* Finalist for the National Book Award for Translated Literature *
An engrossing, incantatory novel about the legacy of historical crimes by the author of Space Invaders
It is 1984 in Chile, in the middle of the Pinochet dictatorship. A member of the secret police walks into the office of a dissident magazine and finds a reporter, who records his testimony. The narrator of Nona Fernández’s mesmerizing and terrifying novel The Twilight Zone is a child when she first sees this man’s face on the magazine’s cover with the words “I Tortured People.” His complicity in the worst crimes of the regime and his commitment to speaking about them haunt the narrator into her adulthood and career as a writer and documentarian. Like a secret service agent from the future, through extraordinary feats of the imagination, Fernández follows the “man who tortured people” to places that archives can’t reach, into the sinister twilight zone of history where morning routines, a game of chess, Yuri Gagarin, and the eponymous TV show of the novel’s title coexist with the brutal yet commonplace machinations of the regime.
How do crimes vanish in plain sight? How does one resist a repressive regime? And who gets to shape the truths we live by and take for granted? The Twilight Zone pulls us into the dark portals of the past, reminding us that the work of the writer in the face of historical erasure is to imagine so deeply that these absences can be, for a time, spectacularly illuminated.
Chilean author Fern ndez's second novel to be translated into English (after Space Invaders) powerfully evokes the brutality of Augusto Pinochet's 17-year military dictatorship and is based on the life of one of his security policemen. The unnamed 40-something narrator grew up during Pinochet's reign, and as an adult her documentary and script writing work have led her to repeatedly encounter intelligence agent Andr s Antonio Valenzuela Morales, who in 1984 made a bombshell confession that he systematically tortured and murdered political dissidents. Now, 30 years after Morales's flight from Chile, he's returned to give testimony for the court, and the narrator becomes obsessed with him. For her, Morales illuminates what she calls the "twilight zone" of a repressive regime, where people disappear regularly and feeble excuses for absences are accepted. While the narrator grew up largely unscathed, she's haunted by the stories of torture she read in magazines, and as her research takes her down a dark tunnel of history and memory, she imagines how the intervening years have treated Morales. Fern ndez keenly reconstructs one of his victim's final moments and Morales's eventual escape to France after his confession. This disturbing story of a repentant man makes for a gripping psychological game of cat and mouse.