Gateway Mexico by Nathan Horowitz
Gateway Mexico: Adventures of another gringo who wanted to be a shaman (2019) is the first book in a self-published quadrilogy by Nathan D Horowitz titled Nighttime Daydreams. It is followed by Bat Dreams, Provisional Truths, and Beyond Wahuya. Horowitz spent several years living in Latin America, and half the royalties from his book series are being donated to the Siekopai (Secoya) nation of Ecuador ‘in return for allowing their myths and legends to appear in Nighttime Daydreams.’ This review deals exclusively with Gateway Mexico—entailing the first and second journeys of the series.
In some respects Gateway Mexico sits within a classic formulation of ‘trip lit’ so far as it charts both a psychological and geographical journey, entwining both to underscore narrative development. The book begins in the third-person with a depressed teenager and a failed suicide attempt—more akin to a cry for help. The earlier passages set the psychological scene as the effects of a messy parental divorce, alongside the challenges faced by a young adult, are explored through recounted therapy sessions. It also shifts into a first-person narrative as you enter into the protagonist’s space, at which point his name, Nathan, is introduced for the first time.
His home in Ann Arbor, United States, is immediately associated with the romantic and familial conflicts of his relationships, and in some sense represents a place of psychological alienation. He begins to look out into the world of Latin America and its native plant hallucinogens as a redemptive space, where a gringo might become a shaman, something other and seemingly more powerful. His mind is opened to its possibilities through discussion with returning visitors and his precocious reading habit—an important theme.
‘I loved literature, but I didn’t want to be only a reader and a writer. I wanted to be a hero in my own adventure. That didn’t seem to be an option, though. So I traveled in books. They were spaceships, time machines, multipliers of identity.’ (15-16)
An intertwining relationship between life and literature cradles Nathan’s story, and is in several respects the meta-narrative of Gateway Mexico. Most poignantly, the French poet Arthur Rimbaud’s important notion of deranging the senses is introduced early on. This not only mediates the protagonist’s feelings at the beginning, but is also the transformative axiom as he journeys into Latin America—first to Mexico for a Sun Dance and then later onto Ecuador. The journey mediates a way through a derangement of the everyday.
In this way the story sits within an interesting French pharmographical tradition that plays with this idea of derangement. This tradition includes Antonin Artaud (1896-1948) and Henri Michaux (1899-1984), and explores the potential for transformation. ‘I wanted to visit Huichols,’ Horowitz writes, ‘famous for their colorful art and their use of peyote. I wanted to systematically derange my senses, or, in Nezahualcoyotl’s terms, alter the bandwidth of reality I perceived’ (55). As he travels further away from simple derangement and his home existence, his focus transforms into a more encompassing ontology that entails a rearrangement, which sits paradoxically within a more alien and foreign landscape.
In Mexico, he is introduced to the term inklakesh, which broadly means that what one does to others, one does to oneself, and vice versa. ‘Based on literary inklakesh, the events of this book might as well be happening to you; in fact, in the larger sense, we’re not separate individuals, but biologically-connected branches of the four-dimensional family tree of humanity’ (89). Horowitz cleverly uses this notion to switch into a second-person narrative for part of the text. While it is certainly an effective tool, one that gives a nod to a recurring Joycean influence, it does sometimes become slightly too metatextual when the narrator points out when this shift occurs. This extra level of self-reference removes the reader momentarily, which is a shame after having so excellently drawn them in.
When Horowitz does try peyote for the first time the experience become the metaphorical gateway, allowing his trip to continue more deeply after briefly touching baseline back home. Thereafter, in Ecuador, he spends time with the ‘last’ Secoya shaman, don Joaquín Piaguaje, who is pleased that Horowitz had experienced LSD and other hallucinogens—it was hard to find local youngsters to pick up the mantle. There he tries yagé (ayahuasca), experiencing a kind of telepathic connection with his shaman, and believing that he had at last found a teacher to guide him.
One of the most beautifully written sections of Gateway Mexico describes a river journey into the Amazon from the town of Coca, in the land of the Waorani. It is not so much a journey into the heart of darkness, however, as a return to the light of self, ending in a geographical dislocation where his psychology began. ‘I read from James Joyce’s jungly novel Finnegan’s Wake, muttering it aloud to help me focus. It made little sense, but reading put me inside a psychological force field, and its glossolalic neologisms reconnected me to the night of yagé’ (123). Through a blaze of mosquitoes and distasteful episodes of monkey eating, the mythologizing of his everyday life begins to form a psychological sanctuary.
Overall, Gateway Mexico is an intriguing beginning to the Nighttime Daydreams series. It gathers an engaging pace as the narrative unfolds, and manages to balance the uncanny relationship between mind space and alien place to great effect. Having rearranged the senses, the follow-up books promise an exploration of the protagonist’s new-found forms, and what is likely to be an ever more intimate look at shamanistic life in Ecuador.
This book is available as a paperback and ebook from Amazon.