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Signs Preceding the End of the World

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  9,227 ratings  ·  1,199 reviews
Winner of the 2016 Best Translated Book Award for Fiction

Signs Preceding the End of the World is one of the most arresting novels to be published in Spanish in the last ten years. Yuri Herrera does not simply write about the border between Mexico and the United States and those who cross it. He explores the crossings and translations people make in their minds and language
Paperback, 114 pages
Published March 10th 2015 by And Other Stories (first published 2009)
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carlo By context, I thought it meant "to cross" or "to traverse", and in other places "to leave", or "to exit". Also, it seemed to not accidentally read lik…moreBy context, I thought it meant "to cross" or "to traverse", and in other places "to leave", or "to exit". Also, it seemed to not accidentally read like a noun referring to "a verse" of poetry.

I later learned from the translator's note that this was translated from a neologism. Yuri used the word "jarchar" in the Spanish original. It also sounds like moving, and also is only understandable by context. The word derives from the Arabic "kharja", which literally means exit. Kharjas were short verses written in vernacular Mozarabic and attached to the end of Arabic poems, "to serve as a bridge between cultures and languages".

What I think is most beautiful is that you mustn't know any of this to realize that "to verse" meant exactly "to cross" and "to bridge through language". As crossing is readily seen in her actions, and bridging people in her intentions.(less)
Chris There are some regional words and the symbolism makes it a little difficult at times even when you know the words. I'm also an intermediate learner an…moreThere are some regional words and the symbolism makes it a little difficult at times even when you know the words. I'm also an intermediate learner and sometimes had to go back to passages and work at them to figure it out. Because it is a short book it is doable and well worth the effort. As you get used to the author's vocabulary and writing style it gets easier. (less)

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Jul 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
We the Barbarians

Here are the headlines about immigration for the benefit of the border patrol and the nativists to consider: We want to be here less than you want us here, even though here was ours before it was yours. We don’t want to be like you. We want to get back before we resemble you too much to go home. You have no idea of the “the weariness we feel at the monuments of another history.” But we’re much tougher than you are.

You make drugs illegal, the price goes up and the trade gets rea
Aug 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Let's make a brighter future
*Reread Update after the review

You are a door, not the one who walks through.

The setting sun, ‘like a giant pool of drying blood’, casts lengthy human shaped shadows along the mountainside that bridges the past to the future, the old to the new, the dying to the living. Behold the great transmigration of souls, the hopeful and damned stripped of all but necessity slouching towards a nightmare of turmoil. One can only hope the storm clouds part upon a fresh world built on the sturdy bricks of the
Aug 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Those who stand up after every fall
As a little girl, I had many fears. Born from reasonable and not-so-reasonable wombs of circumstances, I consciously (and consistently) fought their penetrating presence by erecting walls of logic and fortitude. With passing years, I saw many of them surrendering and receding into thin smoke, leaving me a fertile air concomitant of a progressive upbringing.

But some fears continue to seethe within the subdued bark of emotions like its ashen cousin in an extinguished bonfire: time and again, an u
Jan 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: translated
This is quite a powerful, short novel. Dealing with borders, both literal and figurative, Yuri Herrera's Signs Preceding the End of the World crosses back and forth between reality and myth. It has epic proportions but feels intimate. Makina, our main character, is taking a journey--as so many protagonists do--but hers feels fresh, exciting, and harrowing. It deals with a surprising amount of topics & themes in such few pages, and Herrera masterfully handles the prose. I only wish it had been a ...more
Apr 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Beware, there are some spoilers here.

In Aztec mythology, when Quetzalcoatl descends into the "land of the dead" (the underworld) his goal is to return the bones of ancestors to Earth to restore humanity. Towards the end of his journey, Mictlantecuhtli, the God of the underworld, sets a pit as a trap for Quetzalcoatl to fall into to prevent him from leaving the underworld. Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera begins with our protagonist, Makina, a contemporary Quetzalcoatl (who sp
Apr 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I read this short but powerful and poetic novella because it has been chosen for a group read by the 21st Century Literature group.

The story tells of a young Mexican woman Makina, who travels across the border illegally in search of her brother. In order to do this she has to deal with various criminal gangs. This is just the start, and she meets a number of challenges, and remains a feisty but sympathetic heroine. As such she represents various universal truths of the migrant experience and ex
Jan 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
While this is a wonderful translation, I’m sure this novella works even better in its original Spanish. Language is one of its themes—native versus latin versus anglo versus a new hybrid tongue—reminding me of Elena Ferrante in that one respect only. It’s a deceptively simple work with Dantean and Greek mythological undertones, and I’m guessing other currents I’m not familiar with.

Not wanting to put it down, I read it in one night and feeling unsettled upon finishing, I immediately reread the f
MJ Nicholls
Mar 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Sometimes us readers find ourselves drowning in superlatives, in the fawning pith clipped to the front and back and inside pages of new literature, forcing us to retreat into the hallowed recesses of the Buried Book Club, sniffing for unpraised truffles amid the chaff, and in most cases these superlatives raise our expectations to ludicrous levels before the cover has been admired or the blurb has been scanned, causing outrage at the over-pumped words that writers and critics are obligated to do ...more
Alienor ✘ French Frowner ✘
"Things are tough all over, but here I'm all mixed up, I just don't understand this place.
Don't let it get you down. They don't understand it either, they live in fear of the lights going out, as if every day wasn't already made of lightning and backouts. They need us."

