KIRKUS REVIEWS'
BEST BOOKS OF 2021

An unparalleled portrait of a city in danger of growing past all reasonable limits.

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At once intimate and wide-ranging, and as enthralling, surprising, and vivid as the place itself, this is a uniquely eye-opening tour of one of the great metropolises of the world, and its largest Spanish-speaking city.

HORIZONTAL VERTIGO

A CITY CALLED  MEXICO

A deeply learned appreciation of the author’s native Mexico City.

Trained as a sociologist but well known to Spanish-speaking readers as one of Mexico’s most acclaimed novelists, Villoro writes appreciatively of a city that is constantly changing—and whose landmarks are different for each generation, if they haven’t been torn down in the course of rebuilding or destroyed by earthquakes. For him, the “outstanding sign of the times is the Latin American Tower,” built in 1956, the year of the author’s birth, and then one of the rare buildings in Mexico City to be more than a few stories tall, since the plateau on which the city sits is both tectonically active and so sandy that building collapse is a real danger. In his lifetime, Villoro notes, the territory embraced by the city megalopolis “has spread out like wildfire” and “grown seven hundred times.” Growth, he adds, “meant spread,” so much so that to find Villoro’s house, located on a street named for the revolutionary figure Carranza, you would have to know which one of 412 streets and avenues named for Carranza it was on. Natural and cultural landmarks are matters of memory and nostalgia, he writes, and since “Mexico-Tenochtitlán buried its lake, and the smog blotted out the volcanoes,” there are few points of orientation. As such, memory has to make up for the destruction of the environment. Along his leisurely, illuminating path, Villoro delivers an essential update of Octavio Paz’s The Labyrinth of Solitude (1950). He can be both brittle and funny, as when he dissects the overstaffed and bureaucratized retail sector. “Although overpopulation is one of our specialties,” he writes, “we have an abundance of stores where there are few customers and an excessive number of workers,” one of whom, the manager, serves as “a final potentate, a Chinese emperor in his Forbidden City.” Celebrating food, wandering through earthquake-struck ruins, reflecting on literary heroes, Villoro makes an excellent Virgil.

An unparalleled portrait of a city in danger of growing past all reasonable limits.

BY JUAN VILLORO ; TRANSLATED BY ALFRED MACADAM ‧ RELEASE DATE: MARCH 23, 2021

Horizontal Vertigo: The title refers to the fear of ever-impending earthquakes that led Mexicans to build their capital city outward rather than upward. With the perspicacity of a keenly observant flaneur, Juan Villoro wanders through Mexico City seemingly without a plan, describing people, places, and things while brilliantly drawing connections among them. In so doing he reveals, in all its multitudinous glory, the vicissitudes and triumphs of the city ’s cultural, political, and social history: from indigenous antiquity to the Aztec period, from the Spanish conquest to Mexico City today—one of the world’s leading cultural and financial centers.

Kirkus review:

PRAISE:

“Villoro recounts his adventures with a mix of irony and empathy, with a sense of humor and a feeling for the absurd. He is exquisitely attuned to the capital’s contradictions and nuances, and he knows how to listen to its inhabitants. There are deeply moving moments in this book.”

—The New York Times Book Review

“One of Mexico’s most celebrated contemporary writers offers an affectionate exploration of the country’s capital city. [Villoro] does not shy away from issues of poverty, class, and gender, and the result is an enthralling, often funny depiction of a city that ‘overflowed urbanism and installed itself in mythology.’”

“Horizontal Vertigo is the best—wittiest, wisest, most detailed and enlightened—book I’ve read about Mexico City. It is both deeply personal and scholarly, and most of all humane and humorous – Juan Villoro’s triumph as a chronicler of Mexican life.”

—The New Yorker

—Paul Theroux, author of On the Plain of Snakes:

A Mexican Journey

“The joy of Horizontal Vertigo is that it offers a unique entry into Mexico City’s ‘inexhaustible encyclopedia’ of people, places and old traditions, complementing the history books and outperforming the tour guides… Villoro is so closely identified with Mexico City that it’s impossible to imagine how one can be known without the other, which is why his writings consistently employ the communal ‘we,’ as in this telling statement about the unbreakable bond between Chilangopolis and chilangos: ‘What was once a cityscape is now our autobiography.’”

—The Los Angeles Times

—The Guardian

—Kirkus Reviews [starred review]

“Juan Villoro, one of Mexico’s leading novelists, delivers a contemporary portrait of Mexico City that is as diverse and labyrinthine as the city itself. In Horizontal Vertigo: A City Called Mexico, he weaves together voices, styles and disciplines in a personal and expansive exploration, a flâneur through geography, history and culture.”

“Deeply learned . . . Along his leisurely, illuminating path, Villoro delivers an essential update of Octavio Paz’s The Labyrinth of Solitude (1950). He can be both brittle and funny . . . Celebrating food, wandering through earthquake-struck ruins, reflecting on literary heroes, Villoro makes an excellent Virgil. An unparalleled portrait of a city in danger of growing past all reasonable limits.″

“This is a stimulating portrait of one of the world’s most mind-bending metropolises.″

—Publishers Weekly

“Villoro applies his witty and incisive pen to the monster that is Mexico City . . . Villoro’s voice is engaging, and the subject matter, fascinating . . . An unusual and rewarding read for all who love or are intrigued by Mexico City.″

—Booklist

“This is Villoro’s masterpiece . . . His great achievement in Horizontal Vertigo resides in his ability to understand and make the city known through different characters, occupations, and beliefs. Although many writers have been interested in Mexico City, such as Carlos Monsiváis and Carlos Fuentes, Juan Villoro finds a new, postmodern way of portraying the contemporary city.”

—World Literature Today

“One of the ten best nonfiction books of the year. A superheroic effort to tame the urban chaos that was born of an ecocide: the drying up of a lake. No city is wilder, more monstrous than Mexico’s capital. And few writers know it with more precision and passion than Juan Villoro.”

—The New York Times en Español

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LINKS:

Review: Mexico City through the eyes of its leading novelist flaneur / BY RIGOBERTO GONZÁLEZ 

Aristotle on the Metro

By TONY WOOD

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A deeply learned appreciation of the author’s native Mexico City.

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Juan Villoro’s latest book celebrates joys and tragedies of life as a chilango  / By RICH TENORIO

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