A provocative autobiographical novel that reckons with the legacy of colonialism through one Peruvian woman’s family ties to both colonised and coloniser

Whether you’re new to Undiscovered or have read it and would like to explore it more deeply, here is our comprehensive guide, featuring insights from critics, our judges and the book’s author and translator, as well as discussion points and suggestions for further reading. 
 

Written by Emily Facoory

Publication date and time: Published

Synopsis

Alone in an ethnographic museum in Paris, Gabriela Wiener is confronted with her unusual inheritance. She is visiting an exhibition of pre-Columbian artefacts, the spoils of European colonial plunder, many of them from her home country of Peru. Peering through the glass, she sees sculptures of Indigenous faces that resemble her own - but the man responsible for pillaging them was her own great-great-grandfather, Austrian colonial explorer Charles Wiener. In the wake of her father’s death, Gabriela begins delving into all she has inherited from her paternal line. From the brutal trail of racism and theft Charles was responsible for, to revelations of her father’s infidelity, she traces a legacy of abandonment, jealousy and colonial violence, and questions its impact on her own struggles with desire, love and race in a polyamorous relationship.

The main characters

Gabriela Wiener

The protagonist as well as the author of the novel, Gabriela Wiener is determined to learn more about her great-great grandfather Charles Wiener. Charles was an Austrian-French explorer, who had pillaged artefacts from Peru and brought them to France. She seeks to understand what this means for her own identity as a Peruvian woman living in Spain and the effects of colonisation. She also explores the topic of gender norms throughout her bisexual polyamorous relationship with her husband and girlfriend and deals with the death of her father and his secrets.

About the author

Gabriela Wiener is a Peruvian writer and journalist based in Madrid, Spain. Her books include Nine Moons, a memoir on pregnancy, and Sexographies, a collection of gonzo journalism about contemporary sex culture. Her work has appeared in numerous publications and has been translated into six languages. She is a regular contributor to El Público (Spain), Vice and New York Times en Español. Wiener won Peru’s National Journalism Award for her investigative report on violence against women.

Portrait of author Gabriela Wiener

About the translator

Julia Sanches has translated works from Portuguese, Spanish, and Catalan. From Portuguese, she has translated Now and at the Hour of Our Death by Susana Moreira Marques; from Catalan, the forthcoming Permafrost by Eva Baltasar; and from Spanish, Slash and Burn by Claudia Hernández, for which she won a PEN/Heim award. Sanches has also translated works by Noemi Jaffe, Daniel Galera, and Geovani Martins, among others. She is a founding member of the Cedilla & Co. translators’ collective. Born in São Paulo, Brazil, she currently lives in Providence, Rhode Island. Julia Sanches’ translation of Boulder was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize 2023.

Portrait of translator Julia Sanches

What the critics said

Bartolomeo Sala, Frieze

‘Wiener deploys humour and sex throughout these pages, so much so that one might feel she is trying to merely provoke, as well as exonerate herself by dancing around the roots of her behaviour without really confronting it. However, far from being a cop out or an academic exercise, this meandering serves a clear purpose: conveying what it feels like to be an oppressed subject. Whatever the relationship between the author and the ethnographer – being a queer, brown, immigrant woman living in a xenophobic, patriarchal world means being continuously haunted by his spectre.’

NPR

Undiscovered has an appealingly raw, confessional tone, but its prose is highly polished. Sanches’ translation does not have an extraneous word. It is also—fittingly, for a book about post-colonial history—committed to retaining the original text’s Peruvian-ness… . Gabriela, who calls herself ‘the most Indian of the Wieners,’ cannot forget that: In Sanches’ exceptional translation, neither can anyone else.’

Electric Literature

‘A rollicking decolonial fact-fiction remix of … [Wiener’s family] histories, the life of her great-great grandfather, the explorer Charles Wiener, and how all this time plays out in her own body, and her current life, and polyamorous household in Madrid.’

BookPage

‘Even as it probes the author’s own family legacy, Undiscovered reminds readers of the importance of confronting the white-savior myths that form the basis of so much of what we call ‘history.’

What the International Booker Prize judges said:

‘A compelling search for identity that explores the complicated relationship between the person you want to be and the stories of the past that might have made you. This is an exploration of colonialism’s surprising effects on a writer investigating her antecedents and ancestors, beginning with a display case of Peruvian artefacts in Paris and ending in a story of family, love and desire.’

Group photo of the International Booker Prize 2024 Judges; Romesh Gunesekera, Natalie Diaz, William Kentridge, Eleanor Wachtel and Aaron Robertson.

Questions and discussion points

Directly inserting herself into the story with a blend of fact and fiction, Gabriela Wiener also imagines parts of Charles Wiener’s life. But seeing as some of her additions can’t be substantiated as there was limited information written down about him, do you think this takes away from the legitimacy of her work?  

The discussion of polyamory is a significant part of the novel, as Gabriela is in a partnership with her husband and her girlfriend but she also conducts an affair. She wonders if her difficult situation is the result of her lineage, specifically her father’s infidelity. How much of this do you think is true? 

As Gabriela seeks to understand her own identity as a Peruvian woman living in Spain and her ancestor’s involvement in colonisation, how might that trickle down to her sense of self in regards to relationships and attraction?

In a New York Times article, it was mentioned that Gabriela’s ‘unconventional and kamikaze approach to writing has prompted critics at times to label her work not as literature, but as “testimony.” To what extent would you agree?

The book creates the impression to readers that it’s fiction, but considering how much personal history and experiences Gabriela is said to have included in the book, how much of the book do you believe is actually the result of a creative imagination and how much of it is fact?

If you enjoyed this book, why not try

Nine Moons by Gabriela Wiener

Sexographies by Gabriela Wiener

Boulder by Eva Baltasar, translated by Julia Sanches