Friday, June 30, 2017

Meixco: Two Short Novels by Yuri Herrera

This volume published by Text Publishing in Australia combined two novellas - "The Transmigration of Bodies" and "Signs Preceding the End of the World". Both are set in the dark and seedy underworld of contemporary Mexico, in the borderlands in the north. It's not the sort of setting that normally appeals to me, but despite the gritty setting, there is also a poetical lyricism about these two stories that make them fascinating.(Apparently the third in the trilogy, Kingdom Cons, has recently been published.)

In "The Transmigration of Bodies", the city is gripped in a plague. The protagonist, known as The Redeemer, has been called on by two feuding crime families to act as a go between. In "Signs Preceding the End of the World" a young girl, Makina, enlists the help of various underworld characters to get her across the border to the north in search of her brother. She is to take a message from her mother, and ask him to come back. The ending of the story is somewhat enigmatic, and apparently a parable of death.

Despite the gritty undertone of the story, again, there is a lyrical poeticism, and touches of humour. One of the villagers who had returned from the north brought back cellphones and told Makina she would soon be out of a job. He gives one to his mother and tries to call her. The phone is silent. Maybe you should have brought back a few cell towers too, says Makina, who is clearly smarter and better educated than most of the villagers.

The most interesting part of the book to me was the translator's note at the end. (The translator is Lisa Dillman). Yuri Herrera coins new language in his novels, and the problem was how to translate this into English to give the flavour of the original, and how to translate the Spanish slang so that the Mexican crime bosses did not sound like New York mafia bosses (but did sound like they had their own vernacular). I think the translator has done a spectacularly successful job, and I was fascinated with her thought processes around achieving this.

No comments: