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The Yage Letters [Paperback]

William S. Burroughs , Allen Ginsberg
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Nov 1967
An early epistolary novel by William Burroughs, whose 1951 account of himself as as junkie, published under the pseudonym William Lee, ended "Yage may be the final fix". In letters to Allen Ginsberg, an unknown young poet in New York, his journey to the Amazon jungle is recorded, detailing picaresque incidents of a search for a telepathic-hallucinogenic-mind-expanding drug called yage (Ayahuasca, or Banisteripsis Caape), used by Amazon indian doctors for finding lost objects, mostly bodies and souls. Author and recipient of these letters met again in New York, Christmas 1953, and edited the writings to form this single book. The correspondence contains the first seeds of the later Burroughsian fantasy in "Naked Lunch". Seven years later Ginsberg in Peru writes his old guru an account of his own visions and terrors with the same drug, appealing for further counsel. Burroughs' mysterious reply is sent. The volume concludes with two epilogues: a short note from Ginsberg on his return from the Orient years later reassuring Self that he is still here on earth, and a final poetic cut-up by Burroughs, "I am dying, Meester?


Product details

  • Paperback: 72 pages
  • Publisher: City Lights Books; New impression edition (Nov 1967)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0872860043
  • ISBN-13: 978-0872860049
  • Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 14 x 0.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,007,836 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

William Burroughs was born in St Louis, Missouri in 1914. Immensely influential among the Beat writers of the 1950s - notably Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg - he already had an underground reputation before the appearance of his first important book, 'Naked Lunch'. Originally published by the daring and influential Olympia Press (the original publishers of Henry Miller) in France in 1959, it aroused great controversy on publication and was not available in the US until 1962 and in the UK until 1964. The book was adapted for film by David Cronenberg in 1991.

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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
3.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Do you get letters like this in your mailbox? 23 Jun 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Words came so easily to Burroughs--it reminds me that the computer revolution is steamrolling right over the art of good letter writing. Can you imagine him writing these letters as e-mails today? Certainly not. A must-have if you like wild goose chases through jungles with apathetic tour guides in search of gay sex & new herbal highs.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Nothing of interest for me. 14 Feb 2014
By Millie
Format:Audio Download
I very rarely give up on a book but I had to with this one. The introduction was very lengthy and I found it uninteresting but thought I'd continue into the book anyway. Half way through the first chapter I realised I had no interest in the authors experiences. I can normally find some redeeming features that encourage me to continue but not with this book.
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4 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I WOULD LIKE TO EXPIERENCE THE " VINE " 2 Mar 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
THE YAGE LETTERS IS BY FAR ONE OF THE BEST ENTRIES BY WLLIAM BURROUGHS AND THE ENTIRE BEAT GENERATION. I'VE READ MANY OF BURROUGHS BOOKS INCLUDING, JUNKY, MY EDUCATION, THE WILD BOYS, AND SOME OF NAKED LUNCH. BUT, THE YAGE LETTERS HAD ME SAYING, I WOULD LIKE TO EXPIERENCE THE " VINE "!!! IT'S DEFINATELY A 5 STAR BOOK!!!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars We Have a Latah to Learn 29 Jun 2002
By mrgrieves08 - Published on Amazon.com
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.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Autonomous Thinkers in a Bourgeois World 15 Oct 2004
By R. Schwartz - Published on Amazon.com
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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good and bad 14 May 2014
By Yuan Chen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
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.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fruit of the (Yage) Vine 2 Jun 2000
By John Owens - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is the best collection of letters I have ever read, next to The Letters of William S. Burroughs. Bill's letters to Allen really TAKE YOU THERE, as he once said about Colette. Bill rants against the U.S. Point Four agrarian bureaucracy, missionaries living "the life of Riley", Peruvian boys who roll him for his money, eyeglasses, etc.; however, Bill said to Allen that he "shared with the late Father Flanigan - he of Boys Town - the deep conviction that there is no such thing as a bad boy." Overall, good reading and a good record of South America in the early 1950's.
5.0 out of 5 stars The Real Bill 5 July 2009
By Greg Christy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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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