If you too are seeking respite from this surprisingly hot Saturday, I whole-heartedly recommend spending an hour curled up in front of a fan while reading Space Invaders from cover to cover. This is the second fictional account of being a child in Pinochet’s Chile to rise through my TBR pile this year; How to Order the Universe offered one girl’s story, while Space Invaders trades dreams and memories from a chorus of children who grew up too soon against the terror of the 1980s.
Unlike the precocious narrator of HTOTU, the children of Space Invaders are confused, quiet, and following along as best as they can. As children they went to school in pristine uniforms, marched through squares chanting pro-government slogans, and kept their mouths closed but eyes open while peers, siblings, and parents disappeared. Sometimes those who were disappeared returned; without answers, without pride, without body parts. Sometimes they never returned, and no one was able or willing to look further.
These children grew into adults; confused, lonely, and agitated adults. As adults, they spend Space Invaders trading memories about a missing classmate- the mysterious González. She was a out of reach in their childhood, and only became more so over time. While her peers saw their families fall as opposition, she was the daughter of an important military figure. All of the survivors remember her differently now; her hair, her face, her clothes- but her voice is always the same. They wake now, as adults spread across the country, with her voice in their heads.
Fernández tells the story herself far better than I can recount; this novella is tiny- a just 70 pages- and each sentence is engineered to unnerve and unmoored the reader. You too will become a dreamer. You too will sink beneath the bedsheet waves of a children’s pageant. You too will find your blood run cold despite the stifling heat.