3.5 stars. Signs Preceding the End of the World reads like an atmospheric and - at times - very powerful tale whose splendid bits fight with its quieter ones, more fuzzy, that unfortunately lost me a little along the way. It
May 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
A stark, stylish novella which reads like a modern Mexican katabasis – a descent into the underworld that is also a journey over the border into the US. Herrera's prose style and his narrative framing (the story begins with a sinkhole opening in a Mexican village, and ends with a charged descent into a basement) invite mythic comparisons, with our protagonist Makina like a supercool latter-day Ishtar, who travelled to see her sister in hell, removing one item of clothing at each of the seven gat ...more
Jun 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Trish by: Tuck
In a few pages we discover a new kind of language: "an intermediary tongue that Makina instantly warms to…malleable, erasable, permeable…something that serves as a link." It is not latin, nor anglo but in a "nebulous territory between what is dying out and what is not yet born."

Herrera immerses us in a cross-border search for a lost brother, not heard of or heard from for too long. Makina, the sister, goes to find him, and does--but "only when [she’d] stopped looking." The journey should be terr
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I was headed out of the public library one day, having already checked out the book that came in on hold for me. I caught this book cover out of the corner of my eye and reversed my steps to pick it up. It is striking and the title sounded up my alley. Even when I realized it was not really a post-apocalyptic tale and more about border crossings between Mexico and the United States, I decided it was worth a shot. The book is slim, the chapters are short, and I had never heard of the author.

[4.5] There have been a lot of good reviews for this lately, yet the book took me by surprise. Presumably it was another serious, lyrical translated novella; I opened a story easily imagined as a graphic novel: basically realist with occasional undertones of the fantastical; a plausibly badass Mexican chick goes on a northbound quest to find her brother, who disappeared to the US chasing a possibly-scammy tale of inherited land.

Makina ran the switchboard with the only phone for miles and miles a
Nov 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Makina knows too well how to survive in the violent, macho world of her hometown. Now she must leave this life behind to search for her brother. She is smuggled to USA with two secret messages - one from her mother, Cora, to her brother; one from a Mexican underworld character, Mr Aitch, to another one. The world behind the border makes it harder for her to find the former, though.

This story is about crossing the real life border, but also in the mindworld and language. Makina knows a few langua
✨    jami   ✨
Oct 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
I'm dead Makina said to herself when everything lurched: a man with a cane was crossing the street, a dull groan suddenly surged through the asphalt, the man stood still as if waiting for someone to repeat the question and then the earth opened up beneath his feet: it swallowed the man, and with him a car and a dog, all the oxygen around and even the screams of passers-by. I'm dead

Signs Preceding the End of the World is such a short book, but the story and the epic journey of the main charac
Jun 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
The story itself is understated. Makina's trip across the border has a surreal quality to it. On the other hand, Herrera jumps from theme to theme at a breakneck pace. It's a wonderful contradiction that makes this book stand out. I loved the character of Makina; part of me wishes I could spend more time with her. At a brisk 107 pages, I was certainly left wanting more, but maybe the brevity adds to the book's qualities. Excellent and well deserving of the BTBA.

lark benobi
what a strange, wonderful, mystical, heartbreaking, ultimately redemptive book. It was unusual serendipitous timing to read this novel immediately following Oreo. Both are quest novels about a young woman making her way confidently and fearlessly through a world of men, many of whom wish to do her harm, and yet the young woman prevails, she triumphs, she finds a way to be fully alive and fully happy. I realized while reading Oreo how few novels I've read where a young woman has such complete age ...more
Viv JM
I picked this book up on impulse, because I loved the cover and the title!

I thought it was linguistically very interesting (and the translators notes added to that interest), and I liked the protagonist, Makina. She was very smart. I don't know if it was just because of its short length, but I didn't really feel any emotional connection to the story, hence the 3 star rating.
Roy Lotz
Jul 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
I was pleasantly surprised by this book—one chosen by my book club—partially because I didn’t know a thing about it when I opened it up. The description of this work calls it a “novel,” but it is short even for a novella. It’s easily possible to get through this in two hours.

As one might expect of a book this short, the plot is simple: a Mexican woman illegally crosses the border in search of her brother. The main appeal is thus the style, which I thought demonstrated considerable skill. At t
Dec 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016, 5-stars, 2017
In my original review, I said this would be the shortest book I read that year (2016). It wasn't. But it is probably a contender for 2017. It's 128 pages but a quarter of that is a translator's note and a list of names of people who made the book possible.

