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Gloria Guardia: Tiniebla blanca [White Darkness]
When she was twenty, Gloria Guardia’s mother saw an advert for a competition in Spain for young Spanish-speaking novelists under 25. Her mother encouraged Gloria to enter. She hurriedly wrote the novel, entered it in the competition and won.
The unnamed narrator of this novel is, like Guardia herself, a Panamanian student at Vassar College. Her mother had died and her father, feeling he could not cope, sent the narrator and her brother to the United States to study. She has two close friends, Alessa, her room-mate, from Italy, and Jeanne, from France, who seems to be well-off, as she has her own car and an apartment in New York. When the women find studying too hard, they head off to New York for relaxation. As they are about eighty-five miles from New York, they often spend the night at the Vassar Club.
One night, our narrator goes to a hamburger joint (hamburger and a coke 70 cents!). While looking for payment, she realises that she has forgotten her money back in Vassar and is left only with change, which amounts to a dollar after the hamburger and coke. She remembers that her brother had told her that her uncle and aunt had moved to New York, so she finds them in the phone directory. She is invited over – they live in an expensive Park Avenue apartment. Her uncle José Antonio, but generally simply called Antonio, is the younger brother of her father, while her aunt is Argentinian. They have no children.
They are very welcoming and she is told that she can come back when she wants. However, on the following occasion when she and she friends are out with Antonio, he squeezes her hand quite strongly under the table. She is shocked, withdraws her hand and wonder what he means by it. She later tells Alessa and Alessa suggests that she invite Carmen to Vassar to discuss it, which she does. However, in her discussion with Carmen, she is surprised to learn that Carmen is well aware of Antonio’s interest in her and is eager to encourage it. It seems that, in Carmen’s view, Antonio no longer loves her, the implication is that they no longer have sex and they do not have children. The arrival of their niece is like the arrival of the daughter they have never had and Carmen feels that, through the narrator, Antonio will rediscover his affection for her.
Our narrator does have a sort of boyfriend. He is Enrique Alberto, a Chilean, studying at Georgetown, in Washington, D.C. He frequently visits and phones daily. She is not terribly enthusiastic but he is pleasant enough and there is nobody else. Alessa and Jeanne both have boyfriends whom they also have doubts about.
Our narrator continues to see her aunt and uncle but it is clear that his interest in her is not simply as an uncle. Moreover, she finds him a very attractive man, certainly more so than Enrique Alberto. Worrying where things are going, our narrator decides to accept Enrique Alberto’s proposal of marriage. Her aunt and uncle immediately and enthusiastically volunteer to host the wedding. Her remote father gives his blessing but seems supremely indifferent to his daughter’s future. However, when visiting her aunt and uncle, her aunt is out and she is alone with her uncle and they start kissing…
Guardia subtly develops the story line. In this day and age (2018, post-Weinstein), we are immediately suspicious of Antonio’s motives. In the presumably more innocent days of 1960, there is clearly room for doubt, though the narrator, young and innocent though she may be, interprets Antonio’s first move as a sexual rather than an avuncular advance. In the light of Carmen’s outpouring, she is prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. However, she too is attracted to him, obviously well aware that her behaviour is not likely to be approved by anyone and, eventually, she succumbs with, as it turns out, disastrous consequences.
Much of the story is simply a recounting of the narrator’s life at Vassar – her friends, their talks, her studies, their escape to New York – with the main plot line sneaking in every so often. However, Guardia does cleverly gradually raise the stakes and also cleverly shows us how interesting Antonio is compared to Enrique Alberto, a very dull man. But, post-Weinstein, I think this story would have a different edge to it.
First published in 1961 by Cultura Clásica y Moderna
No English translation