TRAVEL books and parochial histories are rarely literature. On January 1, 1788, Gilbert White suggested in the advertisement to his classic, The Natural History of Selborne, that parochial history “ought to consist of natural productions and occurrences as well as antiquities,” and then in a series of elegant letters he expounded his suggestion. Through the years there have been many books which relate the unfolding of time and seasons, the building of a home and friendships, the acquisition of local lore and color -books written out of the impact of remote places or of some well-known place seen freshly by eyes opened wide with the excitement of creating a way of life. In recent years the most exquisitely written and observed parochial history has been Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa. And now a book has been published which ranks with The Natural History of Selborne and Out of Africa. The author of Village in the Sun is one Dane Chandos — obviously a pseudonym, for the book is too expert to be by an inexperienced writer.
Village in the Sun is the month by month record of Dane Chandos’s first year in Ajijic, a microscopic Mexican hamlet on Lake Chapala in the mountains south of Guadalajara. It begins: “There were mountains all round the lake, but they were distant, they seemed low-lying, flattened like crouched animals. There was an immensity of sky, unfingered by any building, But it was the great lake itself, from the mirrored ash and sulphur of the sunset to the lilac hazes in the east, that dominated everything, as it dominates the lives of those who live around it.” Then Mr. Chandos bountifully unfolds the “natural productions and occurrences as well as antiquities” of his magical realm.
Books about Mexico are written most frequently in extreme postcard colors. Mr. Chandos’s prose has a slight, tendency to go pastel, but it is well disciplined and his Mexico is as real as an eye which sees realistically can make it. He loves Ajijic, but he does not confuse love with facts. Village in the Sun is, however, most of all a book about life — about the strange dignity and humors of Indos, about American tourists who come to Mexico not to see and enjoy but to tell Mexico how to do it, about racial clashes and bigotry, and inevitably about Dane Chandos and how he found beauty, leisure, fun, and a high-cost way of living on an extremely limited budget. Village in the Sun is a unique portrait of provincial Mexico in transition. It is also perfect escape written naturally and beautifully in the best tradition.