The Words of “What Wasn’t Said”

Beauty and aesthetics are a recurring quest of the author, and its presence is repeated in so many lines, as evidenced by conversations with the grandmother: “Beauty is singular. The rose is redder than the rose bush”.

Photo: personal archive

This is between you and me, don’t tell anyone: in life you will find chasms and bridges,

difficulties, despair,

then write

Words are the only thing you’ll have when there’s nothing left.

Jose Zuleta Ortiz, “What Wasn’t Said”

In the midst of the sweetness of the word, which swings between the awakening of memories to tell a story, and what is believed to have been the story (distorted) to be told, there is that which, though “not has been said’, comes to the surface in every line of the novel.

Zuleta, unadorned, tells a believable story that contains, right in the word believable, the magic that overflows into what he writes. Some texts that, in addition to encouraging a “morbid curiosity” to learn about the author’s life, his parents or his environment, invite you to immerse yourself in the words that are arranged to convey the feeling that everything that is said there is it’s true.

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It is not mythical characters or heroes with improbable lives or fantastic events that pique the reader’s interest. One of the reasons this story grips us is its resemblance to real life. The way the story is told brings the story close to our ears, inviting us to dive between the short chapters, making us yearn for the moment to enter the next one when we finish reading each one. Each chapter it closes prompts us to read the next. Beyond that there is a nod to the autobiographical, this is a story worth telling. This so-called “literature of the self” here does not show what is experienced as a media show, but instead mixes reality with what seems impossible, but which appears to be possible.

The book opens with an unexpected coincidence with Meursault, Camus’s character, when the message reaching Zuleta in Lisbon: “Your mother has died” (p. 13) sets the story in motion; hence the protagonist of What wasn’t said just like that of Abroad, staying in the line of not showing feelings of pity, regret or the unfairness of life in the face of abandonment. It is not society as a whole that abandons him, but rather characters, perhaps the most important in his family group, abandon the main character: “I did not cry. I went into deep retreat. Retrospective silence. A pedantic pain sought the thread to remake the fabric” (p.13), not knowing if he would find the end of the quill to discover what it would have to do with him. Not knowing how to remember when there are no memories.

Text may fall into autofiction; however, when it is torn between autobiography and novel, it prevents some readers, curious to learn about the writer’s own life, from being sure whether it is true or fiction. There will be people who are not interested in this and only concentrate on the way this story is written, but there will also be those who feel drawn to the voice that tells in the first person, feeling that their curiosity is allowed from the possibility of feeling close to the narrator’s intimacy, understanding the work as a confessional act.

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At times when reality show occupies an important place in audiovisual media, the autofiction genre can satisfy those who want to know the real events that happen to ordinary people; for the segment of those who insist on diving into biographical waters, texts such as the letter written by Gardel (pp. 199, 200) or the entry in the diary of Fernando González on the occasion of the death of the philosopher’s father (p. 29 ) can satisfy some curiosity; but it is the way of describing it that captivates other readers who find that the work goes beyond referencing the facts chronologically. What matters is not always what actually happened, nor is everything that matters true. Most important is the aesthetic it seeks to build.

In a work told in the first person, where the temptation is to convince the reader that events happened as the writer presents them, it was possible to use long paragraphs full of details, with arguments that further involved the reader and touched the sentimental threads .. However, the writer prefers short, laconic, effective, short, tight sentences, sparing words, where the necessary is shown, without filling the events with unnecessary dialogues or with scenes that do not lead to the desired end: “Some children were playing with your dog. I remembered the prayer I had said in secret so as not to upset the atheist father God had given us. I recited it aloud. The hills were closer now, but it was getting dark. I was afraid that my memory would lead me astray in the dark” (p. 42).

Zuleta chooses these words very well, which allow him to powerfully describe some images, making them real, soberly, without falling into long descriptions. The exact phrases: “when papa saw me he began to cry, he cried so much that he bathed me in his tears, I tasted the salt of his tears” (p. 35). More than a description, he describes: “On the road I saw a dead pigeon, the iridescence of its feathers in spite of death made me think of my grandfather. I stroked a stray dog, which growled and snorted after the blow, I avoided. Three times I asked for water; in the front garden I tried to reach some ripe cherries” (pp. 41, 42). He perfectly conveys what can only be perceived through the senses: “I liked the smell of medicines, they smelled of the enigma of chemistry, of health stored in capsules, in liquid ampoules, in miraculous ointments” (p.103). With poetic images, he weaves us into his realities, making us feel part of the story firsthand: “a pleasant lethargy in which the body seems to have withdrawn. There was no pain. Only numbness, soft delusions, and almighty indolence, to which the will indulged with pleasure, while the consciousness of the world faded away” (pp. 49, 50).

Beauty and aesthetics are a recurring quest of the author: “The origin of beauty, our limbo that was paradise: the playgrounds” (p. 61); and her presence recurs in so many lines, as evidenced by conversations with the grandmother: “Beauty is singular. The rose is redder than the rose bush” (p. 23) to understand in these conversations that: “beauty must contain mystery, suggestion, silence. Excess is clumsiness, bularanga” (p. 23); an excess that outrages beauty to the point where it is perceived that: “too beautiful also loses its charm, that’s why they put this mole on Marilyn Monroe’s face (…) and most importantly: that beauty is imperfection” (p 118).

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The novel, a genre that uses other genres, adapts what is not said to his own poems, journal entries, definition of words, family letters, texts from his father; giving rest to the work, uniting work and personality, literature with being, and reality with fiction.

For those of us who love to read, write, and are fond of both the sound and the meaning of words, we suffer impatience to want to discover their meaning when we do not know them, we feel anguish when we do not recognize them, because seem to be said in another language, we feel the desire to become their fans, to collect them, to archive them where they can be found to be used textually or to inspire in some of our texts with what their sound prompts us, knowing that the meaning does not always depend on the vocabulary (on the variety that each of them can have), but on everyone who reads us, on the place where we have housed them and on the freedom we allow ourselves to use them we understand within the context in which they were used. A blessed union of letters that form syllables, syllables that end words, words that launch us into a world we don’t need to know personally because with words we travel to destinations we never imagined and become part of stories , which we never thought of.

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