Mexican literature

Aura Estrada and the ghost building



On Avenida Insurgentes, one of Mexico City’s most important boulevards, there is a fifteen-story building that, from certain angles, looks so fragile that it might fall down if you blow on it. Some rooms in the top four floors appear to have been victims of anarchists throwing Molotov cocktails. There are locales for businesses all around the ground level, but many of them have been empty for months or even years.


It looks so dangerous that no one in their right mind would go inside, let alone up to the top. No one, that is, except for Aura Estrada, an extremely talented writer who had Mexico City in her blood. I say “had” because she died in July of 2007, at the age of 30, as the result of a tragic accident (one that had nothing to do with her daredevil antics inside the building).


Aura was a friend, but I was also lucky enough to work with her as an editor on several occasions. She was one of those writers whose work you hardly had to touch -- maybe changing a punctuation mark, or splitting a long sentence into two shorter ones. For D.F. magazine, she wrote a very funny vignette about her experience upon entering the Condominios Insurgentes. Click here to find that piece and other examples of Aura’s writing.


After her death, Aura’s husband, the novelist Francisco Goldman, established a foundation which will award a prize in her name. If you are a woman writer, in Mexico or the United States, 35 or under, who writes in the Spanish language, you can throw your hat in the ring. Here is a link for more information about the prize.

Sex and its complements

Balzac said that all great books are about sex and money. If he had read Patricia Monge’s book of short stories, Edecán urbana, he would have been satisfied at least halfway. If in the stories there isn’t a lot of money, this lack is compensated – as it is, if we are lucky, in real life – with an abundance of sex.

Monge’s book contains seven episodes in the life of a contemporary woman in Mexico City. The sex scenes are written without adornment, euphemisms, shame or shyness. Upon reading Edecán urbana, what is most striking is that there are so few authors in Mexico, male or female, who write about sex with such frankness. (Which perhaps should come as no surprise – according to one survey, 71 percent of women in Mexico say they are sexually unsatisfied.)



Forewarned is forearmed: Edecán urbana isn’t merely a dirty book. The author is also interested in those intersections in which sex isn’t only about sex – in Monge’s stories, sex is a camouflage for love, for falling out of love, for hoping to fall in love, for the desperate search for love, and the cynicism that accompanies the lack of love.

There are also substantial parts of the book that have nothing to do with sex, or in which the sex is indirect or imagined. Monge, an Argentine who has lived in Mexico for over a decade, like many foreigners, has an expertly jaundiced eye for social stereotypes, such as the petty bureaucrat. In my favorite parts of the book the narrator speculates about the conjugal life of one of these specimens, and how he engenders his infidelities.


In the photo above, the author adjusts an accessory.

Literary W**back

JM Servin Revista Replicante

JM Servin Revista Replicante

Given how much raw material there is on the streets of Mexico City, and how many novelists make it their home, it is surprising how few of them use the place as content, backdrop or subtext to their narratives. One possible reason is that most of the city's authors are from privileged backgrounds and of too delicate a temperament to have prowled the city with much dedication.

A notable exception is J.M. Servín, who takes a gritty view-from-the-sidewalk approach in his fiction. His novel Cuartos para gente sola (Rooms for Singles) culminates in a street brawl between a desperate man and a dog that has been trained to battle other canines. (The book was published in 1999, two years before the release of the film Amores perros, parts of which were also set in a dog-fighting milieu.) In 2007, Servín published Al final del vacío (At the End of the Void), a post-apocalyptic novel set in a near-future Mexico City. In his not exactly overheated imagination, the streets are full of demolished buildings, citizens can only go to the bathroom in public conveyances, and the streets are controlled by adolescent delinquents known as Dingos.

My favorite of his books is Por amor al dólar (For Love of the Dollar), his memoir of the years he spent as an illegal immigrant working in gas stations, restaurant kitchens and as a diabolical baby-sitter in the New York tri-state area. The tone of the book is bitingly funny, with a nihilistic sensibility along the lines of Celine. A word to editors and literary scouts: Given how hot a topic illegal immigration is, I cannot believe this one hasn't been picked up for translation.

Liquid lunch


Photo by Everett McCourt

This man is reputed to have a price on his head in Ciudad Juárez. He is not one of the responsible parties for the repeated murders of young women in that border city. Instead, he had the temerity to write a book about them, in which he presents reasonably credible evidence that very important people in Mexican government and law enforcement are at least implicated in those crimes.

The book is called Huesos en el desierto (Bones in the Desert) and was released a few years ago by Anagrama, the prestigious Barcelona publisher. It has been translated into Italian and French, but unfortunately not into English.

The author, Sergio González Rodríguez, has also published novels, books of essays and writes a weekly column for the newspaper Reforma about restaurants and bars. Pictured here in a traditional Iberian eatery called the Casino Español, located in the centro histórico of Mexico City, it is perhaps churlish for me to point out that he is drinking a shot of tequila, which serves as the chaser for the nearly empty vodka-and-tonic at his side. Both libations are warm-ups for the bottle of red wine burning a hole in the tablecloth. Note that González Rodríguez staunchly ignores the tortilla española and the bread on the table. This is his idiosyncratic version of a hunger strike, which he threatens to continue until the Juárez murders are solved.