cover image Season of the Swamp

Season of the Swamp

Yuri Herrera, trans. from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman. Graywolf, $26 (160p) ISBN 978-1-64445-307-0

In this mesmerizing picaresque, Herrera (Ten Planets) speculates about the 18 months future Mexican president Benito Juárez spent in New Orleans during his exile following a dispute with then-president Santa Anna. Upon his arrival in the U.S. in December 1855, Benito and his small band of revolutionaries witness the arrest and beating of a young Black man. Troubled and disoriented, they’re then preyed upon by a family of con artists. Soon, they befriend an amoral printer named Cabañas, who rationalizes his fugitive slave posters (“It’s not like anyone’s capturing them in order to take away their freedom. They never had it to begin with”), prompting Benito to debate him. Cabañas then introduces Benito to coffee shop proprietor Thisbee, a Black woman whom Benito finds enchanting, and Benito eventually learns she’s helping people escape from slavery. Inspired by Thisbee’s resistance, Benito encourages his compatriots to develop a lofty vision for their country’s future, which Herrera never explicates. Instead, he focuses on the ways in which Benito is shaped by his stay. As glorious and messy as the best New Orleans gumbo, the novel comes together as Herrera vividly depicts the chaos of Mardi Gras, during which Benito is frightened and charmed in equal measure; the unsavory characters with whom he forms uneasy alliances; and his phantasmagorical dreams while fighting a bout of yellow fever. It’s a triumph. (Oct.)