Mexico is about bright colours and living life to the fullest - sometimes with anger, sometimes with laughter, but never in between. Five best books to read before travelling to Mexico.
'Mexico City Blues' by Jack Kerouac
Jack Kerouac spent a few weeks in Mexico in 1955. It was there and then, when he was in direct contact with the heartbeat of the city, that he wrote - or composed - most of 'Mexico City Blues'. As the name suggests, it's a musical book. A collection of poems, 'Mexico City Blues' consists of 262 stanzas whose rhythms are inspired by the fashionable music of the time: jazz and bebop. It's a 20th century ode to the energy of a remarkable city.
'Under the Volcano' by Malcolm Lowry
British author Malcolm Lowry travelled the world, and the largely autobiographical 'Under the Volcano' was conceived in Mexico. In fact, the story of the book is as chaotic as that of its author: it was in Mexico, in 1936, that Lowry wrote the first version, but it was rejected by publishers. The second version was lost in a bar, and the third in a house fire. It wasn't until 1947 that the fourth version was finally (and successfully) released. In 600 pages, 'Under the Volcano' recounts 24 hours in the life of Geoffrey Firmin, a melancholic alcoholic, who drags the woman he loves down with him. All this happens under the watchful eye of Popocatepetl, an 18,000ft-tall volcano in Central Mexico. It's a dark thriller.
'Frida Kahlo' by Frida Kahlo
Multiple biographies have been written on the Mexican painter; some are more general, while others focus on the turbulent relationship between Frida and Diego Riveira. Here, through her letters, Frida paints a literary self-portrait to sit alongside the many portraits she conceived. She writes of painting, her complicated relationship with the Surrealists, her illness and her love, all in her own language, which switches from profanities to poetry and back again. While you're in Mexico, complete your reading by visiting Frida Kahlo's blue house in Mexico City, where you can enter her universe and almost feel her laugh and suffer by your side.
'The Conquest of Mexico' by Hernan Cortes
Go back a few centuries further with another book of letters: the letters that the most famous of the conquistadors sent to their King Charles V. The conquest began on 10 February 1519, when, a quarter of a century after the voyage of Columbus, Hernan Cortes sailed from Havana to the Mexican coast in command of a fleet of ships. That's where the conquest of the continent started. The rapid conquest – and systematic ethnocide – took place over just two years. Through reports back to the monarch, the bloody conquistadors revealed their fascination for the powerful Aztec empire.
Go back in time and let the Aztecs speak for themselves. 'Five Suns' is a text in Nahuatl which explains the Aztecs' creation myths. The story goes that before the time of the Aztecs the world had already been destroyed four times. For their fifth attempt to be successful , the gods accompanied the fifth sun, that of the Aztec Age, with the creation of men, who in turn had to maintain the cosmic balance, assisted by ritual sacrifices. If you want to follow their pilgrimages, the Aztecs left behind Aztlan Island, a 'place of whiteness', which is generally considered a purely mythical location, but which some researchers believe is Isla de Janitzio in the middle of the magnificent lake Patzcuaro, or perhaps Mexcaltitan, the 'Mexican Venice' on the coastal lagoon of the San Pedro River. Then, go in search of the scattered ruins of Tenochtitlan, the great Aztec capital destroyed by Cortes to build Mexico City. Builders digging in the city continue to find artefacts today.