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The Yage Letters Redux Paperback – January 1, 2006

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 180 pages
  • Publisher: City Lights Publishers; 4th edition (January 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0872864480
  • ISBN-13: 978-0872864481
  • Product Dimensions: 7.1 x 5.5 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #761,721 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This epistolary novel, first published in 1963, is actually a fascinating travel log written mostly by Burroughs of a trip he made to Peru and Colombia in 1953 to track down the legendary yage vine (also called ayahuasca), valued among the Indians for its telepathic and anesthetic powers. After a padding of manuscript history from scholar Oliver Harris (The Letters of William S. Burroughs), we find Burroughs writing to Ginsberg, recording his mostly harrowing, occasionally enlightening experiments with the drug, as well as his experiences picking up stray boys and eluding nosy officials. The second half of the book, dated seven years later, contains letters and poems from Ginsberg to Burroughs from the same region and, in turn, record Ginsberg's more intensely spiritual trips ("visit the moon, see the dead, see God"). When not violently poisoned by the drug, Burroughs attained wild, beautifully rendered hallucinations of the "Composite City," and his reflections on the corruption of government and the insidious spread of disease prove haunting and masterly. (June)
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" . . . incredible new edition of Yage Letters . . . " --, April 2006

"Albeit unusual but still a solid addition to the Beat canon." -- Library Journal, March 2006

"For readers and aficionados of Beat history this new edition is something of a gem." -- Beat Scene Magazine, Summer 2006

"new edition of the book . . . places it more centrally in the list of key Burroughs texts." -- The Independent, UK, May 2006

"understanding the literary legacy of Burroughs and Ginsberg is impossible without reading this amazing collection of letters and documents" -- Bloomsbury Review, July/August 2006

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By James Robert Smith on March 1, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Of all of Bill Burroughs' works, I enjoy his fictions that were closest to his life as he lived it. QUEER and JUNKY are my favorites, as they deal so honestly with the very strange world in which he moved. I realize that his cut-outs and dream-like novels are important and quite moving to many, but they just never impressed me the way his earlier books do.

THE YAGE LETTERS recounts Burroughs' trip to South America to search out the legendary drug "Yage" which he hoped would enable him to grasp something like mental telepathy. Yes, it's a mad notion and this journey is certainly equally mad, as he moves freely among primitive folk and capitalist exploiters and thieves and holy men and jungle bureaucrats and fellow travellers and drug addicts. Ultimately, the feeling that I was left with was that Yage, like so many other drugs, was nothing but poison. WB lovingly details the search for the material, the preparation of the matter, and the nausea-inducing reactions to the drug that proved only to be a mild hallucinatory.

But it isn't the Yage itself that drives this book. Rather, it's the journey. I highly recommend joining Burroughs in this prose trek.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By on July 12, 2008
Format: Paperback
The book that awoke Western interest in the Amazonian shamanic potion, Ayahuasca (A.K.A. Yage in Columbia).

Through his letters to Beat poet Allen Ginsburg we follow William Burroughs as he travels down from Panama towards Colombia in search of the mythical potion Yage in 1953. Burroughs writes with bile dripping in every sentence as he passes damning judgment on everybody and everything from the locals to the expats, ("I never knew a Dane that wasn't bone dull". or "The Chinese are all basically Junkies in outlook"), gets thrown in jail and languishes under town arrest in some flea bitten village while fighting Malaria - all the while trying to locate a shaman to try out Yage with.

When he does manage to finally locate a willing shaman, Burroughs' Yage accounts are curiously muted experiences - nausea, purging, some numbness convulsions and minor hallucinations. However, no real epiphanic moments or fundamental inner transformation is revealed. Ginsburg's later 1960 experiences, on the other hand, provide much more detail as to the composition, preparation and ritualistic use of Ayahuasca, and his experiences prove much more powerful and mythopoetic than Burroughs' - "I felt like a snake vomiting out the universe" His experiences are profound as he connects with the "Great being within"and describes his experience as 'The ringing sound in all the sense of everything that has ever been created". Three years later in 1963 Ginsburg sums up his Ayahuasca experiences thus: "transfiguration of self consciousness from homeless mind sensation of eternal fright to incarnate body feeling present bliss now actualised."

Despite rambling in places, it's a quick and worthwhile read, mainly of historical interest to see how two mid-twentieth century literary figures responded to Ayahuasca, inadvertently helping propel the potion to international prominence. .
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Both of these guys are literary giants. It's amazing to read them trading info on one of the great psychedelic experiences, wrapped in a lot of exotic travel. A lot of it hinges on their homosexuality, which was of no specific interest, but still provided good background on these two guys. An exciting and fascinating read.
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