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The Yage Letters Paperback – January 1, 2001

4.3 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

William Burroughs (1915-1997) is widely reconized as one of the most innovative writers of the twentieth century. His books include: Junky, Naked Lunch, The Soft Machine, and Cities of the Red Night.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 72 pages
  • Publisher: City Lights Publishers; New impression edition (January 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0872860043
  • ISBN-13: 978-0872860049
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.5 x 0.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #338,957 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By R. Schwartz on October 15, 2004
Format: Paperback
A great piece of history by the avant garde writers, in this case some letters, of autonomous thinkers (and doers) that depart from the mediocre bourgeois and robotic, patriotic, mind-melted citizen. Reading this book and I'm not sure if I should frown on Burrough's way of life or envy it. I don't favor much of his drug use and his tastes and sexual preferences, but at the same time, neither do I endorse our societal neurotic phobias and radical attacks under their Augustinian mentality. This is a culture under repression. Despite Burrough's rough edges (depravity or art?), there is that amazing element of spontaneity, of dangerous living, of freedom from the protective rational securities that so many of us weak Westerners so much rely on. Reading his accounts from town to town, from boy, pervert, hoar, food, social spots and Yage encounters, kind of puts you both there and in the mind of Burroughs to an extent. Everyone sees reality interpreted through their perceptional lenses and this is definitely colored glasses looking at the time, place and people. Since these are mostly personal letters to Ginsberg, they aren't the cut up collage style you'd find in Naked Lunch, however he does mention this in one of his letters and does a little of it in a poem and maybe his last statement aimed at all humanity.

Written 7 years later, there are a few letters from Ginsberg, questioning his experience with Yage and asking for Burrough's advise. He had a deeper and scarier experience than LSD and was afraid of entering deeper and deeper into the realm he was heading. And wrote some good poetic thoughts in his confusion. Apparently all went well with a later 1963 letter showing strength again and experiential confidence.
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Format: Paperback
The Yage Letters is an interesting collection of correspondance from William S Burroughs to Allen Ginsberg spanning from Jan. 15 to July 10, 1953. In addition to capturing the essence of Burroughs style and subject matter, albeit in a rather raw form, the letters tell of his search for the mythic mind-altering natural drug Yage.
Incidentally, this search took place directly after Burroughs had fled from Mexico after the accidental death of his wife at his own hand. Although there are many jewels to be found in this small book for the dedicated fan of Burroughs' work, they are spread throughout with many tedious, repetitious and confusing entries. Ginsburg's contribution, which I hoped would lend a voice of explanation to the letters, is instead a spasmolytic account of his own experience on the same drug, seemingly penned when still under the influence of it.

All in all, an interesting account of one of America's most important author's experiences traveling through Latin and South America in the early 50's--a time of great upheaval and fervor in that region. Highly recommended for Burroughs fanatics and seems to prefigure his work Cities of the Red Night. However, for those not yet familar with his revolutionary writing style I recommend Cities of the Red Night, and Junky.
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I went into this book with very high hopes. I was hoping the letters would spend more time on the experience of Yage.

Unfortunately for me, the majority of the letters discuss the adventures getting to and finding Yage, as opposed to the experience itself.

That said, the letters are entertaining and insightful into both men's life.
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For someone who has taken ayahuasca myself. He letters before he arrive and drink in Peru is boring. He was out there look for the wrong thing. -getting high. Without respect to the vine and gods. The last part of the book was excellent where he experience the real thing. Death and rebirth. Understanding of the cosmos.
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I think budding writers should read this book and focus on the way these two men out together words, sentences, and paragraphs. There's no arguing both men are great writers. That said, I find both men as cunning, and predatory as the natives they describe. I can't imagine homosexuality being so common place in SA? I think these men seeked out the masterbating kids sitting in trees? Sorry, I've seen too many homosexual men assume the vast majority of us are prone to homosexual twists? I think they project a lot, and leave out a lot of details about their adventuress? Why do I fell like the two would be called sexual tourists today? As to these two Frogs commenting on the ugly, repellant villagers; if anyone has seen pictures of these two men, well, let's just call their observations ironic. That said their writing is brilliant. I did notiice their writting ability decreased every few years. I noticed the letters declined in linear fashion. The first letters were written brilliantly--short, concise, just beautiful. Near the end of the book I felt the writting went from brilliant to average?
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I've been a long time fan of WSB and this is another great insight into the man. Yage Letters is a must for the Beat reader! Pure, raw and brief glimpses of a person in pursuit of knowledge.
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