‘The Transmigration of Bodies’ by Yuri Herrera (2013) – 101 pages Translated by Lisa Dillman
Now is the time to ask. How does Yuri Herrera do it? How does he put us readers in the mood for his own distinctive form of noir with only a few short sentences? Let’s look at the first few sentences of ‘The Transmigration of Bodies’.
“A scurvy thirst awoke him and he got up to get a glass of water, but the tap was dry and all that trickled out was a thin stream of dank air.”
This definitely establishes the desolate mood for what follows.
“Eying the third of mescal on the table with venom, he got the feeling it was going to be an awful day.”
Here we get a sense of grim foreboding.
“He had no way of knowing it already was, had been for hours, truly awful, much more awful than the private little inferno he’d built himself on booze.”
Here we go from individual apprehension to a general sense of dread.
“He decided to go out.”
In a short staccato sentence, our hero acts. With these few words, Herrera has set the mood which is desolate, truly awful. This is a time of plague when everyone must wear masks over their faces to protect themselves. However that terrible unease does not prevent our hero from acting. Our hero is known as The Redeemer. He fixes things between people. In ‘The Transmigration of Bodies’ we have two families, each of whom are holding the dead body of a member of the other family. Herrera gives us vivid descriptions of the decaying bodies These are people the Redeemer has known and liked. It is up to The Redeemer to perform a body swap between these families in this desolate plague zone.
Herrera wins us over to the side of the Redeemer with the following:
“What did he expect, a man like him, who ruined suits the moment he put them on: no matter how nice they looked in shop windows, hanging off his bones they wrinkled in an instant, fell down, lost their grace.”
I can sure identify with that remark.
‘The Transmigration of Bodies’ is not quite as austere and single-minded as ‘Signs Preceding the End of the World’. In ‘Transmigration’ there are a few too many characters to keep track of. However, ‘Transmigration’ contains enough good things so that I am giving it the same grade as ‘Signs’. It is another strong performance from Herrera.
Herrera gives us an insight into his own writing when he discusses the words that get written on a tombstone:
“I will love you always. I can never forgive you. Forget about me. I’ll be back. You’ll pay for this. Words that etch deeper than a chisel.”
The funny thing is that in my notes I kept for ‘Transmigration’, I had already written “Short sentences that stay etched in the mind, chiseled, imprinted.”