Gabriela Ybarra was born in Bilbao in 1983, but has lived in Madrid since 1995. Her debut novel, The Dinner Guest, won the Euskadi Prize of Literature in 2016 and was longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2018. The book has also been translated into English and Italian and a movie adaptation based on the story will be released in the following months. Ybarra currently works on her second novel and writes articles for different media.
My time in Santa Maddalena has been useful and enriching in ways I did not expect. I could anticipate long walks in the hilly Tuscan landscape and working and living in rooms decorated with character and taste. Before leaving Madrid for Florence, I had seen several pictures of the house, including the one of Edmund White reading a book in a bathtub embellished with hand-painted birds. However, I could have never imagined how time works in this estate. Here it is possible to travel across the years and have the chance to meet Beatrice’s long-gone friends, visitors, ancestors and pets. And of course, Grisha, Beatrice’s husband, who I always had the feeling that might appear for lunch or to recover his studio to write one more novel where he could explain how is life on the other side. I worked in all the different places of the house that I could, because everywhere there seemed to be someone to meet or something to see: a Turkish prince, a pug chewing a 1995 stick.
Beatrice has several talents that I admire: she is able to make you feel comfortable in her house, she is a great oral storyteller and she is a master of her own particular craft of creating spaces that can defy time. In Santa Maddalena every object is placed to build a narrative and it is a privilege as a visitor to become part of the plot. While I travelled through Beatrice’s long and rich life, I also had the chance to reconnect with my own childhood, when the answer to “what’s for dinner?” was always a surprise and objects appeared to be alive. I want to thank Beatrice, my co-guests, and everyone working and cooking at Santa Maddalena for taking care of me. I left with a manuscript full of ghosts to continue developing back home.