cover image Itinerary: An Intellectual Journey

Itinerary: An Intellectual Journey

Octavio Paz. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $22 (144pp) ISBN 978-0-15-100562-8

""I am not writing my memoirs,"" claims Nobel laureate Paz in this posthumously published autobiographical essay, though in charting the development of his political convictions, the Mexican poet and writer furnishes readers with a rich history of his intellectual life. Though he was born into a privileged family in the early years of the Mexican Revolution, a brief period spent in Los Angeles when his Zapatista father was forced to flee the country gave Paz a taste of what it was like to be an outsider. Perhaps as a result, international Communism attracted him as a young man, and he enthusiastically supported the movement until Stalin's excesses forced him to make a painful break with youthful ideals and friends like Communist stalwart Pablo Neruda. Paz's belief that there is a fundamental difference between systemic revolutions (like Communism) and popular revolts (like the Mexican Revolution) grounds much of his work; personally, he felt a similar divide between mind and soul, and came to believe that only criticism, ""our sole moral compass in private and in public life,"" gives us the tools to reconcile reason and passion. The long essay ""Itinerary"" is bookended by two shorter pieces, one an essay explaining Paz's best-known work, The Labyrinth of Solitude, the other a letter in which he describes the town of Mixcoac, where he grew up. Supplemented by a foreword by Charles Tomlinson and an afterword by translator Wilson, these three texts constitute a valuable overview of a distinguished career. Though the book may be read as an introduction to Paz, the essays presuppose some prior knowledge of his oeuvre and will be best appreciated by those already familiar with his major work. (Nov.)