In Conversation: On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey and Lives on the U.S.-Mexico Border

In On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey, Paul Theroux drives the entire length of the U.S.-Mexico border, goes deep into the hinterland, and travels the back roads of […]


In Conversation: On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey and Lives on the U.S.-Mexico Border

Authors:Luis Alberto Urrea, Paul Theroux


In On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey, Paul Theroux drives the entire length of the U.S.-Mexico border, goes deep into the hinterland, and travels the back roads of Chiapas and Oaxaca, looking to uncover the layered world behind the screaming headlines. Stopping to talk with border town residents, Zapotec mill workers in the highlands, Zapatista party members, and people of all stripes who remain south of the border even as family members brave the journey north, Theroux makes his way through a region in bitter conflict. He’s talking to Luis Alberto Urrea, author of the novel The House of Broken Angels, which brings us to the door of the De La Cruzes, a family on the Mexican-American border, as they celebrate the lives of two of their most beloved relatives during a joyous and bittersweet weekend.

Luis Alberto Urrea

Luis Alberto Urrea was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his landmark work of nonfiction The Devil’s Highway. He’s also the bestselling author of the novels The Hummingbird’s Daughter, Into the Beautiful North, and Queen of America, as well as the story collection The Water Museum. In his final days, beloved and ailing patriarch Miguel Angel de La Cruz, affectionately called Big Angel, has summoned his entire clan for one last legendary birthday party. But as the party approaches, his mother, nearly one hundred, dies, transforming the weekend into a farewell doubleheader. Among the guests is Big Angel’s half-brother, known as Little Angel, who must reckon with the truth that although he shares a father with his siblings, he has not, as a half gringo, shared a life. The House of Broken Angels (Back Bay Books) tells the story of two bittersweet days in their San Diego neighborhood, as the revelers mingle among the palm trees and cacti, celebrating the lives of Big Angel and his mother. “All we do, mija, is love. Love is the answer. Nothing stops it. Not borders. Not death.” The New York Times Book Review celebrated it as “Epic […] Rambunctious […] Sorrowful and funny […] Cheerfully profane . . .The quips and jokes come fast through a poignant novel that is very much about time itself […] A powerful rendering of a Mexican-American family that is also an American family.”

Paul Theroux

Paul Theroux is the author of many highly acclaimed books of fiction and nonfiction. His novels include The Lower River and The Mosquito Coast, and his travel books include Ghost Train to the Eastern Star and Dark Star Safari. As immigration debates boil around the world, Paul Theroux set out to explore Mexico, a country key to understanding our current discourse. In On the Plain of Snakes (Mariner Books) drives the entire length of the US–Mexico border, then goes deep into the hinterland. Just south of the Arizona border, in the desert region of Sonora, he finds a place brimming with vitality, yet visibly marked by both the US Border Patrol to the north and mounting discord from within. He stops to talk with residents, visits Zapotec mill workers in the highlands, and attends a Zapatista party meeting, communing with people of all stripes who remain south of the border even as family members brave the journey north. Mexican journalist, playwright, and author Juan Villoro called Theroux “an undisputed master of travel literature. He has traversed Mexico with such dedication that he knows its roads as he knows the lines on the palm of his hand. His curiosity does not recognize borders. Nor is he a stranger among us: he is Don Pablo, a wise man who never stops learning.”

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