Cover Image: Undiscovered


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An unusual memoir in which Gabriela Wiener combines research about her great-grandfather's life and work with reflections on her own life and work.

Wiener's great-grandfather Charles was na Austrian Jew who is known for his Latin American expeditions in the 19th century, shipping loads of Pre-Columbian artifacts from Peru and Bolivia back to France. He almost discovered Machu Pichu too. But he also left behind an illegitimate son, who became Gabriela's grandfather, seemingly without caring for the mother.

Gabriela herself lives in Spain and is known for her polyamorous relationship with her girlfriend and husband - a topic she has written about before in other auto-fictional works (her oeuvre apparently like that of Annie Ernaux), but which I had not read before picking up 'Undiscovered.' This was somewhat unfortunate as the parts about struggling with polyamory (she cheats repeatedly on both partners) I had difficulty to the reasons and motivations. Although clearly the recent death of her father affects her deeply.

The book is at its strongest when it compares blatant 19th century racism with much more subtle but equally present 21st century racism. Where her white great-grandfather Charles was the perpetrator of the former, Gabriela - with her Peruvian looks - suffers the latter living in Madrid.

Interesting and well-written, but I wished I had started with her earlier works and read chronologically.

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Gabriela Wiener's Undiscovered reflects on issues of indigenous identity, colonialism, colorism, and gender norms. This might make Undiscovered sound polemical—and in a way it is—but these are polemics of identity, of nailing down a specific set of intersectionalities and exploring the ways they interrelate. Among other genres, Wiener writes autobiographical, reflective essays. The subtitle of this book, "a Novel," implies that we're reading fiction, but the personal, emphatic voice leaves readers wondering.

Undiscovered opens with reflections on her great-great grandfather, Charles Wiener, a 19th Century explorer of Peru, who was responsible for taking thousands of pre-Columbian artifacts from Peru to France. By today's standards, these acquisitions are proof of imperialist egoism and a lack of scientific rigor. Many of these objects remain unlabeled; details about their origin and context are missing. Charles Wiener describes them and the culture from which they come in paternalistic fashion.

Beginning with her great-great grandfather, Weiner explores her family and personal identity. She was born in Peru to what could be called a distaff line of the family. She's named Wiener, but she's more certain of her relationship to the Peruvian woman from whom her father and great grandfather descend, rather than the man whose last name she bears. This is where the issues is indigenous identity, colonialism, and colorism come in. As an adult, Wiener is a dark-skinned Peruvian-born woman living in Spain—where dark skin and Latin American origins lead others to assume certain things. That's she's a housekeeper, for example.

In Spain, Wiener is part of a "thruple," a marriage of three people, in this case Wiener, her Spanish husband and her wife, who is white. This is where the issue of gender norms come in, since they presume two-unit, male/female pairings. But the ways in which her marriage breaks with some norms leave other norms intact, so when she engages in an affair while settling the estate of her father in Peru, she finds herself consumed by her knowledge that she has betrayed the triad and that she doesn't know what the repercussions of that choice will be.

Undiscovered covers a broad range of topics. The movement among these feels abrupt sometimes. What connects them is Wiener's existence, but that "I Am" isn't sufficient as a narrative arc for a novel. Even for an autobiography, one could hope of a bit more. Still, the topics Wiener raises are interesting and her explorations have an integrity that straddles the fiction-autobiography boundary. Come to this book with a willingness to think about identity in historical, global, and gender terms. If you do that, you'll enjoy the sometimes bumpy ride Undiscovered offers.

I received a free electronic review copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley; the opinions are my own.

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"The strangest thing about being alone here in Paris, in an anthropology museum gallery more or less beneath the Eiffel Tower, is the thought that all these statuettes that look like me were wrenched from my country by a man whose last name I inherited." (loc. 87*)

We all have skeletons somewhere in the familial closet. Sometimes they're out on display, sitting at the dinner table—but Wiener's family skeletons were displayed more prominently than most, in European museums. Not their literal skeletons (this particular analogy is perhaps a little confusing, whoops), but the artifacts that Charles Wiener, an Austrian-French explorer, had looted from Peru and brought to France. Not long after he left Peru, a Peruvian baby was born bearing the last name Wiener, and in many ways it was this history that Gabriela Wiener's family in Peru was most proud of: here was their connection to history, to prestige.

