Using in one tongue the word for a thing in the other makes the attributes of both resound: if you say Give me fire when they say Give me a light, what is not to be learned about fire, light and the act of giving? It’s not another way of saying things: these are new things. The world happening anew, Makina realizes: promising other things, signifying other things, producing different objects. Who knows if they’ll last, who knows if these names will be adopted by all, she thinks, but there they are, doing their damnedest.
This is from Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World (translated by Lisa Dillman), which I’ve reviewed for Words Without Borders. If you’ve never come across Words Without Borders before, I do recommend you spend some time exploring – it’s an essential site for fiction in translation, and I’m proud to be reviewing for it.
Signs Preceding the End of the World, meanwhile, is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. It’s the story of Makina’s crossing from Mexico to the US with a message for her brother. But it’s also a novel of translation and fluid languages, thresholds and fuzzy boundaries. The novel’s language becomes the medium of Makina’s journey, and I hope I’ve captured a sense of that in my review.