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Space Invaders

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A dreamlike evocation of a generation that grew up in the shadow of a dictatorship in 1980s Chile

Space Invaders is the story of a group of childhood friends who, in adulthood, are preoccupied by uneasy memories and visions of their classmate Estrella González Jepsen. In their dreams, they catch glimpses of Estrella’s braids, hear echoes of her voice, and read old letters that eventually, mysteriously, stopped arriving. They recall regimented school assemblies, nationalistic class performances, and a trip to the beach. Soon it becomes clear that Estrella’s father was a ranking government officer implicated in the violent crimes of the Pinochet regime, and the question of what became of her after she left school haunts her erstwhile friends. Growing up, these friends―from her pen pal, Maldonado, to her crush, Zúñiga―were old enough to sense the danger and tension that surrounded them, but were powerless in the face of it. They could control only the stories they told one another and the “ghostly green bullets” they fired in the video game they played obsessively.

One of the leading Latin American writers of her generation, Nona Fernández effortlessly builds a choral and constantly shifting image of young life in the waning years of the dictatorship. In her short but intricately layered novel, she summons the collective memory of a generation, rescuing felt truth from the oblivion of official history.

88 pages, Paperback

First published November 20, 2013

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About the author

Nona Fernández

24 books401 followers
Patricia Paola Fernández Silanes (Santiago, 1971), más conocida como Nona Fernández, es una actriz, escritora, guionista y feminista chilena.
Hija única de madre soltera, Nona Fernández creció en un barrio de avenida Matta cercano al mercado persa Bíobío. Como actriz, fundó la compañía Merri Melodys, participó en montajes de muchas obras teatrales y ganó como mejor actriz un concurso del Centro Chileno-Norteamericano de Cultura.
Sus cuentos aparecieron primero en diversas antologías de concursos, y su primer libro de relatos salió a luz el año 2000: El cielo. Dos años más tarde publicó su premiada novela Mapocho.

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Profile Image for s.penkevich.
962 reviews6,805 followers
March 14, 2023
In dreams, as in memory, there is no agreement, nor should there be.

Dreams and childhood memories are not altogether that different. Both are recalled as fractured moments, splinters of memory bound by slippery logic, and both have a hidden, ominous quality. It’s like glimpsing through the windows of an abandoned house and contemplating the complete layout and the history that shaped it. Like an old house, dreams and childhood memories can be haunted, too. Chilean playwright, actress, and author Nona Fernandez delivers a haunting account of a childhood beleaguered by the horrors of the Pinochet regime in her novella Space Invaders. It is told through vignettes of memories and shared, chaotic dreams of a group of friends now “eons older” in adulthood as they collectively piece together the story of their classmate, Estrella. Based on one of the author’s real classmates, and using actual letters, Fernandez paints a true story as a fictional portrait. Drawing on the classic video game Space Invaders as metaphor and structure, Fernandez eloquently captures what childhood is like in violent, turbulent times and the way we bury much of our experiences so that we may dig them up and process them later in life.

We don’t know whether this is a dream or memory.

Like a more intimate younger sibling to Roberto Bolaño’s Distant Star and from a childhood perspective like Alejandro Zambra’s Ways of Going Home, Fernandez uses memory to demonstrate lives masquerading in normalcy while the Pinochet regime commits horrific, violent acts against its citizens. In a November 2019 interview with Electric Literature to promote the release of the English translation of Space Invaders--poetically rendered by Natasha Wimmer--Fernandez explains that Estrella and the collected memories of her were created by contacting her own childhood friends to piece together their recollections of a classmate whose father was part of the Pinochet forces that tortured and murdered political dissidents (including the families of other classmates). ‘Trying to write Estrella meant confronting my childhood,’ she says, ‘ my experience as a student under an authoritarian regime, and my entrance into the world, the street.’ The way collective memory can dissolve and be an arbitrary collage of residue that hasn’t slipped away is the thematic pulse of the novella: the scattered and often surreal nature of memory tinted by emotional resonance.

They give up one life to combat, then another, and another, in a cycle of endless slaughter.

Fernandez utilizes an effective emotional doorway through the classic arcade game Space Invaders. Not only does the game figure both literally and metaphorically into the novel, the novella is structured into short chapters with titles that replicate gameplay: First, Second, and Third Life with the concluding chapter titled Game Over. The game permeates through the novel, coating it in deep childhood nostalgia while also calling attention to the way that a seemingly innocent game is also structured around violence. Memories of sitting around playing the game with Estrella and never being able to defeat her deceased brother’s high score haunt the dreams of the characters, often showing up in surrealist nightmares involving Estrella’s father’s orthopedic hand.
[The hands] are glow-in-the-dark green, like the Space Invaders bullets. The boy gives a command and the hands obey him like trained beasts. Riquelme feels them exit the cabinet and come after him. They menace him. They chase him. They advance like an army of earthlings on the hunt for some alien.

Even before the boys know the truth about the father and his role in the regime, small signs and symbols send ominous messages to them that creep into their dreams for decades to come. Fernandez expertly captures the way children’s minds latch on to metaphor and symbolism to try and rationalize the world around them. As my own nine-year-old pointed out the other night while we played Space Invaders on my phone (inspired by the novella), ‘Are the aliens the invaders or are we the invaders in the game?’ The confusion of not knowing is what keeps us fighting without stopping to question the morality of it.

Everybody in the upper school is a leader or a fighter in the resistance. Get with it, we're not kids anymore.

Upon dreaming of their rigid school’s structure, the narrator reflects that ‘We are the most important piece in a game, but we still don’t know what game it is.’ The school scenes reveal an atmosphere of spotlessly ironed and buttoned uniforms and marching in perfectly spaced lines. They put on plays celebrating Chilean patriotism and are taught to never question authority. In fact, the schools under Pinochet became a breeding ground for compliance and propaganda. As the characters in the book age and become more politically aware, resistance is met with swift punishment. Their worldview begins to crumble as they begin to witness parents being hauled off by the police or hear stories of torture. Objects of endearment or fascination, such as Estrella’s “uncle’s” red Chevrolet begin to appear in their nightmares as an omen of creeping violence and the symbol of American intervention in Chile that it quite literally is. This all rushes forward through hellish dreamscapes toward a brief yet jaw-dropping peak toward the end of the timeline in the final pages. Like the unforgettable ending to Bolaño’s Amulet where there is a vision of all of Chilean youth marching forward to be swallowed up in a bottomless pit, this is not a novel of innocence lost, but of innocence condemned.

If dreams and memories were truly different,’ Fernandez writes, ‘we might be able to identify its source, but on our memoryless mattresses everything is mixed up and the truth is that it doesn’t really matter anymore.’ Very little of the novella is openly reported to be actual memory and much of the book takes place in the dreamscape. Even moments not identified as such have a dreamlike quality--made more so by the succinct, poetic prose--that remind the reader how closely related and abstract both memory and dream are to each other. ‘Time isn’t straightforward,’ Fernandez muses midway through the book,
it mixes everything up, shuffles the dead, merges them, separates them out again, advances backward, retreats in reverse, spins like a merry-go-round, like a tiny wheel in a laboratory care, and traps us in funerals and marches and detentions, leaving us with no assurance of continuity or escape.

The novella approaches history as a nightmare from which we can’t quite escape. The ‘tiny wheel in a laboratory’ of history lets its citizens run themselves to death for economic experiments such as Pinochet’s sweeping neoliberalism, which still plagues the Chile of today. The timing for the release of the English translation is impeccable as this was released in the middle of mass protests across Chile speaking out against the holdover neoliberal policies from the Pinochet era. The excellent collection of short stories Humiliation by Paulina Flores was released around the same time as Space Invaders and the pair provide an insightful look at the sociopolitical landscapes that shaped modern-day Chile. ‘In my book,’ Fernandez says in an interview, ‘Space Invaders is a metaphor for the children we were, taking to the streets, exposing ourselves to the glow-in-the-dark green bullets of the military. Now that image is incarnated by today’s children.’ She goes on to add that ‘They’re a new generation of Space Invaders. And all I can do is applaud them and do my best to take care of them [and] put an end in Chile to the abusive neoliberal system that got its start here.

This brief yet haunting novella is a shining gem of prose that captures the spirit of memory with such a delicate yet in-depth touch. Like a dream itself, it shows little but leaves a lot of resonance. A highly recommended nightmare.
4.5 / 5

I wake up again.
There is no television.
I am alone and I’ve grown old.
Profile Image for Adina .
889 reviews3,527 followers
September 7, 2021
Women in Translation 2021 book 5.

Well, technically I read it in original Spanish but I will add it to my project to read more Women in translation because its English version was nominated to BTBA 2019.

It was an interesting way to structure a book about Pinochet Dictatorship and the period after. I liked it but I wanted a bit more. More pages and more feeling. Still, a good book. I hope to read a longer review soon but I have very little time and inspiration these days
Profile Image for Jim Fonseca.
1,100 reviews7,187 followers
November 2, 2020
It’s a coincidence that just a week or so ago I reviewed a book, 77 by Guillermo Saccomanno, about the dictatorship in Argentina and here we have a book about the same situation in neighboring Chile around the same time – late 1970’s through 1990.


This is a very short book, a novella, by a woman who grew up during this time (b. 1971). Because it’s so short I won’t go into much of additional summary at risk of giving more of the story away, although it’s not a book you read for its plot.

Here’s a paraphrased blurb:

A dreamlike evocation of a generation that grew up in the shadow of Pinochet’s dictatorship in 1980s Chile. It’s the story of a group of childhood friends who, too young to understand what is going on as children, in adulthood become preoccupied by uneasy memories, dreams and visions of one of their female classmates. They read old letters she sent that eventually, mysteriously, stopped arriving and she disappeared. Growing up, these friends were old enough to sense the danger and tension that surrounded them but were powerless in the face of it. They could control only the stories they told one another and the ghostly green bullets they fired in the video game they played obsessively (the title).


Under the dictatorship they recall regimented school assemblies and a nationalistic curriculum that made much of Chile’s old wars with Peru and Bolivia. Even the patron saint hanging in their classroom, the Virgen del Carmen, has a connection to the military. As adults they see friends’ fathers and uncles being indicted on television for murder and torture.

Like the Argentina story I mentioned above, the book’s main theme is also like The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vásquez, about the drug wars in Colombia. All three books share a main theme of how violence and terror shaped a generation.


The author, also an actress, has written a half-dozen novels as well as short stories and plays. From what I can tell on GR, very little of her work has been translated into English.

Top photo of arrests during the dictatorship from brasildefato.com
Modern-day Santiago, Chile from travelpulse.com
The author from palabrapublica.uchile.cl

Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,779 reviews14.2k followers
November 23, 2019
A novella, short by definition, but despite this I found this book to be very powerful. I'm always amazed when an author can say so much with so few words. This is not a straightforward story, and it's told in a dreamlike fashion. In fact, dreaming itself is a big part of this novella.

A group of school children, children whose school uniforms must always be worn perfectly. Who walk in lines, their hand on the shoulder of the student in front, so as to keep perfect distances from each other. Perfection and order is demanded. This is Chile under Pinochet, and these children are trying to find a way to understand what they see, but can't comprehend. They play space invaders where they capture and watch the invaders in this make believe world. Then a school girl disappears, doesn't return to school. They each remember different things, dream of her and wonder what has happened. As they grow older they understand much more and wish they didn't, because unlike the space invaders world, in the real one they are powerless.

The author does a great job with pacing in this story. The tension rises incrementally as one reads and the dreams and fears continue.

"We are the most important piece in a game, but we still don't know what game it is."

"No one is exactly sure when it happened, but we all remember that coffins and funerals and wreaths where suddenly everywhere and there was no escaping them, because it had all become something like a bad dream. Maybe it had always been that way and we were only realizing it."
Profile Image for Sofia.
287 reviews95 followers
December 17, 2020
Ποτέ δεν ήμουν λάτρης της ιστορίας. Τουλάχιστον οχι όπως την δίδασκαν στα σχολεία, αν και σε εκείνη την ηλικία μόνο αυτή την ιστορία ήξερα. Με τα χρόνια κατάλαβα ότι ενα λογοτεχνικό βιβλίο μπορεί να σου μάθει περισσότερα πράγματα απο ολη την ύλη ιστορίας του σχολείου. Αυτό το μικρό βιβλιαράκι αποτελεί αντιπροσωπευτικη περίπτωση της παραπάνω κατάστασης.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,113 followers
August 4, 2019
My first read for Women in Translation Month is Space Invaders by Nona Fernandez, translated by Natasha Wimmer, coming out from Graywolf in November or December this year. It is very slim but looks can be so deceiving - it delivered the biggest gut punch with the tiniest gloves ever.

One thing I've noticed as I read more books from around the world, including women in translation, is that many of the stories being told are about living through violent regime change. Space Invaders has a bunch of childhood friends looking back at their years coming of age in Chile during the Pinochet regime. Like most children, all they really know is what they experienced but the context only comes later. It grows in intensity until the end.

The translator is the person who did a lot of the Bolaño works.

I'm a member of the Graywolf Galley Club, which is why I got this early.
Profile Image for Alwynne.
643 reviews729 followers
April 14, 2021
The characters in Nona Fernandez’s novella are bound together by the shared experience of growing up in the 1970s and 80s under a military dictatorship, Pinochet’s Chile: an era punctuated by extreme violence, a time of sudden yet routine disappearances, torture and brutal political murders. Too young to fully comprehend what was going on around them, now as adults they’re haunted by fragmented recollections, trying to piece together a flood of half-remembered events, dreams and images. Fernandez’s writing here's rooted in the literatura de los hijos (the literature of the children) – a term coined by Alejandro Zambra to describe a subgenre of fiction from a Chilean generation struggling to process their past. It’s a subtle, pared-back piece with an episodic structure that echoes its characters’ elliptical memories, all of which trace back to their lost classmate Estrella.

A powerful interrogation of collective memory and youthful trauma, Space Invaders's composed of a chorus of fractured voices inspired by Fernandez’s own childhood and later conversations with former schoolfriends. It’s a work that demands close attention and active participation, like the “Space Invaders” video game the children loved to play. I was drawn into trying to puzzle out the meaning of the scenes the characters are caught up in recreating, equally invested in understanding their significance : a recurring red Chevy symbolises America’s role in Pinochet’s rule; the constant drills and carefully choreographed playground formations, preparations for submission to the regime’s militaristic policies. I found this interesting too as an exploration of the nature of individual memory, the differing stimuli that stir thoughts of lost moments, sometimes visual, sometimes written.

I thought it was an impressive book, perhaps a little too minimalist, a little too ambitious in what it’s trying to convey. One that possibly functions more effectively as part of a wider body of work: it unexpectedly conjured up vivid images from other literary and cinematic representations of Pinochet’s Chile, there were times while reading it that scenes from texts, like Pablo Larrain’s searing film trilogy, seemed to be unfolding alongside it in my mind. But perhaps that’s fitting, in keeping with Fernandez’s approach, her emphasis on a multiplicity of perspectives coming together, with no one perspective the dominant or the definitive. Ably translated here by Natasha Wimmer.
Profile Image for Joanito_a.
141 reviews25 followers
September 4, 2020
space invaders από ένα παιχνίδι επιβίωσης, μετατρέπεται σ ένα έργο μνήμης από φωνές παιδιών που μεγάλωσαν στα σκοτεινά χρόνια της δικτατορίας. Η γραφή γεμάτη από ονειρικά θραύσματα που θέλουν να δραπετεύσουν από τη λήθη. Τελικά μπορούμε να ξεφύγουμε από τη χωροχρονική κάψουλα του παρελθόντος;
Υ.Γ : στη συγκεκριμένη έκδοση η εισαγωγή όπως και το επίμετρο είναι άξια ανάγνωσης και με αρκετές πληροφορίες για το έργο της συγγραφέως.

"'όμως τα ίχνη του ονείρου έχουν μείνει πάνω μας σαν τα σημάδια μιας ναυμαχίας καταδικασμένης σε ήττα"

"μας διδάσκουν την ιστορία με βάση την ιδέα του άσπρο-μαύρου, των καλών και των κακών... όμως συνειδητοποιείς πως έχει χαραχτεί από ανθρώπους απλούς και καθημερινούς, όπως είμαστε όλοι εμείς"
Profile Image for Γιάννης Ζαραμπούκας.
Author 2 books174 followers
July 5, 2020
Η λογοτεχνία είναι μία πολυδιάστατη μορφή τέχνης, που επιτελεί μία πληθώρα διαφορετικών ρόλων, αναλόγως με τον σκοπό του εκάστοτε δημιουργού.
Ψυχαγωγεί, καλλιεργεί ηθος, προάγει υψηλές αξίες και ιδανικά, παρηγορεί, μορφώνει, προ��ληματίζει, αφυπνίζει!

Η χιλιανή συγγραφέας Νόνα Φερνάντες Σιλάνες αποτελεί μία εξαγριωμένη φωνή της χιλιανής λογοτεχνίας, φωνή εκρηκτική, παθιασμένη, που δεν διστάζει να αναμοχλεύσει τις τραυματικές μνήμες του παρελθόντος, μνήμες σκληρές, βουτηγμένες στο αίμα, αλλά και τη σιωπή. Μνήμες που συνθέτουν τη συλλογική μνήμη του λαού της, ενός λαού που συνειδητά προσπαθεί να ξεχάσει, ή απλά εθελοτυφλεί. Μνήμες ωστόσο που ακόμη και σήμερα πυορροούν...

Η Φερνάντες μέσα από την προσφάτως μεταφρασμένη στα ελληνικά νουβέλα της "Space Invaders", που παραπέμπει στο ηλεκτρονικό παιχνίδι της δεκαετίας του '80 -τόσο ο τίτλος του βιβλίου, όσο και η παρουσία του ηλεκτρονικού παιχνιδιού στις σελίδες της παρούσας νουβέλας λειτουργούν συμβολικά- , επιχειρεί να θέσει μία πληθώρα ερωτημάτων που αφορούν την συλλογική συνείδηση του λαού της αναφορικά με το τραυματικό παρελθόν και τον τρόπο που ο ίσκιος του, επιδρά ακόμη και σήμερα στις πολιτικές εξελίξεις της χώρας της.

Η συγγραφέας μέσα από αναμνήσεις και όνειρα, μέσα από θραύσματα πολυφωνικής αφήγησης, που μεταπηδούν χρονικά, καλύπτοντας τις χρονιές 1980, 1982, 1985, 1994, και 1991, μας μεταφέρει σε ένα σχολείο στη λεωφόρου Μάτα του Σαντιάγο, όπου μία παρέα μαθητών της Α΄ Γυμνασίου, μαθητών που τους διακατέχει η αφέλεια της άγνοιας, και καλούνται να συμμορφωθούν στις επιβολές της εποχής, δείχνοντας πειθαρχία έναντι των στρατιωτικών δυνάμεων της δικτατορίας του Πινοσέτ.

Η παρέα των εφήβων γίνονται παθητικοί μάρτυρες φόνων, εξαφανίσεων, αλλά και δειλών επαναστατικών πράξεων. Το σχολείο τους, τους τοποθετεί σε καλούπια, θέτει όρια, και ακρωτηριάζει τις σκέψεις τους. Είναι έφηβοι ωστόσο! Το νεαρό της ηλικίας, σε συνδυασμό με την παρορμητικότητα της, τους επιτρέπουν να ερωτεύονται, να ονειρεύονται, να διασκεδάζουν, αλλά και να φοβούνται, να προβληματίζονται με την αναπάντεχη εξαφάνιση μίας συμμαθήτριες τους, της Εστρέγια, της κόρης ενός στρατιωτικού της δικτατορίας του Πινοσέτ, προσπαθώντας να ανακαλύψουν τι συνέβη...

Η Νόνα Φερνάντες Σιλάνες έχοντας αποτελέσει η ίδια παιδί, που μεγάλωσε επί του δικτατορικού καθεστώτος του Πινοσέτ, και ούσα πια μία συνειδητοποιημένη ενήλικας, δημιουργεί μία περιεκτική νουβέλα, για να φωτίσει το παρελθόν, να το κατανοήσει, να διατηρήσει τη μνήμη του λαού, και να τον αφυπνίσει, κουβαλώντας στους ώμους της το βάρος της ιστορικής ευθύνης.
Profile Image for Henk.
875 reviews
May 29, 2023
A feverish account of a school class being torn up by the reverberations of the Pinochet regime
There are no cars, no buses, no people. Just us and this guerrilla logic that we can’t wake up from

In short chapter Nona Fernández describes how a school class is more and more polarized and impacted by the Pinochet regime. Flyers turn into protest followed by arrests of parents and even disappearing classmates. Trauma keeps on recurring in dreams while the theme of a game of Space Invaders, shooting those that are alien, takes a gruesome turn near the end of the book.

A short work, on an heart wrenching but often overlooked period, I would have wanted to know the characters of this book a bit more.
Profile Image for Eirini Proikaki.
340 reviews113 followers
June 20, 2020
Μια παρέα παιδιών μεγαλώνει στη Χιλή την εποχή της δικτατορίας Πινοσέτ.Είμαστε στα 80s και τα παιδιά πηγαίνουν στο σχολείο με στρατιωτική πειθαρχία,παίζουν space invaders και προσπαθούν να επιβιώσουν σε έναν κόσμο που σκοτώνει την αθωότητα τους καθημερινά.

Πολλά χρόνια μετά, τα όνειρα τους στοιχειώνουν μνήμες απο εκείνη την εποχή.Η εξαφάνιση μιας συμμαθήτριας τους,δολοφονίες,συλλήψεις γονιών και βασανιστήρια,όλα μπλέκονται μέσα στον συλλογικό εφιάλτη τους.

Εμείς προσπαθούμε μέσα απο τις αποσπασματικές πληροφορίες που μας δίνονται μέσα απο την αφήγηση,τα όνειρα και κάποια γράμματα της ίδιας, να καταλάβουμε τι συνέβη με την Εστρέλλα και γιατί εξαφανίστηκε απο το σχολείο.Ποιος ο ρόλος του πατέρα της και του υποτιθέμενου "θείου" στα γεγονότ�� που περιγράφονται;

Μέσα σε λίγες σελίδες η Nona Fernandez συμπυκνώνει τη φρίκη,τον πόνο και τη σύγχυση μέσα στην οποια μεγάλωσε αυτή και τα παιδιά της γενιάς της.
Profile Image for merixien.
587 reviews326 followers
August 24, 2021
Space invaders 80-90lı yıllarda atari salonlarına gitmiş ve bu kültürü seven herkes gibi benim için de ayrı bir yere sahiptir. Açıkcası kitabın radarıma girmesinin ilk sebebi de ismi oldu.

Şili’nin karanlık diktatörlük günlerini bir grup çocuğun gözünden o dönemin popüler arcade oyunu ile eşleştirerek takip ediyorsunuz. Bir “hayatta kalma” oyunu ile bir diktatörlüğün kanlı tarihi muazzam bir şekilde eşleştiriliyor; daha çocukluktan itibaren kitleleri bir gücün parçası haline getirip aynı zamanda da her türlü saldırıya açık konumda olduklarını göstermesi, kayıpların-cinayetlerin iyi bir skor elde etmek için yapılması gereken bir rutin gibi sıradanlaştırılması anlatılıyor. Anlatımda ise tam da bir çocuğun/gencin zihninde gerilere atılmış, unutulmak istenen kötü bir hatıranın kontrolsüzce yüzeye çıkması gibi kopukluk halini hissediyorsunuz. Nona Fernández, kendi çocukluğuna da damgasını vuran diktatörlük rejimi ile bir yetişkin olarak yeniden hesaplaşıp, toplumun gömülü hafızasını yeniden canlandırmayı amaçlamış ve bunu muazzam bir şekilde gerçekleştirmiş. Tavsiyedir.

“Rüyalar birbirinden farklıdır, tıpkı zihinlerimizin birbirinden farklı, anılarımızın birbirinden farklı, bizlerin birbirimizden farklı oldu��u ve farklı büyüdüğümüz gibi.”
Profile Image for Sofia.
1,179 reviews213 followers
August 4, 2023
Playing Space Invaders whilst living under the invaders. Losing body parts and lives whilst playing and losing body parts and lives whilst living.

Screenshots kids growing up during the military dictatorship in Chile. In a few pages Fernandez gives a lasting impression.

This book is part of what I'm calling Rabih's Dozen.
Profile Image for June.
48 reviews23 followers
January 3, 2020
I'm not sure if Space Invaders is a short novella or a long short story, but whatever it is, it's very strong. It tells the story of a group of Chilean friends, weaving together fragments of dreams and memories as they are haunted by absence of one of their childhood friends. An evocative, piercing, unique look at life under Pinochet.
Profile Image for lalsayed .
110 reviews25 followers
March 18, 2021

Διαβάζετε απνευστί.
Profile Image for Paul Fulcher.
Author 2 books1,301 followers
August 21, 2022
All of the columns forming a perfect and unbreakable square, a block that advances in lockstep, a single unit moving on the game board. We are the most important piece in a game, but we still don't know what game it is.

Space Invaders is Natasha Wimmer's translation of Nona Fernández's 2013 novel of the same title.

On its US publication, the translation was a National Book Award Nominee for Translated Literature and featued on the longlist of the (last ever?) BTBA Best Translated Book Award (the write-up at the time as to why this should win.).

In the UK this has been published by Daunt Books and is the latest book from the highly recommended Republic of Consciousness Book of the Month club, which both introduces readers to a wonderful variety of books from small UK & Irish presses, and also supports the UK's finest literary prize.

This is my second novel from Fernández/Wimmer (the first The Twlight Zone) and the 9th of Wimmer's translations I've read, the most famous of course being 2666. It's an impressive work, which is 80 compact pages, and in a fractured narrative, lands some powerful points about growing up under an opressove regime.

The novel is based on the author's own schoolday memories and a real-life case. One of her schoolmates Estrella González suddenly left school one day. Some years later the author and her former classmates recognised the girl's 'uncle' and her father, Colonel Guillermo González Betancourt, on television as two of the accused in the Caso Degollados or 'slit-throat' case of the murder of political opponents of the Pinochet regime.

The novel is built on the same story. 10 year old Estrella Gonzáles attends a school, usually brought to school by her 'uncle', who is actually reputed to be someone who works for Gonzáles' father, a police agent. The father is reputed to have a prosthetic hand (his original hand lost when he snatched and attempted to throw away a live grenade thrown at a colleague) as seen by the only one of the classmates to visit the family home, where he played Space Invaders on an Atari console.

The story is told in a fractured narrative, with first, second and third person sections, including parts told in the collective first person, but by different narrators from the friend group, and also with letters from Gonzáles to her classmates. The novel plays on the unreliability of memory, and indeed how much of what the, now older, characters remember of their former classmate comes through dreams:

It’s her. Nothing else matters, not the style of her hair, the color of her skin or her eyes. Everything is relative except for the sound of her voice, because in dreams, according to Fuenzalida, voices are like fingerprints. González’s voice seeps into us from Fuenzalida’s dreams, invading our own visions, our own versions of González, settling in and keeping us company night after night.
Some nights it visits Acosta's pillow, or Donoso's torn sheets. And so the nightly rounds are a never-ending roll call, an eternal head count that disturbs our peaceful sleep. Years have passed. Too many. Our mattresses, like our lives, have been scattered around the city, have drifted apart. What has become of each of us? It's a mystery that scarcely needs solving. We share dreams from afar. Or one dream, at least, embroidered in white thread on the bib of a checkered school smock: Estrella González.

And the symbolism of Space Invaders runs through the story, particularly the way the aliens descend in regular ranks. This is echoed in the way the children have to line up in the playground each day for the national anthem, but then later when politics starts to become a feature of their lives and they attend their first demonstration against the regime:

Suddenly, in the middle of a broad avenue, two hands that aren't ours begin to clap to an unfamiliar beat. One and two. One and two. Other hands that aren't ours join in the clapping. One and two. One and two. And then, so as not to be outdone, we lift our hands from the shoulders of our trusty classmates and without knowing how, we've got it, one and two, beating out a new rhythm that seizes our bodies. Someone shouts something and someone repeats it. Somebody else shouts something and many others repeat it. We shout what's being shouted. We don't understand what it means, but that's what we do. We howl a howl that comes from somewhere that isn't our mouths, a chant invented and started by others, but made for us. One and two, one and two, our hearts beating in time to the words echoing offthe buildings. Everybody clapping, the smell of sweat, of clothes washed in unfamiliar detergent, cigarettes, smoke, burnt rubber. And the line breaks apart. Acosta is separated from Bustamante and Donoso, and we lose Fuenzalida and Maldonado somewhere, as others crowd in between us. New uniforms appear, new school crests, new hairstyles, and the line gets longer, while next to us we see another long line, and beyond that another, and another. All of the columns forming a perfect and unbreakable square, a block that advances in lockstep, a single unit moving on the game board. We are the most important piece in a game, but we still don't know what game it is.

And in later live their dreams are haunted more by political trauma than memories of a childhood friend:

Fuenzalida can't remember what funeral she's dreaming of. It might be the one for the brothers from Villa Francia or for the teachers from the Latinoamericano, or for the boy burned to death by a military patrol, or for the priest shot in the settlement of La Victoria, or for the boy riddled with bullets on Calle Bulnes, or for the kidnapped reporter, or for the group assassinated on the Feast of Corpus Christi, or for one of the others, any of the others. Time isn't straightforward, it mixes everything up, shuffles the dead, merges them, separates them out again, advances backward, retreats in reverse, spins like a merry-go-round, like a tiny wheel in a laboratory cage, and traps us in funerals and marches and detentions, leaving us with no assurance of continuity or escape. Whether we were there or not is no longer clear. Whether we took part in it all or not isn't either. But we're left with traces of the dream, like the vestiges of a doomed naval battle. We wake up with smudges of cork beard on our pillows and with the unpleasant feeling of having been assailed by green glow-in-the-dark bullets, by a wooden prosthetic hand.

Impressive and more powerful than many novels multiple times the length.
Profile Image for George K..
2,432 reviews318 followers
May 27, 2020
Βαθμολογία: 7/10

Δεν μπορώ να πω ότι ενθουσιάστηκα. Είναι πραγματικά μια πολύ ιδιαίτερη νουβέλα που μέσα σε λίγες σελίδες κρύβει κάποια έντονα συναισθήματα και ορισμένες δυνατές εικόνες, και υποθέτω ότι εμμέσως πλην σαφώς διαθέτει και στοιχεία από τη ζωή και τις εμπειρίες της Νόνα Φερνάντες, μιας και τη δεκαετία του '80 είχε την ίδια ηλικία με τα παιδιά που "πρωταγωνιστούν" σ'αυτή την ιστορία, όμως η αλήθεια είναι ότι δεν κατάφερε να με αγγίξει ιδιαίτερα, δεν πρόλαβα να νιώσω κάτι για τους χαρακτήρες ή το όλο δράμα. Νομίζω ότι επί του θέματος έχω διαβάσει πιο δυνατές και πιο καθηλωτικές ιστορίες, που με συγκίνησαν ή έστω με άγγιξαν περισσότερο. Όπως και να'χει, είναι και θέμα γούστου, αλλά και όρεξης, και άλλωστε τα τριάμισι αστεράκια (τρία στο Goodreads) δεν είναι κακός βαθμός. Πάντως προτείνεται.
Profile Image for metsch.
29 reviews2 followers
February 1, 2022
Kısacık ama çarpıcı bir metin Space Invaders
Bir oyun üzerinden 1980li yıllarda Şili'de diktatörlüğün gölgesinde büyüyen bir neslin rüyalarının birleşimi.
1. Can
2. Can
3. ....
Profile Image for Lauren .
1,735 reviews2,336 followers
April 15, 2020
"We don't know if this is a dream or a memory. Sometimes we think it's a memory that seeps into our dreams, a scene that escapes from someone's memory and hides between all of our dirty sheets."

From SPACE INVADERS by Nona Fernández, translated from the Spanish [Chile] by Natasha Wimmer // 2016 in Spanish / 2019 English translation by @graywolfpress

Fernández’s slim #novella (70-some pages overall) explores this diaphonous space between memories and dreams.

A group of school friends recall and remember the disappearance of one of their friends, each having specific memories of her hair, clothes, and the scent of the gum she chewed. Memories of playing Atari's Space Invaders, on the same television that "solves the mystery" of where young Estrella went.

Fragmentary vignettes - some epistolary, others poems, capturing the late childhood/early teenage years time very well. Told in three acts, the structure of a slow reveal. Vivid imagery, whether 'real' or not.

This one is notable debut for Fernández, and I hope we see more by her. Also happy to see another translation by Wimmer, who has translated several Roberto Bolaño titles.

Thanks to my good friend @readingenvy for sending along for my #ReadChile project on Instagram. This copy is an ARC and comes out this Tuesday, 5th of November.
Profile Image for Come Musica.
1,610 reviews414 followers
July 30, 2020

Space Invaders era un videogioco progettato alla fine degli anni settanta. Da Wikipedia: "La modalità di gioco è piuttosto semplice: il giocatore controlla un cannone mobile che si muove orizzontalmente sul fondo dello schermo, e deve abbattere uno ad uno gli alieni che piano piano si avvicinano alla Terra. Le tappe di avvicinamento degli alieni al Mondo seguono uno schema univoco, un ampio e ordinato zig-zag che li porta lentamente ma inesorabilmente a raggiungere il fondo dello schermo decretando l'avvenuta invasione e la conseguente fine della partita."

Nona Fernández si ispira al videogioco per costruire il suo racconto per parlare della sanguinosa storia cilena. Gli stessi capitoli si ispirano al videogioco: La Prima Vita, La Seconda Vita, La Terza Vita e Game Over.

Questo romanzo breve si snoda attraverso un susseguirsi e un concatenarsi di scene che, attraverso i sogni, permettono di districarsi nei labirinti della memoria in cui qualcosa è andato smarrito.

Sogni e ricordi sono una cosa sola.
Sognare e ricordare, diventano così sinonimi: "NESSUNO RICORDA CHIARAMENTE IL MOMENTO ESATTO, ma tutti ricordiamo che all’improvviso cominciarono a vedersi bare, funerali e corone di fiori e non potevamo più fuggire, perché tutto sembrava essersi trasformato in qualcosa di simile a un brutto sogno. Forse le cose erano sempre andate così, senza che noi ce ne rendessimo conto."

E se sogni e ricordi si sovrappongono, allora non ha più senso interrogarsi su come siano andate davvero le cose: "Non ci interroghiamo più di tanto sulla situazione, perché nei sogni non ci si domanda nulla".

E "che sebbene le voci si dissolvano nel tempo, i sogni sanno resuscitarle."

E così riemergono delle scene, delle idee: "Ci siamo tutti o quasi tutti, e camminiamo a piedi scalzi sulla sabbia seguendo i gabbiani che ci condurranno al mare. Sono stanco, ho sete e penso che da dove siamo ora non si vede l’acqua. Si sente il rumore delle onde, si percepisce la brezza marina, ma per quanto ci muoviamo non arriviamo da nessuna parte. Forse il mare non c’è. Forse è solo un’idea, un miraggio."

C'è scritto nell'Epilogo: "Nessuno ha presente il momento esatto, però tutti ricordiamo che all’improvviso cominciarono ad apparire bare, funerali e corone di fiori e già non potevamo fuggire da tutto ciò, perché tutto si era trasformato in qualcosa di simile a un brutto sogno. Gli anni ottanta, questo incubo. Bambini che giocavano e andavano a scuola in un paese sommerso dalla violenza. Bambini che hanno perso presto la propria innocenza come impone uno scenario di guerra. Bare, funerali, corone di fiori. Parte del paesaggio. Apprendimento del silenzio e del segreto inculcati da un mondo adulto diviso tra vittime e carnefici. Ognuno rappresenta una pagina nella storia del sangue."

