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 win the 2016 Best Translated Book Award. He is currently teaching at the Tulane University, in New Orleans.
- Read more about Yuri Herrera’s ‘masterpiece’ Signs Preceding the End of the World, his ‘magnificent’ The Transmigration of Bodies, and his ‘excellent’ debut Kingdom Cons in the book section.
- Hear Herrera discussing his first ever book in English with Green Apple Books here and talking to Richard Lea on Guardian Podcast about borderlands and border crossing (from 15m 40s in).
- Yuri Herrera writes about the very real problem of corruption in the Government of Mexico for PEN Atlas
- You can also read The Skinny’s interview with Yuri Herrera here.
‘[T]his marvellously rich, slim novel is working on many levels . . . Herrera’s great achievement lies in elevating the harsh epic of “crossing” to the “other side” to soaring myth. There are allusions to Odysseus, Orpheus and the Styx, the river of Greek mythology that was a border to the Underworld; as well as Mesoamerican stories of shapeshifting and rebirth . . . Herrera’s metaphors grasp the freedom, and the alarming disorientation, of transition and translation . . . Translator Lisa Dillman has found a language both blunt and lyrical for Herrera’s many neologisms.’
New York Times
‘Short, suspenseful . . . outlandish and heartbreaking.’
Wall Street Journal
‘Mr. Herrera’s writing is poetic and defamiliarizing; translator Lisa Dillman has done well to capture his neologisms, which shift the setting into the surreal . . . In this legend-rich book, to immigrate is to enter forever the land of the shades.’
Times Literary Supplement
‘The narrative invites reflection on the migrant experience and cultural difference; it also supplies the excitement of an adventure with gangsters, guns and false leads . . . Yuri Herrera combines a dreamlike setting with vigorous style.’
Francisco Goldman, author of Say Her Name
‘Yuri Herrera is Mexico’s greatest novelist. His spare, poetic narratives and incomparable prose read like epics compacted into a single perfect punch – they ring your bell, your being, your soul. Signs Preceding the End of the World delivers a darkly mythological vision of the U.S. as experienced by the “not us” that is harrowing and fierce. The profoundly dignified, mind-boggling Makina, our guide and translator, is the heroine who redeems us all: she is the Truth.’
‘Yuri Herrera must be a thousand years old. He must have travelled to hell, and heaven, and back again. He must have once been a girl, an animal, a rock, a boy, and a woman. Nothing else explains the vastness of his understanding.’
Booksellers on Signs Preceding the End of the World
'A dazzling little thing, containing so much more than the width of its spine should allow. I am in awe-filled love with its heroine: Makina is a vibrantly real presence in a shadowy world of constant threat; her voice perfectly rendered; her unflappable poise tested, but never broken.' Gayle Lazda, London Review Bookshop, London If you start highlighting what stuns you about Signs Preceding the End of the World, Yuri Herrera’s debut novel in English, every page will be mottled with fluorescent lines. Herrera writes in prose that feels like you are standing on both sides of the uncanny valley while something beautiful happens below and above you, creating a delectable unease, cut through with the simple joy of precise and surprising images. Herrera will draw the obvious comparisons to Roberto Bolaño, but Signs Preceding the End of World should also find a home next to Jesse Ball and Italo Calvino.' Josh Cook, Porter Square Books, Boston, and author of An Exaggerated Murder Herrera gives us what all great literature should—poetic empathy for dire situations in a life more complex and dynamic than we imagined. And Other Stories gives us what all publishers should—access to this world. I always want more.' Lance Edmonds, Posman Books (Chelsea Market branch), New York, NY Several things occurred while I read Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera: I didn’t stop talking about it to other book people. When I finished it, I immediately flipped back to the beginning. And then, while waiting for the train, a bird pooped on me. I could go into the beautiful sentences, the structure, or the imagery. But really, a bird pooped on me – right on the shoulder, in the most obvious place – and I didn’t even notice until I put the book down.' Jess Marquardt, Greenlight, Brooklyn, NY 'Yuri Herrera's Signs Preceding the End of the World is a lyrical border crossing with touches of Kafka.' Alexander Dwinell, Unnameable Books, Brooklyn, NY This book pulled me out of my little life into one altogether unfamiliar and absorbing – with the help of its bulletproof heroine, it explores what happens to people and languages when they cross borders, and recreates these new linguistic worlds in the translation without affectation. I am glad it made it over the Rio Grande and onto my shelf.' Georgia Newman, Foyles (Charing Cross Road branch), London What begins as an odyssey is steered into profound allegory depicting the burdens we are willing to shoulder for family and the prospect of a life we never asked for.'Mark J Walker, Waterstones (High Wycombe branch), High Wycombe
‘Bracingly unbookish . . . The after-effect is more like that of a video game or Marvel comic, with both the brightness and unabashed flatness those entail. Darkly satisfying . . . Swift, slick images and one-liners glitter at regular intervals.’
