Published On: Mon, Jan 17th, 2011

Magic Made in Mexico: Book Review

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Review of Magic Made in Mexico

by Joanna van der Gracht de Rosado

Published by Editorial Mazatlan December, 2010

Adapt!  Adapt!  Adapt!

Review by Barbara Bode

If ever there were a leadership cry for expats, this is it…Adapt!

Following her first memoir, written several years ago, Joanna van der Gracht de Rosado’s latest book, Magic Made in Mexico, is a more philosophical discussion of love and life in a foreign country.  She explores the issues challenging a young woman who falls in love with a Mexican lawyer and tourism expert and moves to his home town of Mérida some 35 years ago. Lessons from her romance and suggestions for leading a happy and productive life are included in the last chapters of the book.

She discusses the implications of her various early choices. “Well, I was only 23 and a miniskirt and love beads seemed right to me at the time.” Except they weren’t. While innocence abroad isn’t the theme, sophistication applicable to expats and expats-in-waiting, is made clear by example.

Joanna, a Canadian, arrived in Mérida via Cuba leading a small Canadian tour group. Previously she worked for a year in Peru, where she learned Spanish. Her language skills were her strength in Canada’s tourism industry. Before leaving Canada to guide her group of Canadian tourists, she bought summer clothes; some light dresses and even a couple of swim suits, bikinis to speed up her tanning process.  Once in Mérida, she knew to keep such revealing swim wear under wraps.

When she landed in Mérida, she had no plans other than guiding her tour group.  Unexpectedly, she met a man. Not just any man, but another tour guide who was quite dashing. Sparks flew.

Were this a musical, trumpets would sound, lights would flash, they’d live happily ever after and she would never leave Mérida again.. But Joanna was a serious professional and not seduced by dramatic fantasies. Clearly, she was smitten. The members of her tour group could tell. But her work came first. She introduced her small flock to the mysteries of the Yucatán and to the delights of Mérida before shepherding them back to Vancouver.

Reviews of her trip were a pleasant surprise.  They were so positive that she was asked by her company to lead two more similar trips, back-to-back, following the same route. As fate would have it, or as she wrote, there are “pivotal times in our personal journeys”….when life is “about to veer radically off course.”

And in fact, hers did. Not that she had a boyfriend at home in Canada, but romantic consideration of a man of the Yucatán was beyond anything she previously could have imagined.

Although this book is written in the rhythms of romantic fiction, it chronicles real life. It’s also the story nearly every “single” expat hopes for, ignoring the possibility of down times and wanting to live happily ever after in another country. Her challenges were tougher than those of many, nonetheless, she prevailed.

It was not as though Joanna was accepted immediately into the Mérida community. Not just miniskirts and love beads got in the way but Joanna herself did. She is no fading violet. She didn’t want to sit around with the women and gossip about telenovellas or who wore what where. She wanted to be in the midst of the other conversations about Mérida and the Yucatán and the way things worked in that part of the country.

Jorge, well-educated lawyer and tourism authority that he is, was a product of his community. He had chosen to return to Mérida from a lucrative career in México City because he enjoyed the expansiveness of its milieu. Practices that seemed foreign to Joanna were home to him.

Not one to stay at home and wait, Joanna not only choose the rough road of new love and marriage and children, but she also chose to keep busy with outside activities. She wrote about Mérida for a México City English-language newspaper; she decided to become the organizer of the first International Women’s Club in Mérida to help other English-speaking women become comfortable in the community; and then few years later, with her husband Jorge, they launched a successful and still growing, degree-awarding college for tourism administration and modern languages.

By describing how she made these choices work, her memoir is a kind of How-To book.  She hopes readers of Magic Made in Mexico will learn from her 35 years of life in Mexico and life in general.

Anecdotal advice at the end of her book should help even the most timid understand how to adjust to cultural differences. Joanna says wisely that learning about a country’s past will help expats make sense of their present circumstances. In keeping with this view, the book’s third section provides readers with a short, chronological review of Mexico’s history.

A suggested reading list and a brief description of how Joanna and Jorge began and continue to operate their college bring her rousing story to an upbeat end.

Life’s challenges, children’s laughter but most of all,  Magic Made in Mexico is a love story that won’t make men cringe.


If you, like me, are troubled by Amazon’s treatment of Wikileaks, you need not buy from them.  You can order directly from the publishing house, Editorial Mazatlan, or ask about bookstores nearby that are carrying the book.

Barbara Bode

Barrió Santiago

Mérida Centro

Yucatán, México



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  1. [...] to those of us used to sealed and refrigerated foods. Joanna Rosado’s delightful, insightful “Magic Made in Mexico” describes trips with her mother-in-law to the refrigeration-challenged markets, which by our [...]

  2. [...] I’m not alone in my opinion. Favorable reviews abound. [...]

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