On one level this is a very simple tale of a young Mexican woman, Makina, who, on her mother’s instructions crosses the border to go and look for her brother. When she finds him, he’s serving in the US army under a false name and doesn’t want to go back. Makina returns empty-handed. There’s not much more to the plot than this and it soon becomes apparent that you’re not reading the portentously titled novel for plot. What you’re reading it for its whimsical poetic register, which the translator, Lisa Dillman, wrestles with manfully. The use of words which at first seem alien or invented start to make sense, even if one suspects there are many linguistic layers which simply cannot be accessed in translation. The book is about Makina’s journey to cross the border, but it is also about language and the way that it is wielded by the powerful and powerless. Language is one of the signs of that the title refers to. There’s a high concept pulse percolating through the apparently straightforward framework. Although, having said that, it still feels as though Herrera’s novel is something of a sketchy, introductory text, perhaps mapping out directions that the writer will explore in other works.