The Wall Street Journal
‘Herrera packs his slim book with the sex, booze and nihilism of a better Simenon novella . . . Dillman brings out a gritty, pulpy flavor in the writing.’
Los Angeles Times
‘Herrera pivots from border fabulist to noirish raconteur, bringing his considerable allegorical powers to bear on a facet of contemporary Mexican culture: Namely, its legacy of violence. Herrera’s prose, deftly translated by Lisa Dillman, is lean and hard-boiled — and often caustically poetic — though underpinned by a sort of wry self-awareness. For all the apocalyptic strangeness of his settings — permeable borders, plague addled cities — his stories mold something rich and fundamental from the stuff of prosaic life.’
‘The author of playful, prophetic, unnerving books that deserve to be read several times, with dialogue so telling it eats into your brain rather like the worm in the Redeemer’s preferred mescal, Herrera is a writer for our doomed epoch.’
‘Herrera’s brilliantly surreal turns of phrase mirror the strangeness of the world: he knows that brutal everyday truths are best revealed through dreams. Blood-soaked, driven deep and expertly written.’
NPR Fresh Air
‘Yuri Herrera [is] my favorite of the new Mexican writers. The Transmigration of Bodies goes straight for the soul. Unsettling and deep, Herrera transmigrates us to a Mexico that feels like a metaphysical condition, a timeless kingdom in which the living are forever dancing with the dead.’
‘The Transmigration of Bodies takes the conventions of gumshoe fiction and transfers them to a charnel-house world that makes nonsense of the genre’s habitual moral opposites . . . There’s plenty to admire about this allegorical vision of a country under lockdown, where violence and death have ceased to be the motors for fiction, instead becoming the backdrop of everyday life.’
The Wall Street Journal
‘With the appearance of Kingdom Cons, all three of Yuri Herrera’s novellas, which meld evocations of contemporary Mexican life with different forms of mythologizing, are at last available in English . . . This cunning little drama about the line separating art from agitprop is, like the other books, translated with colloquial verve by Lisa Dillman. The Artist’s mission statement could speak for the whole of Mr. Herrera’s daring and memorable project: “Let them be scared, let the decent take offense. Put them to shame. Why else be an artist?”’
National Post (Canada)
‘Evocative of a very real – and very fraught – milieu . . . the novel burns through plot and features bursts of terse lyrical reverie.’
'Kingdom Cons displays . . . a gritty and highly stylized realism played out by dramatic, archetypal characters [and] exemplifies, in a host of ways, what leads people to delusional behavior.’
‘A powerful and memorable meditation on the social and economic value of art in a world ruled by the pursuit of power.’
The Big Issue
‘[Herrera’s] story world is brutal but makes room for art, both in the Artist’s personal growth and in Herrera’s sparse yet powerful prose. Simple turns of phrase can astonish as much as the plot does in its gravity. The clear hierarchy and the price of disobedience feel almost medieval and, as in Herrera’s previous novels, each shift in place marks a shift in the rules.’
