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 often darkly funny exploration of sex, love, and death.
“Beyond all the power and poetry of a reckoning with poverty is the book's sly and wonderful handling of the literary world, from the narrator's assignment to write about a slain union boss to his boozy, opium-fueled trip to Havana with a writers' conference. In these moments, Herbert is at his surest and funniest, blurring the line between fact and fiction, between the idea of story as something we inherit versus the idea that any good narrative is merely a record of invention itself.”—Los Angeles Times
“At once a thrilling document of lives spent along the margins, and a bright burst of formal reinvention, Tomb Song remains elegiac and life-affirming.”—BOMB
“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 Gazette (Cedar Rapids)