Guest Review: Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera

I want to give a huge thanks to Brendon from Gaming For Justice for cross-posting this wonderful review on my blog for Latinx Heritage Month .

Very rarely do I get blown away completely by a book. There are books I really enjoy for many different reasons. However, only once in a while do I deem a book one of my favorites of all time. Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera and translated by Lisa Dillman is one of those books. The entire experience was a ‘once in one hundred books’ type of experience. I was enamored by the story and the prose. I did not want to put the book down even though I was exhausted and needed to go to sleep. I read chapters and reread chapters. I hit flow as a reader: a state of mind where I was so engaged with the narrative that time passed without my realization. I committed to writing a review of the book; however, I am still collecting my thoughts. In no way do I think I can do this book or Yuri Herrera justice in this review and I will try to convey my reading experience. If you have not gathered yet, I really enjoyed Signs at the End of the World and I immediately added it to my ‘favorites’ and ‘to reread’ lists.

21535546We start out meeting Makina, a young woman living in Mexico, standing at the edge of a sinkhole, talking about how the insanity of the Earth has finally started messing with her. This initial image sets the tone for the rest of Makina’s journey. She is asked by her mother to cross the border to deliver a message to her brother who crossed a while back. To do so, Makina must make deals with shady men to deliver messages to the underworld in order to ensure her passage across and back over the border. The journey is harrowing and Yuri Herrera is a master as putting words together, forming sparse but poetic chapters dripping with emotion and feeling. Usually, I do not tend to like authors who build worlds and tell stories while withholding very descriptive language. However, here the sparseness is magnificent and the credit goes to Herrera for his ability to tailor words to workfor him.

One of my favorite parts of the book is when Makina is speaking to her brother. I will not go into details for the sake of saving my readers from spoilers, but those passages were filled with so much emotion and truth about the character’s experience of crossing the border and being disconnected from the rest of the family. This conversation is layered with the struggle of racial, cultural, and familial identity in a country that accepts none of Makina or her brother. Although the chapter is relatively short, the few words Herrera provides impacted me immensely as a reader.

I must also give credit to the translator, Lisa Dillman. I understand how difficult it must be to translate any novel, let alone one by Yuri Herrera. A great translation takes much time and effort. As Dillman states in her note after the book, she spent a huge amount of effort reading to increase both the breadth and depth of her experience with many different types of translated works. In addition, Dillman stayed in constant contact with Herrera to ensure she was capturing the original essence and soul of the work. This book was short and sparse and I think that made the job harder for Dillman to complete well. She could have taken an easier way out with translation, but she chose to honor and uplift Herrera’s voice with her own work. I think translated works lose a bit of something no matter how great the job. Reading Signs Preceding the End of the World floored me in English, I can only imagine the experience reading it in it’s original Spanish.

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Thanks again, Brendon!

Consider following his blog and Twitter. His blog content and tweets are always thoughtful and intelligent. 


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12 thoughts on “Guest Review: Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera

  1. I think translated works do lose something – but they also *gain* something; an emphasis on parts that you didn’t pay much notice to before, for example, or a quirk of translation that makes certain things unexpectedly funny (in Welsh, we have no literal translation for the word ‘rat,’ so, in the Welsh translation of Matilda by Roald Dahl, which I’m reading at the moment, Mr Wormwood is ‘big-mouse-faced’) I kind of like the way things are the same but different in translation 🙂

  2. Fantastic review. I’m pretty sure the edition of this book in the picture was published by And Other Stories. They’re a small press that publishes high-quality translations. If you’re interested in translations, you should check out their catalogue. I’m tempted to spend my life savings on their books. 🙂

  3. I absolutely loved this novella. I read it on a vacation earlier in the year, and I had a hard time right after saying what I’d loved about it. I need to reread it and see if I can write about it now — Herrera’s writing is just lovely, which I know is also a huge tribute to the translator for getting his words across.

  4. I really admire the kind of determination that many translators show in their efforts to communicate with the original author of a work, to ensure accuracy and proper representation. This sounds like such a powerful read!

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