TOMB SONG by Julián Herbert


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A melancholy coming-of-age story, the American debut of Mexican writer Herbert.

Narrated in the first person, Herbert’s novel tells the story of a no-longer-quite-young man who attends to his mother as she lies dying of leukemia. “It’s her fault you’re white trash,” he reflects, quickly correcting himself: “but you’re not white, you’re a barefoot Indian a darkskin with a foreign name a biological joke a dirty mestizo and yes, yes: a piece of trash.” Mamá has her faults, to be sure: she had spent her working years as a working girl using various pseudonyms, and the narrator’s siblings are all the products of different fathers (“My elder sister, Adriana, is the bastard daughter of Isaac Valverde, an exceptional businessman and pimp”) who figured in her life in one way or another. Once passionate in his hatred for her, the narrator now inclines to a little more pity for the shriveled, exhausted figure on the hospital bed, “bald, silent, yellow, breathing with greater difficulty than a chick raffled off at a charity event.” The narrator’s tale jumps back and forth in time, recounting episodes in his life with Mamá, who once kicked him hard so that he would have a bruise to show off to the cops when complaining about an assault by a neighborhood kid. If anything, it reveals that the acorn doesn’t fall far from the encino; Mamá may not be a model of virtue, but her kid is fond of smoking crack, even in the bathroom of her hospital room, and of rough and unloving sex. Along the way, Herbert ventures pointed critiques at Mexican society, as when he notes that because of an error, Mamá had to have two death certificates: “What better homage could Mexican bureaucracy pay to a fugitive from her own name?”

Sometimes inelegant but deeply observed; a welcome arrival by a writer worth paying attention to.

Pub Date: March 6th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-55597-799-3
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Graywolf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2018


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