"Mentre scrivo queste righe, leggo che il gioco Space Invaders compie trentacinque anni da quando fu creato dal giapponese Tomohiro Nishikado. Considerato l’antesignano principale dei videogiochi moderni, il Museo di Arte Moderna di New York ha annunciato di volerlo includere nella sua collezione permanente come elemento di design.   Space Invaders, secondo la tipologia dei giochi, è uno schmup, abbreviazione di shoot’em up. Fucilateli. Il nome di un tipo di videogiochi in cui il giocatore affronta da solo orde di nemici che deve distruggere. Fucilateli. La regola principale del gioco di sopravvivenza che era la vita in quel periodo. Lo stesso schermo davanti agli occhi. Lo stesso schermo per i cannoni, le pallottole verdi, i piccoli marziani, le scene e i volti del terrore. Sullo stesso schermo televisivo dove prima si giocava a Space Invaders ora appaiono i carabinieri responsabili delle morti. Sono sei gli agenti coinvolti. Si possono vedere con chiarezza. I loro volti sfilano sullo schermo uno dopo l’altro."

"Che sarà dei bambini che siamo stati?
si domanda in uno dei suoi versi il poeta Enrique Lihn. Space Invaders si fa carico di questa domanda. Lo fa invitandoci a sognare i nostri ricordi o a ricordare i nostri sogni, operazioni intercambiabili. Lo fa senza pretendere un’immagine definitiva e cosciente in base alla quale i sogni sono diversi, come diversi sono le nostre teste, diversi i nostri ricordi, diversi siamo noi, e diversi cresciamo.

Questo libro ci invita a lavorare sulla memoria. 
Un lavoro per niente facile per i bambini che crebbero affrontando l’attacco incessante degli invasori dallo spazio. Nessuno vuole ricordare gli incubi. Però, inevitabilmente, come si afferma fino alla fine di questo racconto, Siamo caduti sul lenzuolo bianco e siamo affondati. Siamo sommersi lì. Non riusciamo a svegliarci.

Questo libro ci aiuta giustamente a compiere questo lavoro. Ricordare per uscire da questo sogno senza apparente via d’uscita.   
Una vita, un’altra e un’altra ancora in una strage ciclica che non ha una fine.
Fuggire da quel brutto sogno di cui siamo succubi. La nostra storia. 
Imparare a risvegliarsi."
Profile Image for Becky.
1,378 reviews1,651 followers
May 23, 2021
This was read with some members of the SFFBC group for a diversity reading challenge (the task was: "A book by a S. American woman or nonbinary person"). This book didn't actually win, but the nature of the challenge is such that we can read any book that's nominated (or that fits the challenge) in any round, and so I decided to read this one.

So I should start this review by stating that I know very little (correction: almost nothing) about Chile's political history, and part of my decision to read this was to learn a bit more about it. I don't think that this book was the best one for that goal, but that's OK - not every book has to be every thing.

This was something altogether different than what I was expecting, though I don't know if I even know what that was. A speculative fiction book, probably, because of the group, and definitely a book set in Chile, but beyond that, who knows. You'se guys know I like to go in blind. :)

What this book ended up being was an ethereal, shifting, dreamlike, poetic remembrance of a childhood (or several childhoods) shaped by political events beyond the comprehension of the children living them. This is a book about trauma and loss, and of lives completely shattered by political upheavals... but that's only clear in retrospect, and only then if the connections are made between the horrors that occurred and the childish interpretation of them recorded in memory.

The dreams and memories and distortions of what they remember are kind of a patchwork of play and ritual and routine, normal events interspersed with resistance and political action that is not understood, but engaged in nonetheless because of that, and a certain fearlessness that children have.

Children aren't able to understand the nuances of a fraught political landscape. Hell, I'm an adult and I don't pretend to understand it all. But the way that this was written, with the symbolism and dreamlike texture and feel, it really worked well to show how growing up in an environment like that would seep in unnoticed and just hide out in one's subconscious.

Early on in the story (I think about 40%) this reminded me in style and tone of Never Let Me Go, a book which I thought was exceedingly boring and pointless. I still think that the style is similar, but THIS book, even though on first read can also seem kind of wandering and meandering and unfocused, DID have a point in the end, and a poignant one. I was surprised by how readable it was, especially for someone like me who definitely does not usually like that kind of style. I like to know who is who and where we are and what I'm seeing and what is happening... For me to enjoy NOT knowing those things means that the book was very well done. And this was.
Profile Image for Neil.
1,007 reviews651 followers
September 20, 2022
I received this book as part of my subscription to the excellent Republic of Consciousness Book Club. I am not sure I would have come across it any other way, so my thanks to the RoC for choosing it.

This is a book grounded in real events that took place in Chile during the dictatorship of General Pinochet. But it looks at these events obliquely as it moves around amongst a group of friends recollecting their childhood. I’m not generally a fan of books that tell stories in a choral format with a group of narrators talking in the third person plural. However, this is perhaps the first novel I have read where I felt this worked really well, which goes some way to explaining my relatively high rating.

As the story opens, in 1980, we watch as a father kisses his daughter and sends her into a school for her first day there. The other children in the class, the chorus, have different memories of her, because

…there’s no way to agree, because in dreams, as in memory, there is no agreement, nor should there be.

But the reader needs to mark well these differing dreams and memories because they all feed into later events as we travel to 1982, 1985, 1994 and then back to 1991.

Who is this new girl at the school (note that the book is dedicated to her)? And who is her father? What did they do?

