Signs Preceding the End of the World
circles of hell. I tried to read writers who might have styles, or tones, or non-standard usage that I would find in some way comparable or analogous. The most helpful was Cormac McCarthy (in particular The Road , another tale—coincidentally, or not?—that can be read on different levels, one of which is “the end of the world”). I made word lists and devised ways to be non-standard in English (unusual collocations, creative compound nouns, nominalization of verbs and verbalization of nouns). I looked for ways to work in alliteration to lend the English rhythm, to lend it sonority. And even if much of this was culled during successive revisions and edits, these strategies informed the entire undertaking of the project, leaving their mark.
    In addition, I tried to create an English that was geographically non-explicit, although, like me, the translation speaks mostly American English. To explain what I mean by that, let me offer a couple of examples. The novel’s dialogues are often peppered with language—colloquialisms, slang, expressions, culturally-embedded references—that could only take place in Mexico (or on the Mexico–USA border). Translating only what readers might see as the meaning of these conversations and references might arguably produce a comprehensible and accurate text, though it would lose its regional flavor and intimacy (think of the difference between “a bonnie lass” and “a pretty girl,” for instance). Nevertheless, attempting to find an English dialect that would serve as a linguistic “parallel” is problematic. Should Mexican gangsters speak like mobsters in The Godfather ? If not, is there another group they should speak like? My answer is “no.” Instead, I’ve endeavored to do two things. First, I have sometimes “marked” the language as non-standard in ways that are not geographically recognizable. In dialogues, this meant emphasizing the oral nature of the language (using colloquialisms such as “yond” for “over there,” abbreviating “about” to “bout,” for example). Second, I have occasionally left specific words in Spanish, deliberately choosing not to translate. When a character calls his mother jefecita , for example (literally, “little boss”—a not terribly uncommon term of endearment), she remains jefecita in the translation. My intention here is to leave a linguistic reminder to the reader that this is, in fact, a translated text, and to avoid renderings (“momma,” “moms,” etc.) that might be genuinely intimate, but cringe-makingly American for language meant to come out of a rural Mexican teenager’s mouth.
    Unsurprisingly, I also spent a tremendous amount of time considering possibilities for the novel’s most talked-about neologism: jarchar . Yuri himself has discussed this verb in multiple places. Within Signs , it means, essentially, “to leave.” The word is derived from jarchas (from the Arabic kharja ,meaning exit), which were short Mozarabic verses or couplets tacked on to the end of longer Arabic or Hebrew poems written in Al-Andalus, the region we now call Spain. Written in the vernacular, these lyric compositions served as a sort of bridge between cultures and languages, Mozarabic being a kind of hybrid that was, of course, not yet Spanish. And on one level Signs is just that: a book about bridging cultures and languages. Jarchar , too, is a noun-turned-verb. I wrangled with myself—and spoke somewhat obsessively with others—over how best to render this term, debating multiple options before finally deciding on “to verse” (the two runners-up were “to port” and “to twain”). Used in context it is easily understood, and has the added benefits of also being a noun-turned-verb, a term clearly referring to poetry, and part of several verbs involving motion and communication (traverse, reverse, converse) as well as the “end” of the uni-verse. Makina, the protagonist, is the character who most often “verses,”

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