With giant holes being unearthed, borders closing and gangsters conspiring, Yuri Herrea’s Signs Preceding the End of the World (2015) is no ordinary novel. It’s a quick read, slick too and packs a punch that is hard to compare to any recent dystopian fiction. There is a rush, a sense of urgency as we move through taut and surreal cultural spaces of US-Mexican borders; but we read for Makina, the silent and deadly heroine.
Put on a journey, Makina ventures to find her missing brother and in the meantime deliver a package tied up to a network of pseudo-named gangsters. The end of the world is omniscient, it seems, embedded in the chaotic landscape and used to convey the ways corruption obliterates the life of a young woman, who, is against all odds in her violently misogynist and apocalyptic society. Just as we begin to feel the sense of grounding in Makina’s narrative, Herrea shatters and creates unusual jolted images in fiction that play with the reader’s greater perceptions of the novel. There are moments too that recall a kind of hyper-real Cormac McCarthy, as much of Herrera’s story takes place on the brutal, desert road territories that exist at the fringes of Mexican country.
A lot of this comes from Herrea’s own experiences with border towns and Mexican dualism, having spent most of his youth in a peripheral mining village. He is still relatively new in literary circles, partly because up until now he has only published in Spanish. Signs Preceding the End of the World is actually the first translated publication we have of Herrea’s fiction, which was initially regarded for its use of hybridised Spanish dialect. Forging this kind of Mexican tongue is what makes Herrea the up and coming writer he is today and so maybe one can be cynical of the way his writing translates into any other language.
This means of course Herrea’s writing is no easy feat for any translator, but translator Lisa Dillman somehow twists and plays with English in a way that very closely expresses a dislocated Mexican angst, a kind of surreal cultural apartheid that exists at the border of one of the most powerful and threatening nations. This is what Herrea’s novel sets out to achieve in its mean nihilism and brave dystopian heart and it is both a beautifully written and utterly compelling new work that will haunt you in its profanity and force.