Herbert, known previously mostly as a poet, is now — with this playful experiment of memoir, fiction, humor and tragedy — among the more interesting and ambitious prose stylists of our time ... Beyond all the power and poetry of a reckoning with poverty is the book's sly and wonderful handling of the literary world ... Herbert's ambitious novel is the pleasing work of a high stylist having fun, loving life, making a good story despite a country's miseries and his own.
Tomb Song leaves space for the high-minded, the sociopolitical and the pop culture-obsessed ... Tomb Song is an inherently contradictory book: The experimental aspects of its structure have a playfulness to them, which in turn contrasts with the (literally) life-or-death stakes at its core ... This novel sprawls, but never loses sight of the human connection at its core — and it’s all the more moving as a result.
The suspension of melodrama and morality allows readers of Tomb Song to experience the fears and pains of life and death without being bailed out by easy life lessons or by cheap solutions appealing to the transcendent or the divine ... It is fortunate that Herbert’s complex book found in Christina MacSweeney, a distinguished and brilliant translator, someone with the sensibility to deliver its many emotional and formal dimensions into English ... Tomb Song, in the sections I have described here and the ones that I leave for the reader to discover, is one of the most important, exciting, and original works of literature to come out of Latin America in the past decade.
Tomb Song is more than an elegy, more than a meditation. Herbert takes a deep dive into an emotional, interconnected story on death, family, love and ambition, resulting in a work that is at once personal and universal ... The book — like Julian, like his mother, like their relationship — is messy, but given the careful, poetic language and musical paragraphs, it’s clear the leaps and transitions between narratives, times and countries, are intentional, meant to mimic the reflective turmoil that comes when experiencing death for the first time ... a powerful, bittersweet debut.
...a literary tour de force that resembles a fever dream, with no clear line between what is invented or imagined, what is real, what misremembered, and what hallucinated ... Tomb Song is rich and rewarding for any mother’s son (or daughter) and will particularly resonate with those familiar with Mexican history and popular culture.
Among his Spanish-speaking fan base, Herbert is known for his dazzling language, and this, his English debut translated lovingly by Christina MacSweeney, does not disappoint. Simultaneously gorgeous and dirty, he brings us poignant moments of beauty only to quickly destroy them with the filth lurking naturally behind. This is his life — driven by opium one moment, by love or sense of duty the next — and how he chooses to see, feel, and write it ... Whether we trust him or not, the stories weave elegantly. And whether you like him as the protagonist or not, his performance leaves you intrigued and invested.
Though the term has existed since the late 1970s, 'autofiction' is experiencing a renaissance in contemporary literature...Essentially fictionalized autobiographies, these works permit the author to tell personal tales while amplifying details or toying with narrative form. Joining the ranks of notable new autofictions is Mexican scribe Julián Herbert’s absorbing Tomb Song, a novel that chronicles the author’s bedside vigils of his mother, Guadalupe, as leukemia slowly eats through her body. A mix of anecdotes and metafictional self-awareness, Herbert’s narrative—skillfully translated by Christina MacSweeney—rises above its gloomy premise to meditate on the idea of family while questioning the ways we engage reality and relate our experiences to others.