What the Editors Are Reading

Always keen to read travel books about Mexico, I picked up an elderly copy (printed by A. Appleton & Company in 1921) of Viva Mexico! by Charles Macomb Flandrau that I came across in a local bookshop.  The book, originally published in 1908, is still available in reprint.  I’d never heard of Flandrau, but a little research revealed that he was born in 1871 in St. Paul, Minnesota, to a local judge who sent him to Harvard, where he served as editor of The Harvard Monthly and was a member of both the Hasty Pudding and the Delphic Clubs.  After graduation he taught literature at his alma mater, and was subsequently made an editor of The Youth’s Companion.  He wrote a best-seller, Harvard Episodes, published in 1897, and after it The Diary of a Freshman, about his first year at Harvard.  Viva Mexico! was the fruit of his lengthy stay on his brother’s coffee plantation in southern Mexico.  It is a beautiful little book that recalls, though it does not quite rival, Sybille Bedford’s magnificent A Visit to Don Otavio (published first in 1960 as The Sudden View: A Mexican Journey).

Flandrau’s style is graceful and evocative, though rhetorical in the old-fashioned manner of the turn of the century.  His eye is nearly as sharp as Bedford’s, and his sensibilities almost as poetic.  He is...

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