‘Herrera is a jumbler of cultural forms, both literary and vernacular. Kingdom Cons is narrated with a bardic omniscience, a mythopoetic tone satisfyingly coarsened by slangy dialogue. The musicality of the prose turns the slim novel into its own kind of narcocorrido.’
‘Slim and seductive, infused with the border-land, narco-world suspense that has marked Herrera as one of Mexico’s finest novelists, [Kingdom Cons] promises to be a sizzling summer read.’
W. S. Lyon
The Los Angeles Review of Books
‘The novel soars where legend and fine detail merge into something original and true.’
Financial Times Summer Reads
‘Herrera employs a fable-like tone to depict a world shot through with violence . . . [Valeria] Luiselli and Herrera are two of the best writers working today: unsentimental, clear-eyed witnesses in troubling times.'
Booksellers on The Transmigration of Bodies
‘Yuri Herrera's novels are like little lights in a vast darkness. I want to see whatever he shows me.’ Stephen Sparks, Green Apple Books, San Francisco, CA. ‘This is as noir should be, written with all the grit and grime of hard-boiled crime and all the literary merit we're beginning to expect from Herrera. Before the end he'll have you asking how, in the shadow of anonymity, do you differentiate between the guilty and the innocent?’ Tom Harris, Mr B’s Emporium, Bath. ‘Both hysterical and bleak, The Transmigration of Bodies builds an entire world in 100 pages. Herrera's ability to express everything in so few words, his skill of merging the argot of the streets with the poetry of life is unrivalled. The world his characters inhabit is dangerous and urban, like a postcard sent from the ends of the earth. Reading his compact novels is both exhilarating and unforgettable.’ Mark Haber, Brazos Bookstore, Houston, TX. ‘A fabulous book full of low-life characters struggling to get by. It's an everyday story of love, lust, disease and death. Indispensable.’ Matthew Geden, Waterstones Cork, Ireland. ‘Reading The Transmigration of Bodies was akin to being enveloped in a dream state, yet one that upon waking somehow makes profound sense. Another truly magnificent novel from one of the most exciting authors to emerge on the world stage for aeons.’ Ray Mattinson, Blackwell’s, Oxford. ‘A microcosmic look at the lives of two families straight out of a Shakespearean drama. Pick it up and you won't put it down till you've finished.’ Grace Waltemyer, Posman Books in Chelsea Market, NY. ‘A work replete with the gritty, informal prose first displayed in Signs — rooted firmly in the modern world yet evoking the feel of an epic divorced from time . . . a cross between Cormac McCarthy and a detective novel, an incisive portrait evoking a Mexican Inherent Vice.’ Marina Clementi, Seminary Co-op Bookstore, Chicago, IL. ‘The Transmigration of Bodies reads like a fever dream: an intense, enthralling examination of how people live in a city of the dying and the dead. It takes an extraordinary amount of skill to combine elements of noir, political commentary, hardboiled crime, and allegory (not to mention Shakespeare, with a seasoning of existential ennui) and keep the novel moving, or in this case, racing along. Herrera, clearly, has at least that much talent, and then some.’ Thomas Flynn, Volumes Bookcafe, Chicago, IL.
Booksellers on Kingdom Cons
‘Mesmerising & stunningly crafted 5⭐️!’ Rebecca Choudhury, Waterstones Birmingham ‘Razor sharp and inimitable – crafted in a way that resembles fable – Kingdom Cons is set in the wake of chaos around the border: the border between two particular countries, yes, but also between worlds, between possibilities, and between ways of seeing.’ John Ganiard, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor MI ‘Yuri Herrera is a master of the literary arts. His ability to capture the mind's eye and weave an indelible image and story is uncanny. This, his third novel, might be his best yet. In Kingdom Cons, Herrera delivers a stunning example of how art can dissolve boundaries and speak truth to power.’ Matt Keliher, Subtext Books, St Paul, MN ‘Kingdom Cons is revelatory. I think Yuri Herrera has created his own genre. The mix of high and low culture, the argot of the streets with the poetic narrative - it's something else. Mexico as a hallucination.’ Mark Haber, Brazos Bookstore, Houston, TX