Thursday, July 14, 2016

And Other Stories: Signs Preceding the End of the World and The Transmigration of Bodies, by Yuri Herrera

I'm beyond impressed with these two short books:  Signs Preceding the End of the World runs to 114 pages, while The Transmigration of Bodies comes in at 101, but don't let their brevity fool you -- they are amazing.  If I was someone thinking about becoming a writer, I'd read everything Yuri Herrera has written, scan his library shelves for his literary influences, and learn everything I possibly could from this man -- to me, his work is just plain genius. Both novels are beautifully written despite their sparse prose style, which actually makes his work all the more powerful.  A huge part of what makes his writing so appealing  is that he does not have to elaborate in any way to get his messages across to the reader; his unique use of language here conveys all it needs to. They're both absolutely brilliant and highly original; it's like the author takes elements of different genres to create something that transcends genre.  Both novels sink the reader into atmosphere from the first paragraph, and both stories work through characters whose lives land them smack in the middle of other people's lives and in certain situations that arise within the spaces they occupy.  In Signs Preceding the End of the World,

And Other Stories, 2015
originally published as Señales que precederán al fin del mundo, 2009
translated by Lisa Dillman
114 pp

we view a nearly mythical journey taken by Makina, who works as her small town's switchboard operator, and who is asked by her mother to deliver a message to her brother necessitating a journey across the border. In The Transmigration of Bodies, a man known as The Redeemer

And Other Stories, 2016
originally published as La Transmigración de los cuerpos, 2013
translated by Lisa Dillman
101 pp
acts a go-between to ensure the safe exchange of the bodies of two young people to return them to their families.  He has gathered a reputation as someone who fixes people's situations, someone whose handling of matters allowed his clients to have "kept their hands clean of certain matters" earning him their gratitude and respect in return.  

Signs begins with the literal exposure of the underworld,  as a sinkhole opens and swallows a man, a car and a dog in a town that is "riddled with bullet holes and tunnels bored by five centuries of voracious silver dust."  As Makina watches, we watch her moving ever so slowly away from the edge of the hole.  Her journey to find her brother is covered in nine chapters, bringing to my mind Virgil guiding Dante through the nine circles.  As she moves from point to point we are brought into a story of immigration and its uncertainties, crime and violence, borders, and more, all so nicely done in such a short space.  This book doesn't need to be any longer to get its messages across; the same is true with The Transmigration of Bodies.  Once again, in this book the opening is significant -- the inhabitants of an unnamed town find themselves in the middle of a plague, a perfect opening for a book that examines the ongoing violence, crime and death in Mexico.   The focus on the "bodies" of the title is also interesting, but in the interest of time I'll leave it for others to see how.  There is so much more to glean from these little books, but above all, they are books that highlight an amazing writer's art. 

There are all manner of reviews and synopses online for both books so I'd look at those for deep insight. I'd like to mention the translator, Lisa Dillman here:   I was trying to find information on Yuri Herrera and came across an article from that offers some incredible insight not only into her process, but into Herrera's own stunning use of language as well.  

And Other Stories has done it again, and I can't wait to read Herrera's third book in this trilogy when it's translated.  Highly, highly recommended.  

No comments:

Post a Comment

Say what you will, but at least try to be nice about it.