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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Signs Preceding
the End of the World


by
Yuri Herrera


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Signs Preceding the End of the World



Title: Signs Preceding the End of the World
Author: Yuri Herrera
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 114 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Signs Preceding the End of the World - US
Señales que precederán al fin del mundo - US
Signs Preceding the End of the World - UK
Signs Preceding the End of the World - Canada
Signs Preceding the End of the World - India
Signes qui précéderont la fin du monde - France
in Der König, die Sonne, der Tod - Deutschland
Segnali che precederanno la fine del mondo - Italia
Señales que precederán al fin del mundo - España
  • Spanish title: Señales que precederán al fin del mundo
  • Translated and with an afterword by Lisa Dillman

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Our Assessment:

A- : beautifully done

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 22/4/2015 Maya Jaggi
The NY Times Book Rev. . 26/3/2015 John Williams
TLS . 3/4/2015 Anthony Cummins
World Lit. Today . 1-2/2016 Ryan Long


  From the Reviews:
  • "Herrera’s great achievement lies in elevating the harsh epic of "crossing" to the "other side" to soaring myth." - Maya Jaggi, The Guardian

  • "In this short, suspenseful book, Mr. Herrera relates Makina’s perilous and sometimes dreamlike journey and makes room for several dramatic incidents and minor characters who make a lasting impression." - John Williams, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The first novel to appear in English by the Mexican writer Yuri Herrera combines a dreamlike setting with a vigorous style. (...) These details create a jagged prose that heightens our sense of the familiar being rendered strange." - Anthony Cummins, Times Literary Supplement

  • "The eventual dissipation of the difference between a conduit and the substance that passes through it describes Herrera’s novel as well. Its basis in the age-old formula of the quest gradually gives way to its singular ability to put into words the peculiar states of being that define our present-day world" - Ryan Long, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Signs Preceding the End of the World is a short novel, recounting a simple story: a young woman, Makina, travels illegally across the Mexican-American border to give her brother a message from their mother, Cora. Her passage is arranged by the criminals who run things in her hometown, Little Town: one jefe can arrange her crossing, another -- for a price -- can provide the information that might lead her to her brother. The price: "All I ask is that you deliver something for me, an itty bitty little thing".
       Makina's brother went to America in the hopes of claiming some land that might be theirs, the property of, perhaps: "the man who had been her father before he disappeared a long time ago". Now, a couple of years later, they've heard almost nothing of what happened to him, having just received a few short notes from him:

Two or three and not two, or three; Makina couldn't say for sure because after the first the one that followed and maybe one more were the same old story
       The novel begins with Makina barely escaping death, the earth itself opening up in Little Town in the opening paragraph, with her left standing -- barely -- at the edge of the abyss. Talk about 'Signs Preceding the End of the World' .....
       Makina is the local telephone switchboard operator, in a town that isn't even close to having cell phone service yet. She speaks the necessary three languages -- native tongue, latin tongue (Spanish), and anglo tongue (English) -- "and knew how to keep quiet in all three, too". She's an intermediary who knows her place, the perfect messenger.
       Determined Makina manages to stay on an even keel, even as her odyssey is an often nightmarish and dangerous one; Herrera's matching laconic calm is particularly effective in leading her through these borderzones that extend far beyond the simple geographical lines.
       The novel is full of shifting identities and places, from the body that at first sight appears to be a pregnant woman (but isn't) to the different characters that move through this broad in-between land. And also, for example:
They speak an intermediary tongue that Makina instantly warms to because it is like her: malleable, erasable, permeable; a hinge pivoting between two like but distant souls, and then two more, and then two more, never exactly the same ones; something that serves as a link.
     More than the midpoint between homegrown and anglo their tongue is a nebulous territory between what is dying out and what is not yet born. But not a hecatomb. Makina senses in their tongue not a sudden absence but a shrewd metamorphosis, a self-defensive shift.
       Herrera's use of language and tone (in Lisa Dillman's attentive translation) amplify this sense of in-betweenness and difference, including with the simple substitution of more common words -- 'tongue' for 'language'; 'shucking' for sex -- or 'anglo' to cover the entire American spectrum (as the United States -- and Mexico -- are also never identified as such).
       Identities shift with the geography -- regardless of intention. Makina's brother came across the border to stake a claim -- to the very basis of national identity, a piece of land. Instead, he becomes entirely another, in one of the novel's many effective sleights of hand. So too Makina can not remain a mere go-between, even though when she left she had been certain: "She was coming right back"; in the end she is presented with a file and finds:
There she was, with another name, another birthplace. Her photo, new numbers, new trade, new home. I've been skinned, she whispered.
       The journey Herrera leads Makina on is Dantesque not only in its hellish turns but its lyrical, precise language. It is the telling that makes the tale so effective, as even as it is based in the Mexican-American experience Herrera reaches to the universal with a deliberate vagueness to many of the details. The rich imagery then stands out all the more effectively as well; for such a short work -- and quick, easy read -- Signs Preceding the End of the World packs an incredible punch (of may small, hard jabs).
       Signs Preceding the End of the World is a very fine novel, and a wonderful example of truly creative writing (and translation, with Lisa Dillman helpfully explaining some of her process in her afterword).

- M.A.Orthofer, 23 April 2016

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Links:

Signs Preceding the End of the World: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Mexican author Yuri Herrera was born in 1970.

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© 2016 the complete review

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