Book review: The Guaymas Chronicles: La Mandadera, by David E. Stuart

originally posted elsewhere: April 7, 2004

tl;dr: Mexico, by an outsider looking from within...

The premise of The Guaymas Chronicles is simple enough: a young twenties American grad student, unsure of where he fits in and what he wants to do with his life, settles into a daily routine in the Mexican fishing and tourist town of Guaymas, on the Sea of Cortez, and makes friends with a large number of the townspeople, before finally figuring out what next to do in his life. What makes The Guaymas Chronicles special is what it reveals about the lives of the poor and the working class in Mexico. Those with an interest in Mexico's people will find The Guaymas Chronicles to be enlightening, poignant, and an engrossing read.

David Stuart chose the right profession when he decided to become an anthropologist - he loves observing his fellow man. For reasons not entirely explained in the book (this is one of the minor deficiencies), he had a rough childhood, leading him to feel alienated from America and its people. Instead, he finds his (apparently) ideal social network among the taxi drivers, bartenders, waitresses, prostitutes and street people of Guaymas. Even though he tries, he can never fully fit in with these people because, as one of his friends tells him, he has too many options and choices in life that they, his Mexican friends, will never have. But that doesn't prevent David Stuart from providing a fairly intimate look at how these people conduct their lives, how they find happiness, and how they respond to the challenges life presents them.

A book cover with the title and author's name, featuring a picture of a window closed with wooden shutters, one panel of which is missing out of four, surrounded by three weatherworn rectangles of red, orange, and yellow paint on what appear to be walls

There are many lessons to be learned from The Guaymas Chronicles. Life is much more fragile in Mexico, due to a poorer health care system. We may complain about the cost of health care here in the U.S., and push health care to a somewhat dubious extreme (cosmetic surgery and botox injections), but this book shows the cost of not having a good health care system. Moral choices do have significant consequences; in The Guaymas Chronicles, several instances of promiscuity have severe results. And yet, through it all, most all of the Mexicans that David Stuart meets find enjoyment in life, primarily through warm-hearted social interactions and support networks. There are lessons that we in the U.S. can learn from Mexicans.