This book which has a long introduction by the editor Oliver Harris, covers the letters Burroughs sent to Allen Ginsberg in 1953, and the last brief part comprise of letters written by Allen Ginsberg in 1960 to Burroughs from South America. This was not an enjoyable read by any means, especially the introduction, and letters that Burroughs wrote to Ginsberg.

Burroughs goes on and on about the beaurocracy and corruption he encounters in South America (S.A.), the boys he picks up and for how much, searching endlessly for Yage, with little success. It reads more like a haphazard travelogue than anything else.

When he does obtain some Yage (Ayahuasca), and drinks it, he thinks he has taken too much and abruptly follows it with its antidote which is some form of opiate, his drug of choice. None of the fasting and preparation that people go through before embarking on this frightening and possibly illuminating journey; instead he drinks alcohol every night, so I can see why he never really experienced this powerful medicine of the Amazon, but skirted around it.

Having experienced Yage once, I can say for sure that it takes you to the brink of death or at least the experience of dying is a common occurrence reported by many who have dared to ingest it. But Burroughs was looking for “the final fix”, not knowing perhaps that Yage was not a drug like the others, that it served to open one’s eyes unlike its antidote the opiates which puts you to sleep. I feel that if he had endured the initial discomfort and purification (nausea and vomiting) that this plant concoction inevitably brings, he would have come out of that into an insightful and serene place full of profound realizations about his life. But I found no such thing in his meandering accounts of his adventures.

So there was not much in the way of his actual experience of Yage in his account. However, Ginsberg’s letters to him which comprise a very small part of the book are eloquent poetic descriptions of a true experience of Yage.

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