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Kyle Callert on Gabriela Ybarra

At 3 AM Magazine, Kyle Callert traces the line between truth and imagination — and, more problematically, the line between truth and the reconstruction of truth — in Gabriela Ybarra’s The Dinner Guest, translated by Natasha Wimmer:

This story is told piecemeal — partly through imagined account, partly through description of Ybarra’s own research, and partly through history, letters, newspaper clippings, the word games placed by the family, and photographs. In all, this effectively replicates the fragmented way the family, and thus the author herself, uncovered the full story of [her grandfather] Javier’s death [at the hands of the Basque separatist group ETA].

The story is also inherently enigmatic, which perhaps helps explain why Ybarra chose to freely reconstruct the history of her family rather than meticulously research and report it. Much of that work, of course, had already been done — [Javier’s] kidnapping [by ETA], understandably, was well covered by the press. But on another level, any kidnapping is also the story of an absence. There is only so much of reality that the facts will account for, especially so when most of the action — if that is the right word for it — is little more than family members’ anxious waiting. Filling in the gaps with what others remember, even if those memories are not corroborated and may be out of order, with what Ybarra or her narrator can invent makes sense — surely, that way, a more accurate emotional picture would emerge.

Curiously, however, Ybarra does not take the expected steps afforded by this authorial freedom. There is no attempt to dive into the interiority of those involved, no imagined experience of her grandfather’s time in captivity, no characterization of the kidnappers, or, for that matter, of anyone. If there is any emotion prevalent in the section on the kidnapping, it is disorientation; information is given to the reader without pause.