On the heels of his Best Translated Book Award-winning Signs Preceding the End of the World comes Yuri Herrera’s short, gritty, noir-esque The Transmigration of Bodies, winner of the English PEN Award, translated by Lisa Dillman and published by And Other Stories. The book, set in an unnamed city, is Herrera’s “response to the violence of contemporary Mexico”, giving us a glimpse into the lives of people affected by drug wars and gang violence. It starts off with our protagonist, as yet unidentified, waking up to an eerie, apocalyptic scene outside his bedroom window. The streets are quiet, abandoned, and as the protagonist looks around at the ominous setting before him he discovers swarms of mosquitos—carriers of a mysterious and deadly plague that has swept the city into a wave a frightened, paranoid hysteria—sucking on what appear to be puddles of blood in the street.
It’s here where we quickly understand that the protagonist, along with being fairly drunk, is a tired, sad, sexually frustrated (although apparently charming) man whose idea of normal is a life of violence and death, who would surely be more shocked to see an act of kindness than of brutality. The mental state of the protagonist becomes even more interesting when we learn his identity, as The Redeemer, an attorney-turned-fixer who goes between feuding crime families to solve conflicts before they escalate into all-out wars. This is a man who is struggling to grasp whatever frayed threads of goodness remain in his warped world, who seems without hope and who is trying, without much succes, not to give up on the idea that there is such a thing, somewhere out there, for someone.
What Herrera manages to accomplish quite spectacularly in this compact story is an enormous depth of character and a strange, gripping, disconcerting, brilliant examination of the human condition and the ways in which people adapt to survive.