Most readers connect Taos Author John Nichols with his most famous book set here in the Southwest, “The Milagro Beanfield War.” Many of his fans may also have read the entire New Mexico trilogy, that includes “The Magic Journey” and “Nirvana Blues.” Others might remember his even more political works like “American Blood,” while nature lovers will remember “On the Mesa” and “When Mountains Die.” And some will remember his first book, “The Sterile Cuckoo,” made into a hit movie with Liza Minnelli.
It really doesn’t matter whether you are an all-in fan or an occasional reader to enjoy this intimate and at times hilarious portrait of a writer’s journey as he struggles to maintain an ethical role both as a writer and a human being.
At age 24, just as he was enjoying hobnobbing with Robert Redford and Natalie Wood, and the like, as well as mulling over his future prospects and the substantial money brought to him with his first book, he and some friends took a trip to Guatemala. It was that trip and the frightful poverty he saw there, and what he learned about the role of American politics in creating it that sent him on an entirely different course for the rest of his life — one that worked against his initial success. It wasn’t long before he left his New York life, and with his wife, Ruby, jumped in a VW bus and headed for Taos, New Mexico, to join the people.
It is a shame for me to encapsulate this first few chapters of Nichols’ saga in mere descriptive prose, rather than having you learn it from reading the ironic and witty language that he uses to convey all of it — and a whole lot more — that kept me turning pages through his poignant struggle to stay true to his new world view and what it cost him as a writer and elsewhere in his life.
He’s not going to tell you that directly in this romp through his writing career, but it’s easy enough to suss out, easy too, to realize that he wouldn’t change a minute of the life he made and lived for anything in the world.