Inspired by Ann Morgan’s TED talk My Year Reading a Book from Every Country in the World, I’ve been trying to read more translated fiction over the last few years, and I picked up Signs Preceding the End of the World on a cold day while day-dreaming about sunnier climes.
Signs Preceding the End of the World is the tale of a young Mexican woman called Makina who embarks on a quest to deliver a message to her brother who crossed the border to make a new life for himself in the United States.
In some ways, this is a modern retelling of the hero’s quest, reminiscent of Orpheus’ journey through the underworld, except Makina’s underworld is one full of crimelords, thugs, border patrols, police officers and illegal immigrants. The writing is sparse and poetic, and at times the plot trots along so quickly that whole chapters pass in a blur adding to the surreal and sometimes nightmarish quality of the story.
Makina is quite literally a messenger, working at a telephone exchange connecting people from “Little Town” where she lives to “the Big Chilango” (Mexico city) and beyond; Makina is resourceful, capable of crossing borders and languages, and able to defend herself in a machismo culture.
Signs Preceding the End of the World is a topical story concerning someone crossing the Mexico-US border illegally, describing how dangerous the crossing itself is as she relies on crimelords and smugglers to help her, evading border patrols and police along the way. Reaching the U.S.A she finds immigrants everywhere, and notices their influence on the culture from food to music and language, as well witnessing the daily prejudice and discrimination they face.
This is a short book – barely more than 100 pages – it ends almost as abruptly as it starts, but leaves the reader with much to ponder. Have a lovely week. X