I just recently finished Signs Preceding the End of the World, and was constantly struck by its sparse, prickly prose, and the huge number of important topics that it discusses. A perfect book for this week’s Thursday Quotable, I do believe!
Originally written in Spanish by Yuri Herrera, it has been translated into English by Lisa Dillman. It focuses on Makina, a young girl who crosses the border from Mexico into the United States to find her brother. Containing shades of the Odyssey, this is a book about borders not only between lands, but between selves.
The stadium loomed before them. So, what do they use that for?
They play, said the old man. Every week the anglos play a game to celebrate who they are. He stopped, raised his cane and fanned the air. One of them whacks it, then sets off like it was a trip around the world, to every one of the bases out there, you know the anglos have bases all over the world, right? Well the one who whacked it runs from one to the next while the others keep taking swings to distract their enemies, and if he doesn’t get caught he makes it home and his people welcome him with open arms and cheering.
Do you like it?
Tsk, me, I’m just passing through.
How long you been here?
Going on fifty years… (59-60).
Language is also an essential aspect of the novel – I could pour over this quote for hours, it is so rich with meaning:
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 sudden absence but a shrewd metamorphosis, a self-defensive shift. They might be talking in perfect latin tongue and without warning begin to talk in perfect anglo tongue and keep it up like that, alternating between a thing that believes itself to be perfect and a thing that believes itself to be perfect, morphing back and forth between two beasts until out of carelessness or clear intent they suddenly stop switching tongues and start speaking that other one. In it brims nostalgia for the land they left or never knew when they use the words with which they name objects; while actions are alluded to with an anglo verb conjugated latin-style, pinning on a sonorous tale from back there.
Using in one tongue the word for a thing in the other makes the attributes of both resound: if you say Give me fire when they say Give me a light, what is not to be learned about fire, light, and the act of giving? (65-66).
I would highly recommend Signs Preceding the End of the World – there is so much to explore, and so many borders to cross.