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The Dinner Guest interview

The Dinner Guest interview

Gabriela Ybarra tells us that while writing The Dinner Guest - her debut novel - she didn't know if it would even be published, let alone longlisted for the Man Booker International, and Natasha Wimmer comments on the position of the translator.

This is part of our series of Man Booker International Prize 2018 longlist interviews.  


Gabriela Ybarra, author of The Dinner Guest

What has it been like to be longlisted?

It has been really exciting to be longlisted. It is my first book and I still consider myself a novice writer. When I was working on The Dinner Guest, I didn’t know that the book would be published. I had the intention to write a literary text but back then, my main purpose was to try to understand my relationship with my family and with death. The possibility of reading my name on the Man Booker International longlist never crossed my mind. I found out about the nomination while I was trying to get my newborn to sleep. My life is very domestic lately, and I find it funny to see my face on the papers while I’m at home nursing my son. I sometimes think that the media are talking about a Gabriela Ybarra that is not me.

Can you give us a taste of your longlisted book The Dinner Guest?

The Dinner Guest tells the story of two deaths: that of my mother’s from cancer in September 2011 and that of my grandfather’s assassination by the terrorist group ETA in June 1977, six years before I was born. Although the two stories don’t seem to have much in common, it made sense to me to tell them together. During the final days of my mother’s illness, some people who visited us in the hospital made comments that caught my attention: “Your father has been through this already; he has lots of experience with death,” they said. I didn’t know what they were talking about. During my mother’s grief I stumbled upon the unresolved grief of my grandfather. While writing the story of my mother’s illness I found out that most of the behaviours that I couldn’t understand in my family had an origin in the kidnapping and assassination of my grandfather.

Your novel intertwines two personal stories. How have your family reacted to the book?

My family is very big, so there have been all kinds of reactions. There are some relatives who love the book, others who hate it and most have chosen not to read it because they thought that it would be painful. I understand and respect them all. I’m very grateful to my father and sisters because they have been very generous to allow me to share a piece of their lives in The Dinner Guest. At the beginning the book was very shocking for them, especially for my father, but after its publication it has allowed us to be more open about how terrorism and death has affected our lives.


Natasha Wimmer, translator of The Dinner Guest

What has it been like to be longlisted?

It’s wonderful to be longlisted! I’m always excited to see the Booker list, and it’s a thrill to be on it this year

What did you most like about translating The Dinner Guest?

I love the way Gabriela marries the banal and the brutal in spare, lyrical prose. I also enjoyed her vision of New York City, where part of the book is set (and where I live).

An article about you published in 2009 says ‘the translator’s best achievement is to disappear’. Do you agree?

Yes and no. I don’t think the translator should get in the reader’s way, but I do think that a good translation is visible if you know how to look for it. And once you see it, you realize how much work has gone into it.