Tristessa is a novella by Beat Generation writer Jack Kerouac set in Mexico City. It is based on his relationship with a Mexican prostitute (the title character). The woman's real name was Esperanza ("hope" in Spanish); Kerouac changed her name to Tristessa ("tristeza" means sadness in Spanish and Portuguese).
This novel has been translated into Spanish by Jorge García-Robles, of Mexico City.
Allen Ginsberg, in describing the book, wrote, "Tristessa's a narrative meditation studying a hen, a rooster, a dove, a cat, a dog, family meat, and a ravishing, ravished junkie lady". In "Tristessa", Kerouac attempts to sketch for the reader a picture of quiet transcendence in hectic and sometimes dangerous circumstances. He chronicles "Tristessa's" addiction to morphine and impoverished life with descriptions tinged with elements of her saintly beauty and her innocence.
Early in the novel, Kerouac attempts to communicate his Buddhist beliefs. These beliefs become entangled as a metaphor in the unfamiliar culture and language that Kerouac tries to grasp and make contact with in the story.
The contrast between the initial reaction that the reader may have of the impoverished, marginalized life of Tristessa and the self-destructive nature of her addiction contrast with the beauty of Kerouac's descriptions. Also, as a part of the study of the life of a junkie, is the character of Old Bull Gaines - Bill Garver, in real life, a long-time friend of William S. Burroughs and other writers of the Beat Generation - who serves as both dealer and healer of Tristessa when Jack is unable to be what she needs.
Kerouac often based his fictional characters on friends and family.
"Because of the objections of my early publishers I was not allowed to use the same personae names in each work."
Old Bull Gaines