Writing Grief into Empty Spaces: Antígona González by Sara Uribe
As October comes to an end, I wanted to write a little bit about one of my favorite books that I picked up for Latinx Heritage Month (September 15- October 15). I chose Antígona González to fill in one of my prompts for Latinx-a-thon and it broke me down, looked me in the eye and reminded me what literature is supposed to make the reader feel.
“What thing is the body when someone strips it of a name, a history, a family name? There was a chance. When there is no face or trail or signs. That they were going to bring them here. What thing is the body when its’ lost?” page 111
Antígona González takes places in Tamaulipuas, MX and follows a young woman named Antígona whose brother Tadeo disappears. This story is based on the 2011 San Fernando Massacre where a series of passenger buses were hijacked by a drug cartel. The victims were killed and brutalized, with reports of Gladiator style death pits, torture, and rape. This book doesn’t focus on that, instead, it examines the lives of those left behind.
Tadeo was likely killed in this tragedy, but there is no body. There is no anchor to cry to, no final resting place as proof that he ever existed. It is a cosmic event. Antígona’s life implodes on itself and she is left floating in the aftermath. Written in verse, we follow Antígona’s journey to find answers through real life accounts from newspapers, blog posts, and the family of other victims of this tragedy. She is desperate with longing and yearning for her missing brother. She walks in paths that carry the shadow of Tadeo, but she never quite manages to reach him. No one has answers, and those that should know the most, the authorities, are comfortable in their inadequacy. This book captures the urgency of needing to find reason when someone dies– and how that urgency never really fades away.
Haunting, tragic, and heartbreaking, this story is about not only about the grief of an individual, but the grief of a nation. Antígona can be seen as a composite character that stands in for anyone that has been affected by drug violence in Mexico. Her story is familiar and her brother is just one of many. Since 2006, a reported 36,000 people still remain missing in the country today. The book is built on real life accounts, but the last section switches voices and takes actual question/responses from family members of real victims. One voice is every voice. One missing body is every missing body.
Was the body dead when it was abandoned?Our hearts beg for them not to appear, but if they gave us their bodies we would finally be able to rest. page 143
It then takes this grief and goes further, examining it as a body itself. Grief is not linear. It does not have rules or reason or mercy. Grief is complicated and often, it’s hard find the right words to describe it. This work uses empty spaces to capture the feeling of loneliness and despair that an event like this can produce. Each page is filled with only a handful of words and those empty spaces leave deep marks in the reader’s interpretation of the text . One of the main questions that moves and motivates Antígona throughout this book is “What thing is a body when its lost?” The author invites the reader to come up with their own conclusions. It’s as if the writer is allowing the reader to fill in the extra space with their own memories and their own grief to contextualize the text. Do not go into this book expecting an epic, detailed day by day description of her struggle. It’s about a pain that burns, the type that tethers itself to the soul. It’s about the way grief changes the way you feel, even in the quietest of moments.
So I head out to my job on an empty stomach and as I drive I think of all the gaps, all the absences no one notices and yet are there. page 81
Originally this novel was commissioned for a play by Sandra Muñoz, but has since been published. In John Plueker’s translator’s note, it is explained that although this work was based on Sophocles’ Antigone, it is not a direct reconstruction. In the original work, Antigone couldn’t cope with leaving her brother’s body unburied. This version has no body at all. Says Plueker, ” Uribe has appropriated this question from the beginning of Sophocles’s telling, when Antigone asks the same of her sister Ismene, who afraid and distressed, refuses. In Uribe’s rewriting, Antígona asks this question of the readers. We arrive to stand in the place of the sister. “(pg. 191) Uribe’s rendition takes major inspiration from the historic interpretation of Antigone in Latin America. In her author’s note, Uribe reviews all of the details, articles, and texts where she sourced a lot of her information from. It’s incredibly enlightening and shows the writer’s careful construction of each phrase. Each word is deliberate, packed with punch and goes back to the idea that one story is every story, every missing person is all missing persons.
All of us here will gradually disappear if no one searches for us, if no ones names us. All of us here will gradually disappear if we just look helplessly at one another, watching how we disappear one by one. page 165