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By Liliana Heker

Translated from the Spanish by Andrea G. Labinger

Reviewed by Amalia Gladhart

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The End of the Story, first published in Argentina in 1996, centers on the experience of Leonora Ordaz, a Montonera guerrilla who is imprisoned, tortured, and ultimately becomes the lover of one of her captors, and the efforts of her childhood friend Diana Glass to capture that experience in writing. Heker's novel is the story of Diana's efforts to write—and what she writes—but it is also the story of yet another writer, Hertha Bechofen. Hertha offers Diana a degree of shelter in an informal writing workshop, but ultimately she appropriates the central elements of Diana's narrative for a narrative of her own.

In this self-referential novel, which circles repeatedly back to the beginning and continually questions the material to be narrated as well as the possibility of its telling, it is difficult to identify the truth of what "really" happened. Diana Glass' perceptions—emotional and visual—are conditioned by her myopia; Leonora Ordaz's by her torture and imprisonment; and Hertha Bechofen's by her own experience with a prior totalitarian regime in Nazi Germany.

Although horrific acts of torture are described, the overall tone of the novel is curiously dispassionate, which keeps the reader at a distance. The English title is appropriate; although it elides the duality of historia, both story and history (the Spanish title of the novel is El fin de la historia), this novel is principally about the attempt to make a story, to construct a plausible narrative shape. At the same time, references to particular dates and public figures, and quotations of poetry, political slogans and popular songs, imply a readership with a shared history and offer instances of the scraps and found material out of which Diana Glass attempts to fashion her novel. Often, clich├ęd or formulaic language (such as, to leave no stone unturned) is recast in search of a way to tell a story that seems to resist being formulated in narrative terms.

Book Cover Diana Glass is preoccupied with how to begin her story. Many writers struggle with that point of departure, but here it is symptomatic of the overall problem: how to start, let alone continue, to tell the multiple stories and personal and public histories of what happened, began to happen, failed to happen, was prevented from happening, or happened over and over again during the dictatorship. And there are gaps. Garita, putative leader of the writing workshop held in Bechofen's home, chides Diana, "I have the impression that the heart of the matter always lies in the things you don't want to tell." Within the frame of Diana's narrative are other instances of writing and of storytelling: Leonora writes, for her captors, an account of the movement, its tactics, ideologies, and methods. Leonora's daughter asks her father for the same bedtime story every night; only a particular story, told always in the same way, can comfort her. The last word goes to Hertha Bechofen, more enigmatic than Diana Glass and, when it comes to narrative control, more assertive.

Heker, a respected fiction writer and the editor of influential literary magazines, remained in Argentina during the last military dictatorship (1976-83) and has been an active participant in debates about the role and possibilities of intellectuals inside and outside of Argentina during that period. Heker's novel has been controversial in Spanish, in particular due to the representation of the Montonera guerrilla who betrays her comrades. The roots of Leonora Ordaz's guerrilla activity are not explored in detail; instead, her early days of activism are evoked by Diana Glass through a haze of nostalgic recollection in which youthful idealism, classroom rebellion, and adolescent self-discovery and uncertainty are intermingled.

Translator Andrea Labinger's English effectively conveys a kind of hollowed-out storytelling, one that recycles set expressions yet also shifts between registers, at times aggressive and vulgar, at others cool and analytical, at still others warmly sentimental. In an article in the on-line journal 91st Meridian, published by the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa (5.1; February 2007), Labinger describes the ethical dilemma of the translator working on a novel that, according to some interpretations, seems to undermine the political positions of thinkers she respects. She asks, "How should we as readers, translators, and citizens of the world, react to the voice of authority (authorial or otherwise) when we recognize that it can't be trusted?"

Heker's novel is not entirely satisfying. Is the traitor condemned? Yes. Are her actions understandable? Almost. But who is telling the story, and when, and from what perspective? The reader is left with an uncertainty, a troubling emptiness. But I'm not sure that's a fault in the novel. The End of the Story seems rather a novel that aims to unsettle, not to resolve.

The End of the Story is published by Biblioasis as part of their international translation series, 2012. ISBN 9781926845487

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Photo of Amalia Gladhart
Amalia Gladhart is Associate Professor of Spanish at the University of Oregon. She has published widely on contemporary Latin American theater and narrative, and her poetry and short fiction have appeared in journals such as Iowa Review, Stone Canoe, Bellingham Review and Permafrost. Her published translations include Beyond the Islands and The Potbellied Virgin, both novels by Alicia Yánez Cossío, and "Reunion," by Ecuadorian writer Gilda Holst. She is currently working on a translation of short stories by Argentine writer Angélica Gorodischer.

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