Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera

I have been reading so much lately, I am loving this new found love of literature. I feel like I go through phases in which I read a lot and then I have these spells in which I cannot look at books anymore. During my training year, I did not read one single book, my mind was always working and I felt I did not have the mental capacity to do anymore! BUT, this academic year has been totally different, and I am loving my job and definitely gaining a better work life balance, and reading time is included in this.

So onto the review!

Spoiler alert!

“We are to blame for this destruction, we who don’t speak your tongue and don’t know how to keep quiet either. We who didn’t come by boat, who dirty up your doorsteps with our dust, who break your barbed wire. We who came to take your jobs, who dream of wiping your shit, who long to work all hours. We who fill your shiny clean streets with the smell of food, who brought you violence you’d never known, who deliver your dope, who deserve to be chained by neck and feet. We who are happy to die for you, what else could we do? We, the ones who are waiting for who knows what. We, the dark, the short, the greasy, the shifty, the fat, the anemic. We the barbarians.”
― Yuri Herrera, Signs Preceding the End of the World

This is probably the biggest quote I have ever posted in a review, but it is so worth it. Signs Preceding the End of the World tells the story of a young Mexican girl called Makina, who works as a messenger between the American and Mexican border. Makina has been waiting to hear news from her brother who crossed the border and never returned, so in a bid to find her brother, she makes an agreement to carry some items for Mr Y and crosses the border to find her long lost sibling.

I think the novel is spectacular, mostly because of the issues in translation. There is clearly a sense of alienation when you read this novel, because the grammatical structures do not necessarily conform to the English language, making the reading sometimes seem jagged, but that is part of what I love. I feel that some of the vocabulary choices made are also very interesting, a word that kept boggling my mind was the word ‘versed’ which does not have the same meaning, but this is exactly part of the intention. To blur those lines between what the reader understands and what the author is saying. Makina finds herself in a world that does not understand her, nor does it try to, as is many times the case in English speaking countries. I feel that this is an important novel in the way it highlights a very current, very real threat in the USA and Mexican relationships, a topic that will one day become part of history and studied and scrutinised by countless people. Herrera really comes to grips with the problem of miscommunication, misunderstanding and mostly the lack of attempt from either culture at times.

The other reason this novel really stood out for me was Makina, what an incredibly strong-minded character, what an incredibly willful woman. I am all about women empowerment, women can do everything! And Makina truly showcases the fact that women can take control and roll with the punches when needed. The way she fearlessly works for the men just to get one step closer to finding her brother, she never falls for nor allows her body to be taken or used, showing a character that really does withstand life in a man’s world.

The novel ends in quite a bleak note, this idea of loss and feeling lost being what the audience is left with. I felt truly desperate for Makina and her situation. She is torn between a world that she loves but is falling apart and a world that seems perfect, but she does not belong there. As per the quote above, the novel becomes even more poignant as we consider what is happening all over the world at the moment regarding segregation, placing blame on foreigners and racism in general. The book offers no solution for the issue, but it does open our eyes to the other side.


Signs Preceding the End of the World is available for purchase on Amazon, Foyles and Waterstones  –  at least as far as I have seen!

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