Sitting at the bedside of his mother as she is dying from leukemia in a hospital in northern Mexico, the narrator of Tomb Song is immersed in memories of his unstable boyhood and youth. His mother, Guadalupe, was a prostitute, and Julián spent his childhood with his half brothers and sisters, each from a different father, moving from city to city and from one tough neighborhood to the next.
Swinging from the present to the past and back again, Tomb Song is not only an affecting coming-of-age story but also a searching and sometimes frenetic portrait of the artist. As he wanders the hospital, from its buzzing upper floors to the haunted depths of the morgue, Julián tells fevered stories of his life as a writer, from a trip with his pregnant wife to a poetry festival in Berlin to a drug-fueled and possibly completely imagined trip to another festival in Cuba. Throughout, he portrays the margins of Mexican society as well as the attitudes, prejudices, contradictions, and occasionally absurd history of a country ravaged by corruption, violence, and dysfunction.
Inhabiting the fertile ground between fiction, memoir, and essay, Tomb Song is an electric prose performance, a kaleidoscopic, tender, and often darkly funny exploration of sex, love, and death. Julián Herbert’s English-language debut establishes him as one of the most audacious voices in contemporary letters.