Distant Neighbors Critical Essays

Alan Riding

Distant Neighbors

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In this work, the author attempts to accomplish for Mexico what Hedrick Smith’s THE RUSSIANS did for the Soviet Union. The book begins with two chapters that combine history with cultural analysis. The author plays on a popular theme among Mexican intellectuals in the twentieth century, arguing that there are in fact two Mexicos, a traditional majority and a modern minority. The former is Oriental, conformist, communitarian, and traditional; the latter, the elite of Mexican society, strongly influenced by the United States, is Westernized, materialistic, restless, and individualistic.

Much of the book is devoted to explaining peculiarities of Mexico’s unique political system and its evolution since the violent Mexican revolution. Riding captures the flavor of Mexican political life, but the overall tone of his analysis emphasizes Mexico’s failures.

The remainder of the book examines the consequences of the failures of Mexico’s leaders to cope with many serious problems, including widespread corruption, unequal distribution of wealth, inefficient land reform, slow indigenous integration, rapid population growth, urban pollution, and cultural imperialism. A brief analysis of Mexican-American relations and Mexico’s independent foreign policy toward Central America follows.

The book’s value lies in its readability, comprehensiveness, and timeliness. No similar work exists. The author, however, relies too heavily on anecdotal concepts and Mexican political gossip in lieu of the wealth of serious literature available on the subject. His cultural explanations have been strongly disputed by leading Mexican intellectuals. The book serves as a useful introduction to America’s Southern neighbor but should not be taken as an infallible interpretation.