor.
Many books have been written about San Miguel, but this is one of the best. Great for anyone considering traveling or living in Mexico.
10. Travel Advisory: Stories
Definitely not light vacation reading! This fictional short story collection provides a gritty, unforgiving exploration of the seamy side of life south of the border.
The oft-disturbing, sometimes darkly funny stories examine cross-cultural clashes between Mexicans and foreigners and the predatory side of human nature, with a frequent focus on sexual victimization.
I read this book a number of years ago, and the stories have really stayed with me.
11. All Over the Map
Laura Fraser is a freelance writer who divides her time between San Francisco and San Miguel de Allende. Disclaimer: Only the beginning and end of this book are set in Mexico, but her description of remodeling a tiny house in SMA is fascinating.
In this globe-hopping travel memoir, Laura confronts the disillusionment of reaching middle age without the loving husband and children she yearns for.
Her honesty and vulnerability are captivating as she struggles with uncertainty, loneliness, and a traumatic assault in Samoa. Ultimately, Laura realizes the most important journey she must take is the one to reclaim her own life.
12. On the plain of snakes : a Mexican journey
Veteran travel writer Theroux, now in his 70s, crisscrosses Mexico by car until he reaches the Zapatistas in Chiapas, conversing with people of all stripes along the way.
In Mexico City, he leads a writers’ workshop attended by prize-winning Mexican author Guadalupe Nettel. At a Oaxaca language school, Theroux shares his frustration and vulnerability as he struggles to express himself in Spanish, feelings possibly familiar to others who have attended Spanish school.
The writing is packed with literary and historical allusions. While Theroux lacks the deep understanding gained by living in Mexico for decades, and his tone can be pompous at times, the vivid storytelling and richly textured observations make this a compelling read.
13. El Monstruo: Dread and Redemption in Mexico City
John Ross, Beat poet, freelance journalist, and activist, spent 25 years living in a decrepit hotel in the Centro Histórico of Mexico City. This was his last book before dying of liver cancer in 2011. It was his attempt to make sense of the chaotic metropolis he loved.
Monstruo is a massive undertaking that presents a 5,000-year history of the city Ross called home. It’s a treasure trove of fascinating facts and evocative stories, as well as a colorful left-wing diatribe.
Others have noted minor inaccuracies in Ross’s reporting that should no doubt have been caught by an editor. In my view, however, the enormously entertaining storytelling makes up for it.
Recommended for CDMX lovers.
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“Mexpat” – love it! Any suggestions on books about Germany written by expats?
Not yet, but I hope someday to read yours. 😉
😀 You’d think with all the young talented writers in Berlin, for example, there would have to be some – or at least some that are somewhat better known. I’ll keep looking. There are a couple I know of, but I haven’t read them yet. Recently I did read “Hausfrau”, which is the story of an American woman who kills herself in Zurich – oops, sorry, spoiler alert. (Honestly, I don’t recommend it, anyway)
You’re right, that is really surprising given the number of young creatives in Berlin! I guess Mexico does have the world’s largest US expat population at one million, though, and many of them are retired and have the time to write memoirs. 🙂
By the way, curious if you would consider yourself an expat or an immigrant to Germany (please see comment below)… Since I know you don’t plan to stay forever, perhaps an expat (despite the loaded nature of the term)?
On the expat/immigrant/migrant question, it’s a good one – I still haven’t answered it for myself. None of the labels feels like it fits. “Migrant” and “expat” have multiple definitions and are so loaded with connotations that they’re kind of hard to pin down anyway. I’d certainly say that S. and I share a bunch of characteristics with what is traditionally conceptualized as “expat”: we’re well educated professionals; come from a developed country; moving here was a lifestyle choice, not because of economic or political adversity; we don’t know how long we’ll stay. On the other hand, we weren’t relocated here or supported in finding a home, schools, etc. by a company, organization or the government. We came on our own steam, managed our own relocation, used our own financial resources and have tried to more-or-less integrate into mainstream society – our kids go to a local school, we work in German institutions as local hires, we speak the language, etc. We circulate more within the “local scene” than the “international bubble” – though recently that’s been changing a bit. Our original plan when we moved here was to stay, so at that point we saw ourselves more as immigrants than migrants or expats. But over time and no longer so “blauäugig” 😉 , we realize it’s likely we won’t stay here for the long haul. We’ll be here through our kids’ secondary schooling, but after that, who knows? So, anyway… a long answer to your question. I guess I don’t identify as any – how typical of today’s day and age 🙂 ! What about the technically correct “ausländische Staatsangehörige mit Niederlassungserlaubnis”? – that sure glides over the tongue easily – ha ha!
Thanks for the thoughtful response! And lol on the “ausländische Staatsangehörige mit Niederlassungserlaubnis”… Beamtendeutsch just rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it? ? Always enjoy reading your well-thought-out perspectives and hope you do sometime consider writing a book or blogging about your family’s transition to being total global citizens.
Do all these authors consider themselves to be expats or do some of them consider themselves to be migrants?
Hi Raymond, great point as I’m sure several of these authors consider themselves permanent residents of Mexico.
As you may know, there is controversy about the use of these labels as expat traditionally is used to refer to someone from a Western country who moves overseas as more of a lifestyle choice, while immigrants or migrants move out of economic necessity or to escape dire circumstances in their home country.
It would be interesting to ask the writers who are long-time residents how they define themselves. A thoughtful read on the polemic here: http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20170119-who-should-be-called-an-expat.
Love it! This makes me want to read them all (the ones I haven’t read yet that is!). I also recommend Tony Cohan’s “On Mexican Time” and “Mexican Days.” (:
Thanks for the recommendations, Katie! I had read “On Mexican Time,” but will have to check out “Mexican Days” as I see he goes to Guanajuato and also Xalapa and Tlacotalpán where I’ll be just next month.
Being an expat (I’m one) is perhaps the greatest reach of privilege yet invented. Listening to “exiles” drone on about how they “fit” into society and don’t move among their paisanos is just this privilege taken to a trifling extreme. Charles Portis did it well but very few can pull it off without sounding incredibly smarmy and racist. That’s just the truth.
Agree that some expat writing suffers from this tendency (and I excluded it from my list), but curious which books above struck you as smarmy and racist… Personally, I didn’t perceive them that way, but interested in hearing different opinions.
Thanks for the recommendation of Charles Portis… Gringos sounds like a good read.
“Tequila Oil” by Hugh Thomson is a fun read of misadventure in Mexico by a young English traveler. Do not do what he did unless very overconfident. I did something similar at the same tender age, which provided some stories and a vow never to go back. Of course, I did go back. I even got married there, which was riskier than anything Thomson tried! Once again, I find myself drawn to contemplating a trip but will leave out the matrimonials this time!
Thanks, love road trip stories like this! Will add it to my list for my next Mexico trip… hopefully in the not-too-distant future.
Not sure if I hit the right button just now, so this may be something of a duplicate.
I thought he had good insight into parts of Mexico that are not usually covered and he got way off the beaten track. His trip was in the 1970s so things have changed.
His books on his travels in Peru and the Incan Empire are also really great. Plus his two books on walking the English countryside are a little tamer, but well worthwhile – especially for a homesick expat. He has another on the Himalayas that I haven’t read. So many books, so little time . . .
He sounds like a real character! Love travel memoirs.. my favorite genre. And a good substitute during this time of travel restrictions.