‘The Twilight Zone’ by Nona Fernández – “They Disappeared Him”


‘The Twilight Zone’ by Nona Fernández (2016) – 219 pages   Translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer


If this novel were an actual Twilight Zone episode it would be the torture episode. Unfortunately what happened in Chile under General Pinochet is all too real. The systematic human rights violations that were committed by the military dictatorship of Chile, under General Augusto Pinochet, included gruesome acts of physical and sexual abuse, as well as psychological damage. From 1973 to 1990, Chilean armed forces, the police and all those aligned with the military junta were involved in institutionalizing fear and terror in Chile as part of Operation Condor.

Operation Condor was a United States backed and conceived campaign of political repression and state terror involving intelligence operations and assassination of opponents in South America. The governments in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, and later Brazil signed the agreement. The United States government provided planning, coordinating, and training on torture, provided technical support, and supplied military aid to the juntas.

After the legitimate President of Chile, Salvador Allende, was ousted and killed in a United States CIA-backed coup, Pinochet persecuted leftists, socialists, and political critics. There never has been a full accounting of all the people who were murdered by the government of Chile, but the Valech Report of 2005 contains the testimony of more than 35,000 Chileans who were detained and subjected to torture.

Somehow with a national ‘No’ vote against Augusto Pinochet, he got removed from being dictator of Chile in 1990, but instead of executing or imprisoning him, the country allowed him to live out his years first as leader of the Chile military then as a Senator.

At the center of the novel ‘The Twilight Zone’ is “the man who tortured people”. Apparently in 1985 a popular Chilean magazine called Cauce published an article with the headline ‘I Tortured People’ . It was a first-person account by someone who worked at one of these military torture centers. This brought the subject of torture in Chile out in the open. In this novel, Nona Fernández imagines what may have happened to this guy after the article was published.

Toward the end of ‘The Twilight Zone’, a short history of the Augusto Pinochet Torture and Terror Regime appears to the tune of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”. It begins as follows.

Coup in Chile,

President Allende died in La Moneda,

Mass arrests,

Secret executions,

war tribunals,

The Caravan of Death travels South and North.

Victor Jara is tortured

and killed at the National Stadium.”

Later, we get these lines:

Pinochet cedes command of the army

and becomes a Senator for life in the National Assembly.

The world laughs at Chilean democracy.”

Now the United States has had its own attempted Far Right coup. What goes around, comes around.


Grade:      A





12 responses to this post.

  1. Hi Tony! Enjoyed the review, particularly as I had this one on my “maybe” list. About a year ago, I read Fernandez’s novella Space Invaders (I think it was her first work translated into English) and was quite impressed. When Twilight Zone was published, I noticed the similarity of themes between the two and learned that much of the novella had in fact been folded into the novel.
    Although my own impressions are based solely on the shorter work, I can say that Fernandez is an enormously talented writer who’s dealing with some powerful and troubling issues.

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Janakay,
      What happened in South America under the United States-backed Operation Condor horrifies me. I just completed another novel about Uruguay during this time called ‘The President and the Frog’ by Carolina de Robertis which I will be reviewing after a couple of other reviews. I have read a couple of other good South American novels about Operation Condor which titles escape me.



      • The whole history of U.S. involvement in South America is grim & terrifying beyond words. Once you start reading about it, you’re no longer puzzled by the anti-American sentiment you sometimes encounter. I really wish I were more fluent in reading Spanish (forget speaking it) as I’d love to read some untranslated works.

        Liked by 1 person


  2. This sounds really fascinating Tony, definitely on my radar now.

    Liked by 1 person


  3. A very sick period of history. Have you read The Secrets in their Eyes? (good film version too).

    Liked by 1 person


  4. Oh, this sounds hard to read in the way that Holocaust Lit is, but important in the way that Holocaust Lit is.

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Lisa,
      It shows that the United States’ severe “Far Right” problems go back at least to the 1970s and Operation Condor and probably all the way back to the original sins of slavery and Indian slaughter.

      Liked by 1 person


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