The above photo shows an area of restricted books in the Vanderbilt Central Library. In Ronit Matalon’s The One Facing Us, photos are used to accompany the novel’s narrations. With a photo (or missing photo) at the start of each chapter, Matalon provides a description and recounts the story behind it. The photos and their captions serve as supplements to the stories she tries to portray, whether real or fake.
This photo of the restricted works counters Matalon’s structure. Here, the status of the written works has been captured in a photo, whereas in The One Facing Us, the photo is embodied within the text and the text must provide context for the photo. The photos in the novel are presented without any undeniable source of context, while in this photo novels can be presented and their existence proven without their content or function being revealed. However, while this photo gives a definite message of restraint, its content cannot be further investigated; just as the novel’s explanations of the photos it contains cannot be validated. Both leave something unknown. The gate that restricts the books in the photo is like the element of fiction in the novel that prevents a true acquirement of knowledge.
Matalon exposes the shortcomings of photos in an intriguing way on page 123 with the photo on “the banks of the Nile”, which is later proven to be a false caption. The photo above shows rows of books that can be accessed by the walkways on either side of the gate. This gate simply serves as a support for the shelved books. The photo below shows the actual “restricted” works, which are stored in a section with a door labeled “Staff Only”.
Despite the deception, the feelings of insatiable curiosity and the inaccessibility still remain. In the same way, it is possible that while all of Matalon’s stories cannot be proven, her messages and feelings portrayed may still have the same impact as the actual reality.