A leading Latin American writer builds a choral and constantly shifting image of young life in the waning years of the dictatorship in Chile. In her short but intricately layered novel, she summons the collective memory of a generation, rescuing felt truth from the oblivion of official history. Longlisted for the National Book Award for Translated Literature.
The Chilean playwright and fiction writer Nona Fernández's Space Invaders, translated into English by the masterful Natasha Wimmer and nominated for a National Book Award, is as addictive as its video game namesake. Fernández writes in short chapters, rarely more than three pages, and each one slides by quickly, but lingers like a dream. The effect is that of being haunted ... an unsettling, compelling portrait of childhood in dire political times, and of the lasting impact of historical trauma ... [the] dreaminess, combined with Fernández's unsparing and unsentimental handling of the Pinochet dictatorship's crimes against its citizens, gives Space Invaders a certain kinship with Roberto Bolaño's short novels By Night in Chile and Distant Star. But for readers of Chilean literature, its most intriguing resemblance is to Alejandro Zambra's story collection My Documents, which was published in Chile a year after Space Invaders, but translated into English four years earlier. Like Fernández, Zambra filters coming-of-age stories set in the Pinochet regime's waning years through the development of technologyHer use of those games, particularly of Space Invaders, is excellent. She beautifully de-familiarizes the classic alien-shooting idea, emphasizing its strange, pixelated violence.
...a convincing depiction of totalitarianism made all the more chilling because author Nona Fernandez refrains from needless overdramatization, instead using the everydayness of surprise—what was there before, what is now no longer, what is lost, what disappears silently—to show how the crime of political oppression is internalized, day by day, by the collective: the people being slowly brutalized and dehumanized ... There is a wonderful fogginess to Fernandez’s gorgeous prose, in this novella translated faultlessly by Natasha Wimmer, whose experience translating the works of Roberto Bolaño and understanding of Latin America’s traumatic history with dictatorships aid her in rendering clarity without removing the elements that help Space Invaders do so much, so quickly: the feeling of dread, the anxiety of the unknown, the arbitrariness of new rules unspoken as the children try to make sense of their lives and their roles in a newly repressive society, their childhoods forever twisted, but also united, by the events around them, their young minds incapable of refraining from turning even the most violent cruelty into a game about the invasion of space.
Space Invaders is short—tiny, even ...That length and the intensity of the structure, which introduces so much in such a short span, is a bit like a dream itself. You come out of it, blinking, a little confused, a little scared, certainly devastated, but feeling like you’ve already forgotten the most important threads. The structure is brilliant, as it needs to be with such a difficult approach to narrative-building. There is incredible compression here, and at the same time the gaps between chapters and sections, the space between the days and years and the dreamers themselves, stretches wide. Fernández’s greatest achievement, though, is the shared voice between her characters.