But the pages that make up the story are more concentrated than most novels. It is amazing that someone can cover so much ground in so little time - not a word is wasted and layer piles upon layer as the story builds. This means that, in just a
Nancy Oakes
I say in my journal entry about this novel and about The Transmigration of Bodies that if I was ever going to consider becoming a writer (which I'm not, because I couldn't write my way out of a box), I'd want to model myself after Yuri Herrera. He has managed to deliver a beyond-powerful story here in just 107 pages (the rest is taken up by the translator's notes) by keeping his prose sparse and through a unique, beautifully-crafted use of language. Both books are excellent; neither needs any f ...more
May 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
“Signs Preceding the End of the World” is a short and atmospheric novel about Makina, a young Mexican woman who treks across the Mexican-U.S. border to find her brother.

The novel is extremely short (comprising only 9 short chapters), but each chapter is extremely dense and well-crafted. Reading this novel, I almost felt as if I was walking alongside Makina and experiencing first-hand what it is like to cross the U.S. border and ‘live the life of an illegal’. As well, though we so often see illeg
I love finding little book gems. Beautifully written and heartbreaking, the messages this book conveys about immigration, border crossing, and racism are expressed in vivid poetic pose. Highly recommend this. Kudos to Lisa Dillman, the translator. Her English words flowed so beautifully.
May 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mexico
"The end of the uni-verse" (translator's note)

I read two excellent Mexican novels in 2015; Jennifer Clement's Prayers for the Stolen ; and this one. Both are similar, and yet very different; they both concern the border, the idea of different worlds, the violence of a male society ruled by guns and the knowledge that nobody dies peacefully of old age, and how women survive in it.

The difference: Clement writes (brilliantly) about a world which is, Herrera writes of one that becomes. It's a sub

While it was wholly different from what I was expecting, this short novel proved to be an important work in its own right. Its strength was the use of surrealism to convey the truths and nuances of present-day issues on the topic of immigration, with an emphasis on bridging cultures and languages. There were many interesting anecdotes on transmigration, colloquialism, immigration, power dynamics and societal norms that I found both intriguing and representative of the human condition.

On th
We use borders to define places and things, to satisfy that primal, individual neural dichotomy: on/off. Which can then become this/that, mine/yours, here/there... us/them. And when you get close to those borders all that looked black/white from a distance begins to blur grey. The dividing line placed arbitrarily, perhaps held on to out of tradition or fear. And the two sides defined by each other--there is no "us" without "them." And so Herrera brings us to the U.S.-Mexican border and forces us ...more
Kevin Fanning
Mar 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This was so, so good. The text is so spare and precise but also so deep and impactful. It's only a few pages in, when you've met the protagonist, a switch-board operator named Makina, and you see that she is smart and powerful and cool as hell, and you don't know what her journey is about exactly, but you know that your heart is already tied to hers.

It's the story of a journey from Mexico to the States, but it's also a journey through the underworld. The chapters are short but the characters she
Katie Long
Feb 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For all of its current relevance regarding immigration and xenophobia, at its heart, it’s a story as old as storytelling itself. A hero sets out on an epic journey, overcomes many obstacles, relies on friends old and new, and then...well, I won’t tell you how it ends. The epic feeling of this book is all the more impressive because it is all packed into about a hundred pages.
Tony Laplume
May 19, 2016 rated it liked it
It's always disappointing when you start reading something you think will be great, only to discover that it isn't.

Chances are, a lot of people who will read this expect the same thing, and a lot of them will probably be fooled even after reading it because they don't realize they've been hoodwinked. Yuri Herrera has been compared to Roberto Bolano (that's just not accurate) and Cormac McCarthy (probably more accurate), and yet he's just, to me, a disappointment.

The hook of Signs Preceding the E
Jul 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
What a powerful idea - to tell a very realistic illegal border crossing story with a haze of the mythic swirling around it like smoke. The wonder of the book is that Herrera does this in the most subtle, understated way, not through description or explanation, but through a thousand tiny choices of word, structure and character. The translator does a great job and her note (wisely placed at the end of the book) is illuminating. Makina is one of my favorite heroines ever.
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Born in Actopan, Mexico, in 1970, Yuri Herrera studied Politics in Mexico, Creative Writing in El Paso and took his PhD in literature at Berkeley. His first novel to appear in English, Signs Preceding the End of the World, was published to great critical acclaim in 2015 and included in many Best-of-Year lists, including The Guardian‘s Best Fiction and NBC News’s Ten Great Latino Books, going on to ...more

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As we wrap up our 2018 Reading Challenge, we decided to ask our Goodreads coworkers a simple yet tough question: What were the...
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“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.” 28 likes
“Nosotros somos los culpables de esta destrucción, los que no hablamos su lengua ni sabemos estar en silencio. Los que no llegamos en barco, Los que ensuciamos de polvo sus portales, los que rompemos sus alambradas. Los que venimos a quitarles el trabajo, los que aspiramos a limpiar su mierda, los que anhelamos trabajar a deshoras. los que llenamos de olor a comida sus calles tan limpias, los que les trajimos violencia que no conocían, los que transportamos sus remedios, los que merecemos ser amarrados del cuello y los pies; nosotros, a los que no nos importa morir por ustedes, ¿cómo podía ser de otro modo? Los que quién sabe qué aguardamos. Nosotros los oscuros, los chaparros, los grasientos, los mustios, los obesos, los anémicos. Nosotros, los bárbaros.” 12 likes
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