What a startling book these two novellas by Yuri Herrera make. Two separate but complementary stories, ‘Mexico’s greatest novelist’ Herrera tells funny, scary and tall tales of two different loners in a world slightly skew-iff, a bit wrong, a little magic. I cannot recall at all where I found this book to add it to my pile, but what an odd and wondrous journey it was.
In response to the violence of modern-day Mexico, The Transmigration of Bodies is a reinterpreted Romeo and Juliet, with all the tragedy and pointlessness of loss that that entails. Our lead is a fixer, known only as The Redeemer, in a city overcome by an unnamed plague, mitigating between two families enraged by grief and struck into idiocy by fear of contagion. Narrated in a brusque, true-to-character voice, the feuding crime families both have blood on their hands, and are stuck in a city struck by an uncontrollable and black death made all the more powerful my rumour and hysteria. This is an epic, but Herrera’s language is concise and almost flat. The hit is vivid.
“Suddenly he began to salivate, his mouth no longer a desert with buzzards circling his tongue but a choking street, a flooded sewer. He obeyed and instructed himself to move no further. The newscaster on TV as talking about the airborne monster, its body a shiny striped black bullet, six very long fuzzy legs humped over itself, and above the hump a little round head with antennae casting out into space and two tubular mouths. A bona fide sonofabitch, apparently.”
Signs Preceding the End of the World is a condensed and haunting journey narrative, where one girl has to find her brother and crosses boarders and boundaries to get there. She is hard worn, powerful in her small way and immediately likeable, but this journey takes her far beyond her own reckoning and the simple blind remorselessness of the system she stumbles into is almost overwhelmingly unfair. Manika knows how to survive in a macho, torn world, but leaving Mexico to deliver her mother’s message to a lost son she encounters forces much larger and structural than she has ever been able to negotiate before.
Hilarious and horrifying, these novellas are astonishing. They are very different tales, but in a way both The Redeemer and Manika are kinds of loners, outside a system, having made their own way to survive. Both stories are quite startling and demand attention, powerful without restraint. Herrera’s voice is distinctive and unsparing. This volume is a unique experience, lead by a talented writer.