Festiba author talks about lasting effects of chile’s dictatorship education themonitor.com electricity freedom system

It is really hard to write in a language that is not your own, he said, noting it must be accurate and to convey the author’s idea for it to resonate with the reader. For this work, he relied on the skills of translator Megan McDowell, rather than attempting to do it himself.

His featured novel focuses on Chile under the of rule Gen. Augusto Pinochet after Salvador Allende was overthrown, who is known as the first elected Marxist president in Latin America. Even though he was born two years after Allende’s death, Zambra said the repercussions of Pinochet’s dictatorship resonated with his generation.

“It’s not a novel about the facts, it’s a novel of how we deal with the past,” he said. “We had the feeling of not being able to talk about it, because that’s why our parents always said. ‘You were not there; you cannot talk about that.’… So it’s about legitimacy. It was about, that, about who can tell the story.”

“In my case and in the case of my whole generation, childhood and dictatorship is kind of the same thing,” Zambra explained. “It’s hard to understand one without talking about the other. … My experience is obviously very different than my parent’s generation or my grandparent’s generation, but that’s why I decided to talk about it.”

His first goal was to write about his childhood neighborhood; because it was so uninteresting, he said, that it made it interesting to write about. That’s how he started to understand that writing about his childhood meant writing about Chile as a whole and writing about a lot of people’s experience not just his own.

“There was a moment where I realized it was meant to be for many reasons,” he said about the style of the novel. “The most important is that dealing with the idea of writing about it was to me absolutely more interesting and more important than telling those stories.”

“La anestesia real de una dictadura. Te obligan a perder los sentidos,” he said in Spanish, “The real anesthesia of a dictatorship. They force you to lose your senses,” even if they lived among parents, grandparents and others who were present during the chaos and were in mourning for many years during and after the fact, it was not allowed for this to be his generation’s battle.

“Your country was destroyed so deeply that you cannot even laugh about anything,” he said. “This is really painful. This is real pain. … And that was the feeling. You cannot talk. You were not allowed to talk. The ones that have talked were the victims.”

But rather than the narrator being the victim or the hero, he was simply a person trying to understand and talk about things that he might have not experienced by using other people’s voices and experiences, he said. And as he tried to better understand those experiences he posed important questions to himself as a writer and even to the reader.

These themes will be discussed further through the Big Read program at UTRGV over the next two months, including 20 community book discussions. Related events include two film screenings: “The Battle of Chile,” at 6 p.m. March 6, and “Neruda” at 6 p.m. April 4, at the Dustin M. Sekula Memorial Library in Edinburg.