Thursday, June 18, 2015

Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera translated by Lisa Dillman

In a few pages we discover a new kind of language: "an intermediary tongue that Makina instantly warms to…malleable, erasable, permeable…something that serves as a link." It is not latin, nor anglo but in a "nebulous territory between what is dying out and what is not yet born."

Herrera immerses us in a cross-border search for a lost brother, not heard of nor heard from for too long. Makina, the sister, goes to find him, and does--but "only when [she’d] stopped looking." The journey should be terrifying, but neither brother nor sister are afraid. Their lives hold terrors enough at home: Makina survives a sinkhole on her first steps of her journey, heels backward pedaling to avoid being sent to the deep, underground.

"Slippery bitch of a city," she says to herself.
She carries little—she is coming right back—but she has a lipstick "more long-lasting than it was dark" which another woman uses without asking. "You look very pretty," Makina says to the other woman.

In the scrub from a distance Makina mistakes a bloated body with its eyes pecked out for a pregnant woman. From a distance, the corpse looks like a good omen. The crossing has ogres, the border ranchers who carry heavy pistols and angry attitudes. She is coming to look for her brother—she is coming right back.
"I don’t know what you think you lost but you ain’t going to find it here," declared the irritated anglo.

The brother is not easy to find. He has moved on but in one café the proprietress recognizes Makina: "Told me he had a sister who just by looking at her you could tell she was smart and schooled." A new direction, a slip of an address, another false lead, until finally, when she was ready to give up hope, there he was.

He has no intention to returning home, of reading his mother’s crooked scrawl saying "Come on back now, we don't expect anything from you." Makina moves then in a direction away, anywhere away but is led back to the underground space that nearly swallowed her at the start of her journey.

Deceptively slight, this novella has the weight of character unafraid and unbowed. Makina does what she needs to do and she's a smart girl. She takes opportunity when it drifts by. Issues of migration and immigration, seen from this ground level (really, underground) have a claustrophobic feel. How could it be otherwise? The language used seems a mixture of latin and anglo but understandable and perhaps more descriptive for that.

& other stories is a press I did not think I’d come across before, but this group has published Deborah Levy’s outstanding novel Swimming Home and a number of other Levy titles. The exciting author list for & other stories include important literature and writers from around the world who wish to support the non-profit philosophy of this publishing house. Check out their webpage.

A WWNO radio interview with Herrara.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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