Staff Chat: Our Narco-Fairytale #BrazosBest

Keaton: It’s Keaton here with Mark and Sara to discuss our Brazos Best pick for July 2017: KINGDOM CONS by the inimitable Yuri Herrera, translated by Lisa Dillman (also incomparable).

This is the third in a thematic trilogy by Herrera, also including SIGNS PRECEDING THE END OF THE WORLD and THE TRANSMIGRATION OF BODIES, which was the Best Translated Book Award winner of 2016. Definitely one of the most vital and talked-about writers from the remarkable Mexican literary scene of today.

This is another astounding, very strange book centering around the violence that is such a big issue in the borderland, and also issues of immigration, travel. I’ll just start it out by throwing this out there, that really the link I see that holds these books together is love. You have in SIGNS PRECEDING a familial love between a sister and a brother that drives the narrative, TRANSMIGRATION of course you have the doomed corpses of lovers, and this one you have more of a straightforward romance between an artist and his muse, to a certain extent.

Mark: That’s a good thematic thing. I was going to ask Sara, also, this was your first experience with him, so what did you think?

Sara: It is! I loved this so much. I thought it held such a beautiful relationship to language. This book came out originally in 2004 in Mexico, I think.

M: I know it was his first book, his last in English…

S: It’s really fun to be able to come to this as my first experience with him it being his first book as well, although it’s the third for so many others. I was a huge fan of fantasy when I was growing up, tween and teen, and this just keys right into that sense of not-quite-familiar, not-quite-comfortable atmosphere that I loved so much. In a very elegant, dark, adult way of course. It’s just a spectacular reacquaintance with this method of storytelling for me. I’m adoring it.

And you’ve read all three, Mark, right?

M: I’ve read all three, and I think Keaton’s right, an overlying theme would be love. Especially… There are these modern themes about cartels and crossing borders (well, that’s a pretty classic theme, I guess), but there’s also these really traditional themes, about trying to survive and be a good person in a world that won’t let you be a good person when bad things are surrounding you. Like in this book with the artist, he’s just surrounded by corruption, and he’s not allowed to survive without becoming corrupt himself, basically. So I’m a big fan of his stuff and he really is inimitable.

You read a lot of Mexican literature, everyone has their own voice, but I think his definitely stands on its own because of that mix. There’s been articles out especially since this book came out about Dillman’s ability to take Spanish slang and street argot, and really turn it into English. she’s done a fantastic job. We, of course, have talked about her with SUCH SMALL HANDS, i think all of Andres Barba’s books. She’s just a great, talented — super talented — translator.

S: She moves so smoothly from author to author, this is a completely different reading experience from SUCH SMALL HANDS. I love the way she translates little moments as slang. It’s not gimmicky, it’s beautiful. It lends itself so well to the narrative.

K: I’ll also just mention, the artist is a musician, plays the accordion and sings these corridos, these folk ballads about the exploits of the “king,” the drug kingpin and his court. Even the rhythm she has for this type of music is just spot on. It’s great.

With all of his work, I’m just really taken with his seamless merger of war-ish crime fiction with very contemporary issue-driven subjects such as immigration and drug violence, as well as just this kind of fableistic tone, this allegorical tone he has with his work. Everything from the names such as “the Artist” and “the King” which is pretty much throughout all his works.

The only real name I can think of off the top of my head is the heroine for SIGNS PRECEDING. Makina? she has her own name. But everyone else is pretty much referred to in this allegorical, symbolist way. It doesn’t pluck it from the visceral real gritty subject matter but it elevates it in a certain literary way that is very effective. I don’t know how to describe it. It just draws you in.

S: Totally agree.

M: A lot of the characters in TRANSMIGRATION are like “the Dolphin” and “the Scorpion” and the main character is “the Redeemer,” his job is to make deals peacefully. Really clever names, almost like West Side Story in a way… It harkens back to something else but he makes it very new.

S: In regard to the names as well, I just wanted to mention one more thing: that is, there’s this moment toward the end where he’s transitioned from his role as “the Artist” back to his name, Lobo, again. And they’re talking about these other individuals outside of the King’s court, and the only other nickname they use is “the wetback,” this individual who tried to cross into the US and they deported him back to Mexico, and they didn’t want him in Mexico either, so they kicked him out as well. Herrera uses that word to describe a person who isn’t even necessarily identified by other folks in the story as Mexican, or as belonging to the space. He uses names not just as markers for the spaces and identities that people hold, but also the identities that they don’t hold, that they’re partially in and partially out of. I like a level of irony.

K: Mark, you have the most experience with Herrera’s work, why do you think he chooses to structure his stories this way?

M: I don’t know. I think, like you said, he realizes that with the stories he’s trying to tell, this way is the most effective. I don’t know how long he took to find his voice or write these stories and feel out the way he wanted to tell them.

K: The only thing I can think of is that by putting a fairytale-esque or almost medieval, especially with this one, king’s court aspect in it, it’s centered in a very contemporary world, but it makes it seem that much more timeless. 


S: Yeah.

K: And that makes it more universal, even for people who may not have experienced living in a drug king’s court, so to speak.

S: Yuri Herrera talks about the theme of the drug cartel as being just that, a motif, rather than the point of the story. So pulling between those two motifs, the drug cartel and the medieval court, creates a sense of timelessness, as you were saying.

M: I also think a little bit of the remake they made in the late 90’s of Romeo and Juliet, and they filmed it in Mexico City. They use Shakespeare’s words, but it’s in this ultra-modern mega-city. Neon, very hyper. it gives me that feel, it’s this juxtaposition that clicks and it works.

I think everyone is going to love this book, as they’ve loved the previous two.

K: Well, I was going to mention on the note of love… The concept of family is very much in the center of these three novels. I find that curious in the sense that you have these relationships, these families, by blood or by choice, trying to survive in this world, in this drug cartel world. Drug cartels, and the mafia, for the people that are inside of them, tend to refer to themselves as a family. Think about the five families of New York…

And so it’s that overlay of the criminal family and what will actually survive. That was one of the notions that hit me when I was reading his books as well. I don’t think you can go wrong with any of Herrera’s books.

M: And they can be read in any order.

K: Yeah, it’s a thematic trilogy, they’re not sequential in any way. Anybody looking for a literary read, or even a noirish crime thrill, or something that has what no other book has, you’re going to find it in KINGDOM CONS for sure, and all of Herrera’s works. I’m really excited to share this with all of our customers, and our friends.

One of the amazing parts about reading KINGDOM CONS is the ability to draw thematic links between Herrera’s three books. Through the month of July, buy all three of Herrera’s books published And Other Stories… (SIGNS PRECEDING THE END OF THE WORLD, THE TRANSMIGRATION OF BODIES, and KINGDOM CONS) and we will offer you a 15% discount.

Kingdom Cons Cover Image
By Yuri Herrera, Lisa Dillman (Translator)
$13.95
ISBN: 9781908276926
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: And Other Stories - June 13th, 2017

The Transmigration of Bodies Cover Image
By Yuri Herrera, Lisa Dillman (Translator)
$13.95
ISBN: 9781908276728
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: And Other Stories - July 5th, 2016

Signs Preceding the End of the World Cover Image
By Yuri Herrera, Lisa Dillman (Translator)
$13.95
ISBN: 9781908276421
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: And Other Stories - March 10th, 2015

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