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9 The Hidden Archivist; Or, Julia Alvarez’s Historical Fiction beyond the Borders Frans Weiser In-Between and Beyond: Alvarez’s Historical Narrator Luisa Valenzuela’s stories in Other Weapons (1982) utilize the emotional relationships between men and women to comment upon the repressive military regime in Argentina during the Dirty War. The opening novella, “Fourth Version,” complicates a straightforward plot—the love affair between an actress and an ambassador in an unnamed country where opposition to the government is “disappeared”—by introducing multiple narratorial levels. From the first paragraph, an unidentified editor interrupts the narrative to reveal that she or he is reconstructing events based on the murdered protagonist’s archive of diaries that the editor preserves, overtly emphasizing that the novella represents an interpretation of events several degrees removed: “I read the scattered pages over and over again, their order sometimes reconstructed at random. . . . I must by all means reconstruct the story—[but] whose story?” (3). By jettisoning sections of the diary, in addition to suggesting that the diary itself conceals as much as it reveals, the editor-archivist1 openly admits that the version the reader witnesses is partial and subjective. To complicate matters, the archivist is not the first to access the protagonist’s documents, for “in the different versions one 213 214 Frans Weiser discovers the presence of someone else who tried to make heads or tails of this confusing tale. There is no author and now I am the author, claiming the text and writing” (20); in the 1985 translation, “text” reads as “test,” though this is a misprint in the book. In other words, this is not a definitive history or biography, but rather, as the title suggests, one of many versions of the recent past. Why does this editor-turned-author remain between the lines even at the narrative’s end? The playfully ambiguous nature of the text invites the reader to identify the archivist with an author like Valenzuela herself, yet the issue ultimately at stake here is not identity; it is the power to represent—and potentially misrepresent—both one’s own and another individual’s story, whether simply as an editor revising a single person’s past or as a government rewriting an entire nation’s history. What is central to interpreting the text is imagining the omitted information —that which is not communicated on any of the various levels of the narrative. Julia Alvarez’s literary production is often classified in two distinct categories, personal/autobiographical and historical, yet she expresses concerns regarding identity and representation similar to those of Valenzuela via both these modes (Dalleo and Sáez 139). In fact, she began adopting a similar narrative strategy in her first novel, How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (1991), where by virtue of “[f]oregrounding the power of narrative omission . . . the story offers competing versions of events for readers to compile” (McCracken 28). When Alvarez turns her attention to the recovery of marginalized women’s histories, the lack of transparency evident in the narrative and archive takes on a new meaning that more fully historicizes the recent past that Valenzuela briefly revisits. In the following analysis, I argue that Alvarez engages with a less radical form of the hidden archivist in her three historical novels of the Caribbean: In the Time of the Butterflies (1994), In the Name of Salomé (2000), and Saving the World (2006), all of which challenge typical classifications of the genre.2 Each of these texts is structured around a paradoxically dialectical and complementary relationship between the past and the present, which utilizes multiple narrators in different time periods to highlight the interdependence of historical and contemporary moments. In addition to breaking with linear-chronological plots, Alvarez centralizes the act of narrating in such a way that not only recovers a marginalized chapter in Latin American history, but also empowers the individual 215 The Hidden Archivist narrator who takes responsibility for the act of reconstruction by the self-reflexive process. The emphasis shifts from what story is being told to whose story is being created. Alvarez accomplishes this by slipping in archival materials and editorial revisions; the latter’s presence is covertly articulated in comparison to the overt intrusion of Valenzuela’s editor. If this visible editor exists to reinforce the reason for Valenzuela’s protagonist’s death, then Alvarez’s hidden archivists seek to provide life—both to the silenced past and to themselves in the present—by making the reader...


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