Reviewed in Australia on 27 November 2016
Text Publishing has created a volume containing two of Yuri Herrera’s most lauded novellas: The Transmigration of Bodies and Signs Preceding the End of the World.
“He was hungry as hell. And thirsty. But all there was was rankystank water in a few puddles on the path and those dense gray clouds that refused to squeeze out a drop. A synthetic insanity to the weather, the city, the people, all sulking, all plotting who-knows-what”
The Transmigration of Bodies is a novella by award-winning Mexican author, Yuri Herrera. A plague has laid waste the city, the streets are empty, and the Redeemer is wary about leaving his apartment. His neighbours, too, are conspicuous by their absence. But he gets a call: his unique skills needed to negotiate an exchange, to maintain the fragile peace.
Herrera’s novella captures the feel of the post-epidemic world with consummate ease: the paranoia and desperation are almost palpable. Against this background, themes of a family feud, revenge, respect, lust, love and grabbing glimpses of beauty feature. Amidst the violence and drama, there are doses of black humour, in the names, especially. Few people have regular names: many are distinguished by an apt descriptor like Three Times Blonde, Neeyanderthal, The Dolphin, Baby Girl, Little slick, and The Mennonite.
Herrera does not use quotation marks for speech, but for the most part, the context is clear enough to avoid confusion. One result of reading a work in translation is that when a particular word appears misspelled in the text (“though” is spelled “tho” throughout this novella), a reader may wonder if this is due to overzealous use of the “find and replace” function, or a particular quirk of the author’s, most likely the latter.
This powerful novella from an award-winning author is flawlessly translated by Lisa Dillman.
Signs Preceding the End of the World is the first novella by award-winning Mexican author, Yuri Herrera, to be translated into English. Because of her telephone, Makina is an integral part of communications in The Little Town. “Sometimes, more and more these days, they called from the North: these were the ones who’d often already forgotten the local lingo, so she responded to them in their own new tongue. Makina spoke all three, and knew how to keep quiet in all three, too”. Her mother Cora has reluctantly sent her to cross the river (the border) to take a message to her brother.
Her mother’s influence goes only so far. Mr Double U will facilitate her crossing, but when Makina goes to Mr Aitch for help: “Mr Aitch smiled, with all the artlessness of a snake disguised as a man coiling around your legs…..Here came the hustle. Mr. Aitch was the type who couldn’t see a mule without wanting a ride”. She is to carry a parcel for him.
Nine short but powerful chapters deal with Makina’s crossing, her delivery of the parcel and her search for her brother. In view of the latest US election results, this is an extremely topical story. This volume also features a note from the translator, Lisa Dillman, which is interesting as it explores the challenges in conveying intended meaning when translating.