The way the narrative builds layers and swirls around the characters makes for an hypnotic reading experience. It’s only a short book, but that just means that you have time to read it twice before moving onto another book. And doing that is well worthwhile as lots of pieces fall into place more firmly on a second reading.
Profile Image for Alan Teder.
2,060 reviews110 followers
August 27, 2022
Chilean Childhoods
Review of the Daunt Books paperback (June 2022) translated by Natasha Wimmer from the Spanish language original Space Invaders (2013)

This book invites us to work on memory. Not an easy job for children who grew up facing the incessant attack of invaders from space. Nobody wants to remember nightmares. But, inevitably, as it is said towards the end of this text, we are submerged there. We don't know how to wake up. This book helps us do exactly that. Remember how to leave this dream which offers no apparent exit. One life, another and another, in a cyclical massacre with no possibility of an end. Escape from that bad dream to which we are subjected.
Our own history.
Learn to wake up.
- A translated excerpt from the Epilogue by Jaime Pinos to the Spanish language edition (not included in the English translation editions).

This recent UK edition of Nona Fernández's Space Invaders (orig. 2013) does not improve on the original 2019 US edition of the same translation as published by Graywolf Press. Again, no Introduction of Afterword is provided for context, which to me seems a real requirement for an historical fiction based on events ranging from 50 to 30 years ago. So it is another case of researching and then writing your own Afterword or Interpretation (in your mind perhaps). Even the original Spanish language edition contained an Epilogue, although it was more of an appreciation and an encouragement to exorcism than a background history.

So unless you already have a thorough knowledge of recent Chilean history, you will likely have to look up the Military Dictatorship of Chile (1973-1990) and Human Rights Violations in Pinochet's Chile in general, and the Caso Degollados (Spanish: Slit-Throat Case) in particular.

Fernández's titular use of the early video game Space Invaders is a recurring metaphor for the incessant persecution of people under the Pincochet's regime from what seems like countless waves of attackers. The author presents this from the point of view of children growing up under the dictatorship, which she did herself, having been born in 1971. There is the impression that some of the characters may be based on her own childhood friends e.g. one named Maldonado is thanked in the acknowledgements. Most of that background remains a mystery however.

I found myself confused at times by various aspects, mixing up the father with the uncle etc. The main character whose fate haunts the dreams of her childhood friends is described in the synopsis with the name of Estrella González Jepsen, but midway in a reproduced letter says her middle name is Marisella. You then deduce that her name must have been Estrella Marisella González with a later married name of Jepsen. So it is the synopsis leading you astray... Anyway, various aspects just didn't satisfy me about the presentation of this translation. Not the original author's fault though.

I read Space Invaders as the August 2022 selection from the Republic of Consciousness Book of the Month (BotM) club. Subscriptions to the BotM support the annual Republic of Consciousness Prize for small independent publishers.

I accessed the original Spanish language edition through Scribd. If you want to check my translation the original excerpt quoted above reads as:
Este libro nos invita al trabajo de la memoria. Un trabajo nada fácil para los niños que crecieron enfrentando el ataque incesante de los invasores del espacio. Nadie quiere recordar las pesadillas. Pero, inevitablemente, como se dice hacia el final de este texto, Ahí estamos sumergidos. No sabemos despertar. Este libro nos ayuda justamente a hacer ese trabajo. Recordar para salir de ese sueño sin salida aparente. Una vida, otra y otra más, en una matanza cíclica sin posibilidad de fin. Escapar de ese mal sueño al que estamos sometidos.
Nuestra propia historia.
Aprender a despertar.
Profile Image for Zozetta.
140 reviews39 followers
August 24, 2020
Ένα βιβλίο - μικρό σε έκταση μεν, αλλά τόσο περιεκτικό - που μιλά για τη σπουδαιότητα της ιστορικής μνήμης. Μιας μνήμης που μπορεί να πονά αβάσταχτα και γι αυτό το λόγο οι άνθρωποι πολλές φορές δεν θέλουν να θυμούνται. Ωστόσο, τα γεγονότα είναι εκεί. Οι αναμνήσεις είναι εκεί μέσα στα όνειρά μας που γίνονται ένας αδιέξοδος εφιάλτης. Και πρέπει να βγει κανείς από αυτή την παγίδα. Να αντιμετωπίσει την ιστορία, να συνειδητοποιήσει τα γιατί και τα πως ώστε να μπορέσει να προχωρήσει.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
Author 1 book164 followers
August 26, 2020
“We are the most important piece in a game, but we still don’t know what the game is.”

A short but haunting tale of children caught up in conflicts during Chile’s Pinochet regime.

The telling of this narrative is amazing. Fernández lightly uses Space Invaders (a violent video game popular during the time of these events) as both frame and allegory. She artfully portrays the viewpoint of children, and we know children have a way of seeing right to the truth of things.

The story emerges from a compilation of childish recollections: sights and smells they noticed, questions that went unanswered, notes passed, letters written, secrets shared, their dreams and fears.

This little novel is unique and powerful. It will linger in my mind much longer than the few hours it took to read it.
Profile Image for Belén Herrera Riquelme.
26 reviews9 followers
February 28, 2021
Amo a leer a la Nona, su insistencia en los daños que dejo la dictadura a través de la ficción. Aquí su foco está puesto en lxs niñxs, en los sueños/pesadillas que se instalaron en el inconsciente colectivo de toda una generación.

La estructura de sueños/recuerdos, que propone lo vuelve muy agradable de seguir, y tiene imágenes hermosas/horribles que duelen porque están sin duda en mi cuerpo, porque la herida se hereda, y el pánico a milic0s y p4c0s seguirá siendo el mismo, es cosa de hablar con les niñez que han vivido el estallido social, la violencia en el wallmapu, entre tantas otras. Gracias Nona por insistir, por dejar registro, por hacer memoria.

Y gracias a mi Pololo ke me lo regalo ji.’
38 reviews
November 28, 2019
4.5 stars

A terrific little book that captures the confusion, blurriness, and pain in trying to remember what it was like being a child under Pinochet’s regime (was it all real? was it imagined? is it easier to grapple with not knowing what is a dream and what is a memory?). Memories and dreams haunt all of the characters in this novella, a grown-up generation struggling to realize the atrocities they grew up around. The only comforts are the moments here and there shared with friends: zapping video game ghosts, walking together across the street, gossiping about family members, passing letters to each other. Excited to seek out more of Fernandez’s writing.
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