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Book Review: First Stop in the New World

by Julie Schwietert Jan 14, 2009
Mexico City, The Capital of the 21st Century.

As more than one reviewer has already noted, the very idea of trying to squeeze an “intimate portrait” of Mexico City between the covers of a 336 page book is an ambitious task, one that almost borders on the absurd.

First of all, Mexico City is one of the world’s largest cities, with a population of almost 20 million people spread out across 600 square miles. It’s also an old city, dating back several centuries. And then, there are the facts of the city that are just as true but are much harder to nail down: its paradoxes, contradictions, and its chaos.

Yet in his book, First Stop in the New World: Mexico City, The Capital of the 21st Century, American expat turned Mexican citizen David Lida not only manages to capture the Mexican capital’s complexity; he also manages to convey it in an organized, coherent, and engaging narrative.

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There aren’t many books about Mexico City, and those that exist often treat the city and its people like curios in a shop cabinet. Lida avoids the trap, not only because he unabashedly loves the city, but because he gets out on its streets, talks with people, and lets them tell their own stories.

He talks with taxi drivers and white collar executives, prostitutes and the pious (not necessarily mutually exclusive groups, to be sure), and politicians, who fall somewhere in between.

At moments, I found myself wishing I’d read this book before I moved to Mexico City. It’s better and more useful than any conventional guidebook.

Lida covers a lot of physical ground here—from the rough-around-the-edges Tepito neighborhood, notorious for being the world capital of pirated goods, to the tony neighborhood of Polanco, where the main avenue is lined with luxury flagship stores, including Chanel, Tiffany, and Hermes.

He talks about history, he acknowledges modern day problems, including crime, and puts them into context, and he envisions the Mexico City of the future.

You could read it straight through or pick and choose chapters at your leisure; either way, First Stop in the New World is engaging.

Lida says in the beginning of the book that he hopes First Stop in the New World reads as a love letter to his adopted city. It does. It’s not always a romantic love letter—it’s a real one. But in the end, that’s the very best kind… the one where the lover sees the beloved as fantastic yet flawed, and still, wakes up every day and chooses to love her.

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