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The 2021 Graywolf Press African Fiction Prize is now open for submissions via Submittable through August 31, 2021.

The House of the Pain of Others

Chronicle of a Small Genocide
Julián Herbert; Translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney
Early in the twentieth century, amid the myths of progress and modernity that underpinned Mexico’s ruling party, some three hundred Chinese immigrants—close to half of the Cantonese residents of the newly founded city of Torreón—were massacred over the course of three days. It is considered the largest slaughter of Chinese people in the history of the Americas, an attempted extermination that was followed by denial or empty statements of regret. The massacre reverberated briefly before fading from collective memory. More than a century later, the facts continue to be elusive, mistaken, and repressed.

“And what do you know about the Chinese people who were killed here?” Julián Herbert asks anyone who will listen. An exorcism of persistent and discomfiting ghosts, The House of the Pain of Others attempts a reckoning with the 1911 massacre. Blending reportage, personal reflection, essay, and academic treatise, Herbert talks to taxi drivers and historians, travels to the scene of the crime, and digs deep into archives that contain conflicting testimony. Looping, digressive, and cinematic, this crónica vividly portrays the historical context as well as the lives of the perpetrators and victims of the “small genocide.” It is a distinctly twenty-first-century sort of Western, a tremendous literary performance that extends and enlarges the accomplishments of a significant international writer.

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A brilliant work of historical excavation with profound echoes in an age redolent with violence and xenophobia

About the Author

Julián  Herbert
Credit: Germán Siller

Julián Herbert was born in Acapulco in 1971. He is a writer, musician, and teacher, and is the author of The House of the Pain of Others and Tomb Song, as well as several volumes of poetry and two story collections. He lives in Saltillo, Mexico.

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Christina MacSweeney is the translator of The House of the Pain of Others and Tomb Song by Julián Herbert, and has published translations, articles, and interviews on a wide variety of platforms and contributed to several anthologies. She was awarded the 2016 Valle Inclán Translation Prize for her translation of Valeria Luiselli's The Story of My Teeth. She lives in England.
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  • “While [The House of the Pain of Others] is very much about a specific series of events, Herbert never loses sight of the larger implications of this behavior, or the way in which it echoes across nations and cultures. . . . The House of the Pain of Others stands as memorial and warning, and its reach crosses borders and oceans.”Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
  • “[The House of the Pain of Others] is both vivid and enthusiastically researched, examining each piece of available evidence to establish what must have happened at every stage and how it was obscured, then and later.”Harper’s
  • “If The House of the Pain of Others is a work of history, then, it’s a self-aware one, more cro´nica than objective report. The narrative is filtered through Herbert’s distinct sensibility, one that reveals how stories of the past are actually written—subjectively, provisionally, influenced by the sheer randomness of experience.”Bookforum
  • “Human progress is not linear, as Herbert's book reminds us with devastating effect. . . . A brilliant, breakthrough study which reminds us that the lessons of history are essential to learn and re-learn, if we are to steer our troubled present toward a more hopeful future.”Popmatters
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