When the protagonist of Estaré sola y sin fiesta finds an old diary, tossed in a pile of rubbish by the side of a canal, there is something in the simple prose of this stranger, called Yna, that makes her want to know more. Yna’s story has a contagious force that, despite the distance, obliges our narrator to think about herself, to the point of putting her whole life on hold while she begins an investigation that will take her to Bilbao, Barcelona, Salou, Peñíscola and finally, back to Zaragoza. An amazing novel of love and learning that is also a journey through Spain written by a young and award-winning literary revelation.
She hates being here. The open coffin is a depressing backdrop to such dull conversations. Voices seeking comfort in the past, talking about the village, growing up after the Civil War. Other voices looking to the future: has your cousin started university? Are you planning to stay in your job? And more frivolous questions: did you guys get a new car? When are you going on holiday? Where are you going? And the awkward question, the one they’re expecting either her or her mother to ask the in-laws, the one which must annoy Ángel: have you heard from your father at all? It’s not that they actually care, they’re just passing the time until they can go home.
She talks more than usual: about the company she works for, her latest projects, Carlos, going to Cannes. She feels miserable, lost in all these words she’s obliged to say, prayers she has to recite, tears she has to shed, promises she has to make. After an hour there’s a bottleneck at the front of the chapel. Everyone wants to leave, but no one wants to be the first to walk out the door. Except her. She says she needs to stretch her legs and her mother catches her eye. What are you doing? But she lets her leave. No, it’s not that she lets her. She can’t stop her.
She decides to walk home. Walking along the canal, she sees it. She doesn’t normally walk around here; she was born and bred in this city but she doesn’t live here anymore, and even when she did, she didn’t live anywhere near this area. Regardless, she walks like someone who knows a place well. With that composure. She doesn’t have much chance to think about it. She sees an orange skip piled with stuff on the other side of the road and she realises: this is a singular moment. It’s going to be a singular moment. It’s like she’s recognised the ‘something happened’ feeling and knows there’s a tale to tell. And she wishes it wasn’t like this, as she crosses over the road she has time to wish it wasn’t like this. She wishes the story was unfolding in response to a heroic act, or something she’s able to control, instead of starting just by chance.
She stops in front of the skip. The way the rubbish is piled up puts her in mind of a catastrophe, like a death, an escape, an eviction. Curtains. Cushions. Broken lamps. Dresses. Shelves. And books, a few photo albums, half of them sticking out of the skip, others in boxes or strewn around on the ground. Dolls, rugs, toothbrushes, shoes. She finds herself rummaging through some sheets, picking up some semi-transparent shopping bags full of women’s dresses and jackets. It reminds her of summers in the village, of brightly coloured photos in old magazines, of her grandparent’s house, of places consigned to the past. Hats. Tablecloths. Snow globes with miniature cities trapped inside them. Velour, picture frames, rags, a whole life chucked away. She’s crouching down, she’s rummaging around. The curtains, the cushions, the dolls. She stops: what exactly is she doing? She remembers her first impression from the other side of the road: an eviction, a death, a disaster. She imagines a house with the blinds down, an old lady dying while waiting for the phone to ring. Motionless. Impassive, eyes fixed on the receiver in a complete act of faith. She doesn’t know why that image comes to mind. Is she finding something horrible amusing? She tries to conjure up the scene: maybe it’s nothing bad, why is she always so negative? Maybe it’s something good, the start of a better life: they threw the stuff away to buy a nicer house, a bigger house. Maybe it’s nothing more than that, what is she doing wasting her time on this?
She’s ready to go but something keeps her there. She’s stuck in front of the skip, now, not daring to touch anything. Passive. As passive as can be, bearing in mind she is half a metre in front of an overflowing skip. And then she sees it. There, in among the curtains, the miniature cities, the grimy sheets. It’s a small blue notebook with a swallow on the front cover. It’s sticking out from under a tablecloth and a magazine rack. She grabs it. There’s a name on the cover: ‘Yna 04/1990.’ Barely legible pages, a calendar from 1990 with some months crossed out, lines written in English: ‘I love you, I need you.’
She gets up with the notebook in her hand. She thinks to herself vaguely that it’s fine, it’s better than entertaining herself with someone else’s photo albums or rifling through their drawers. This is something so small that no one would really care.
Heading along the road, she can hear a voice following her in the noise of the passing cars. It keeps whispering words that accumulate shapelessly, fading away before they can become sentences. She walks slowly, as slowly as she can. She remembers that when she was a little girl she went through a phase where she’d go to great lengths not to step on any insects, obsessively looking out for them on the pavement. She remembers that she eventually forgot and how one afternoon she suddenly remembered that she hadn’t been looking where she was going for more than a week. She burst into tears: seven whole days without looking where she was going, entire families of ants crushed under her feet. She puts the notebook in her bag and continues her slow walk. It’s a secret, a magic object. It’s the first Thursday in August and it’s impossibly hot. But she keeps walking. She doesn’t catch the bus.
By Sara Barquinero
Translated by Iona Macinytre
An extract from Estaré sola y sin fiesta, by Sara Barquinero (published by Lumen, 2021), translated by Iona Macintyre. For more details please contact: email@example.com.
From ESTARÉ SOLA Y SIN FIESTA
(‘I Will Be All Alone And without a Party’)
By Sara Barquinero
Translated by Iona Macinytre
Published by Lumen (2021)
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Sara Barquinero is a Spanish writer whose first novel Terminal, was published in 2020. She has won numerous prizes and her latest novel, Estaré sola y sin fiesta, was published in 2021. She is currently working on a project entitled Los escorpiones, which will be made up of five novels.
Iona Macintyre is a scholar and translator. Her and Fiona Macintosh’s co-translation of Gabriela Cabezón Cámara’s The Adventures of China Iron was shortlisted for the 2020 International Booker Prize. She was one of the translators into English of Escape Goat, the 2020 Portuguese Covid-inspired lockdown novel.