Signs preceding the end of the world by Yuri Herrera

This is my review of Signs preceding the end of the World by Yuri Herrera, which was translated from Spanish by Lisa Dillman.

The book
This is the story of Makina who is crossing the border between Mexico and the US to see her brother and ask him to come home. They haven’t heard from him and her mother is worried. With her she has two messages, one from her mother to her brother, and one from the Mexican underworld. On the way she meets different people who help her or judge her. There isn’t much to say about the plot, because it’s about 100 pages and not a lot happened.
It’s written really beautifully. I am obviously reading the translation, but it seems to have been translated well and faithfully. Herrera doesn’t really use punctuation for dialogue, or line breaks for that matter, so sometimes dialogue had started without me realizing it. I didn’t really mind, it didn’t really bother me, because I always picked up on the dialogue every time.
I loved Makina, she’s strong and angry and snarky and I love her. She’s very competent, and she seems very proud of her accomplishments. She understands the wish to leave Mexico and live in the US, but she doesn’t really have any interest herself. She loves being in Mexico, she likes her job and she’s proud of her job. She also worries about how they will get on without her, because she is the only one who speaks English, Spanish and this hybrid combination.
I loved the spare way it’s written. There aren’t a lot of descriptions of things and people. It’s very sparse, and it’s great. Herrera is such a spectacular writer and it was so beautiful and wonderful. Even if he doesn’t say much he gives you so much to work with with your imagination.
I don’t really have any personal context concerning the Mexico-US border and Mexican immigration, all I have is like the news, and old movies. Anyway, it seems like a sort of awful undertaking. You can’t really bring much because you’re basically being smuggled across the border and you have to take up the least possible space, and then when you get to the States you have pretty much nothing, and you rarely know anyone, and you have to rely on the kindness of strangers. And it’s dangerous. When you do hear about this on the news, or through Trump, or whatever else it sounds like coming across the border is just this stroll across, and then you’re in the US and you can start taking people’s jobs away, but this book describes how hard and how dangerous it is. Makina doesn’t know if what she’s doing is right, or if her next decision is going to get her killed. She has to take a message across in exchange for help to get across, and when she hands over the message she is basically trapped in a room with like a dozen men and this man who she’s giving the message to and I felt so terrified for her. She’s all alone and doesn’t really know anyone, and no one knows where she is. And it felt so hopeless, and I worried about her and everything that could happen.

It’s beautiful and wonderful, and the writing is incredible. The story is so strong and beautiful. The language is so sparse and strong and Makina is so incredible. And I want to read his other book as well.

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