Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera
This is a gorgeous, crisp little thing. And although Signs... is no epic – accounting for chapter breaks it clocks in at under 100 short pages – Yuri Herrera has managed to achieve such extraordinary scope, of space and meaning, without any sense of hurry or clutter.
Makina works the switchboard in remote small-town Mexico, mediating lovers’ sweet nothings and less savoury transactions. She’s a polyglot, flitting between the native tongue, Spanish, and the north-of-the-border Anglo-Latin hybrid. She also ‘knows how to keep quiet in all three.’ Cora, her mother, ushers Makina off to the US with a message for her brother. To gain passage she requires the help of the local ‘top dogs’, Messrs Double-U, Aitch and Q. What follows is a vaguely Pynchon-esque quest through tundras rural and urban. On her way Makina absorbs the refashioned identity and language of fellow border crossers, whose ‘gestures and tastes reveal both ancient memory and the wonderment of new people’. Herrera distils near enough every gram of that spirit into these few pages.
Signs... is an important work, given the tenor of the immigration debate in the US and internationally. Herrera and Makina make a mockery of old-order American patriotism, which is easy to do but tough to actually pull off. The whole book is in fact a tiny exercise in bold and clever writing done with verve.