cover image The Yage Letters Redux

The Yage Letters Redux

Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, . . City Lights, $13.95 (127pp) ISBN 978-0-87286-448-1

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)