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Book Review: The gripping crossing of cultural and linguistic boundaries

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Jakarta | Thu, October 27, 2016 | 07:45 am
Book Review: The gripping crossing of cultural and linguistic boundaries

Herrera doesn’t just write about the border between Mexico and the US, he explores the emotional boundaries and journeys we make in our minds. (Shutterstock/File)

If businessman, reality TV star and Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump gets his way, there could soon be a wall erected along the US-Mexico border (to be funded by the latter, apparently). While the notion itself might be as horrific as it is implausible to his many opponents, and to those that criticize his anti-immigration stance, in many ways a wall already exists there. An invisible wall that separates two nations and two distinct cultures. A wall you’ll find right across America; not just at the border.

But it’s the borderlands that act as a backdrop to Mexican author Yuri Herrera’s book Signs Preceding the End of the World. Herrera shows us a place where the Anglo and Latino worlds collide; as seen through the eyes of a young Mexican woman, Makina, en route to find her brother who has migrated north to the USA, armed with two secret messages: one from their mother and another from a notorious drug baron.

(Read also: Pablo Escobar’s son finds Netflix show ‘insulting’)

Although suspiciously thin—just over 100 pages long—Signs Preceding the End of the World continues to receive acclaim. But it’s not just Herrera’s measured treatment of the sensitive subject matter that curries favor; it’s his take on language—his prose—which like the sinkhole in the story’s opening, gives way to some startling imagery. Critics have compared Makina’s journey to both the Odyssey and Orpheus’ journey to the Underworld; the Rio Grande acting as stand-in for the river Styx.

Herrera deftly tackles the underlying issues we’d expect to see—the dehumanization of immigrants; the tribal “us and them” mentality—but handles them in a way that simultaneously reinforces and undermines inherent prejudice. And it’s his heroine’s robustness and refusal to concede to these forces, in addition to the male-dominated machismo of Latino culture and the material mores of American consumerism that estrange Makina from her surroundings, causing her to seek out her own identity in this strange yet familiar world.

It’s this exploration of self and space, personified by Makina and the journey she takes, and the idea of crossing shifting cultural and linguistic boundaries that tie the story and the book neatly together. Herrera doesn’t just write about the border between Mexico and the US, he explores the emotional boundaries and journeys we make in our minds. (kes)

Click here to read the book.

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Title          : Signs Preceding the End of the World

Author       : Yuri Herrera, Lisa Dillman

Publisher   : And Other Stories

Published   : 2015

ISBN          : 9781908276421

Pages         : 128

Reviewer     : Dave Barton

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.

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