Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World (And Other Stories; Paper $13.95) is a deceptively small book—barely a hundred pages, with generous margins—and its prose is baked dry and hard, picked clean like a body left out in the desert. But just as, on the first page, the ground opens up beneath its protagonist—an interpreter, a hard-boiled go-between, and a pilgrim named Makina—Herrera’s novel contains uncharted depths beneath. On the surface, it’s a novel about the US/Mexico border, today, and Makina is a border resident as Dashiell Hammett might have written her, or Raymond Chandler, or Walter Mosley. But as she sets off into the northern underworld to find her lost brother, she is revealed as a Mexican Orpheus, traveling deeper and deeper through the nine layers of the Mexica afterlife, Mictlan the kingdom of the dead, ruled by Mictlantecuhtli and Mictecacihuatl.
This interview was conducted in September 2015 over Skype, and has been edited and condensed—in collaboration with the author—for clarity and space.
Aaron Bady: Signs Preceding the End of the World is your first novel to be translated into English, but it’s not the first novel you’ve written.
Yuri Herrera: Yes, Signs is the second novel that I published. The first one is called Trabajos del reino; the third one is called La transmigración de los cuerpos. Before, I wrote another novel that will never be published, because it’s…bad.
My publisher in English decided that they wanted to start with this one, rather than publish them in the order they were originally published in Spanish. I’m not sure why… I think maybe they were thinking of the migration issue, of the importance of that, and one of the ways you can read this book is a book about migration. In any case, the second book they are going to publish will be my third novel, La transmigración de los cuerpos, which will be called The Transmigration of Bodies. And in 2017, if everything goes well, they’re going to finally publish Trabajos del reino, which the provisional title is Kingdom Cons.
AB: Are these novels a trilogy, in any sense?
YH: They ended up being a trilogy, though that wasn’t planned. When I wrote the first novel, I had a lot of ideas I wanted to write, but I didn’t know when, or if they were going to have connections with the first book. When I was writing the second novel, though, I was thinking of the third novel. You know that cliché that writers have a fear of the white page? What happens to me is that I have too many projects, and I don’t have the time to do them, and I write a lot more than I publish. So these books can be considered a trilogy, but only in terms of the presence of certain topics, certain ways of using of the language.
AB: How would you describe the connections between this novel and the other ones?