"For years my dad treasured this book with its dozens of costumbrista etchings of Indigenous life, keeping it stashed away in a special part of our library. Every time I tried to cozy up to it and linger in its pages, I wound up shutting it in horror. I just couldn't read it the way so many others did: as a fascinating nineteenth-century travel account. More than that, I couldn't brush aside Charles's vile assertions about so-called savage Indians. That man—cruel, violently racist, and blinkered by his Eurocentrism—has nothing to do with who I am today, no matter how much my family has chosen to glorify him." (loc. 238)

In "Undiscovered", Wiener sets out to learn more about Charles's travels in Peru—and what they might mean for her own identity as a Peruvian woman; as a Peruvian woman living in Spain; as a Peruvian woman living in Spain in a polyamorous relationship with a Peruvian man and a Spanish woman.

I think it's safe to say that Charles Wiener is the least interesting part of her story.

This is described as a blend of fiction and nonfiction, and I'm not clear just how much of this I'm supposed to take as fact—I read it primarily as fact with the exception of the sections in which Wiener imagines important moments in Charles's life, but I'm not sure if it's more interesting if that's the case or if there is a great deal more fiction blended in here. (And where do I hope that things are more true, and where do I hope that they are more fictional?) "I realize I'm trying to build something out of pieces lifted from an unfinished story", writes Wiener (loc. 399), and in a way that feels accurate to this book, too: Charles's story is incomplete (he was not a big enough name that his whole life can be readily picked apart and examined), and her own story is still being written.

Much of the book is about unpicking colonization and what it means in Wiener's own life—again, as a minority woman living in Spain, with a family history marked by colonialism—and I'm fascinated and horrified by, well, a lot of it. (See the Wikipedia article on Expo 58—specifically, the section on the human zoo—for some of that; it staggers me to think that some of the people involved in that could still be alive.) The book may be reading for its discussion of polyamory alone, but it's far more interesting in the context of political and family history—and learning that truths you have held your whole life may be more complicated than you thought. I think I'm due for some more historical-political reading...

Thanks to the author and publisher for providing a review copy through NetGalley.

*Quotes are taken from an ARC and may not be final.

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This complex semi-autobiographical fictional narrative offers irreverent humor in a cinematic and provocative tale. The heroine is scathingly witty in candid reflections after the death of her father, his infidelity and second family, as well as her own bisexual polyamorous relationship, and poignantly complicated ancestry as a latine descendant of a European colonizer who stole Latin American artifacts (her great-great grandfather was Charles Wiener). An anti-colonial reckoning for fans of In the Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado.

Gabriela Wiener is a veteran journalist, poet, and author of short story collections.

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I appreciated reading Undiscovered. I liked the writer's thoughts on colonization and how it relates to her current issues. Easy to read but a little choppy at times

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I knew little to nothing about Peruvian history when going into this book and I’m glad that the little I did learn was through the lens of this author. It was not the facts and dates and factual retelling of history, it was a poignant glimpse into the effects of colonization generations later and what that can do to your identity and self worth. I also appreciated how this author spoke about their sexual identity and situation in an unapologetically and matter of course way, exactly the representation needed to normalize polyamory.
The book does start off abruptly and leaves you a little confused and whiplashed about what’s happening as there is little context provided, stick with it.

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I absolutely loved Wiener's earlier autobiographical fiction book Nine Moons (translated by Jessica Powell). I don't even know where my coffee-stained, heavily-annotated, dog-earred copy is at the moment; I keep loaning it out to my girlfriends, who then loan it out to theirs!

I enjoyed many of the same elements as Nine Moons in Undiscovered - namely, Wiener's irrepressible curiosity, dark humor, and spot-on descriptions. But I wasn't nearly as captivated, which is probably because I expected it to be more relatable than it was. (Pregnancy and childbirth are something many folks can relate to; this particular exploration was a bit narrower!) I was most drawn in by the here-and-now of her own life, particularly the question of how to decolonialize her own desire (fascinating and, yes, relatable) and not so compelled by the historical elements and her great-great-grandfather's (ick-inducing) life, though I know they were essential for context.

Overall, Undiscovered was thought-provoking, curiosity-inducing, and educational - and if it wasn't as memorable as I hoped, that's probably a function my own unfairly high expectations! Thanks to HarperVia for an ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

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