Pascal Garnier ‘Moon in a Dead Eye’

A SECURE GATED COMMUNITY There’s nothing quite like knowing you’re protected and secure. With a dedicated caretaker-manager on site 365 days of the year, our residents can enjoy total peace of mind.

As retirement arrives, people can be coaxed into looking for ideals. Here Martial and Odette, happy until now living in Suresnes, close to Paris, find that the people around them and their local references are changing, their friends are moving house, some have died, they have heard rumours of people being robbed at cash machines, their local market store holders have retired, and so with this background they let themselves be seduced into selling up and moving to the south of France, to Les Conviviales, a retirement village, see the opening quote. Except that things are rarely as they seem as they are the first to arrive in winter:

Martial compared the photo on the cover of the brochure with the view from the window. It was raining. It had rained almost every day for the past month. A slick of water shone on the Roman-tiled roofs of the identikit ochre pebbledash bungalows, each fronted by a matching patch of Astroturf-green lawn. At this time of year, the regimented rows of broom-like shrubs provided neither leaves, nor flowers, nor shade. All the shutters were closed. The fifty or so little houses were lined up obediently on either side of a wide road, with gravel paths leading off to each home. Viewed from the air, it must have looked something like a fish skeleton.

This begins as a satire on seeking change, as the village only ever attracts five people, Martial and Odette the first arrivals and then Maxime and his wife Marlène, and finally Léa. Pascal Garnier then slowly investigates these people living in their gated village in the middle of nowhere, each of them having their own quirkiness, for instance Léa who has been given the house by her former employers family after her death to get rid of her and as she admits to Nadine, the village social secretary, she now cannot move as the houses are unsaleable. As she and Nadine are preparing supper one evening we understand that Léa has absences:

The wine had made them a little drunk. They spontaneously moved to tutoiement.
You must have a good laugh watching us, right?
I admit that sometimes I have trouble not laughing.
The other day for instance, when Marlène……Léa… What are you doing?…
Léa was smiling, Her eyes were empty, as she filled the salad bowl with anything at hand, peelings, her keys, her purse……Nadine watched her, eyes wide open….
Léa let herself be led to the sofa. No sooner was she sat down than she closed her eyes and fell asleep. She was still smiling.***

As the story moves on, a camp of gypsies, the grain of sand, move next to the gated community and from then on things spiral out of control with the true sides of each of the residents shining through until the explosive end. A well written satire, don’t let anyone sell you a hapiness package for your retirement!

First Published in French as “Lune captive dans un oeil mort” in 2009 by Zulma.
Translated into English by Emily Boyce and published as “Moon in a Dead Eye” in 2013 by Gallic Books
*** my translation

The quote as read in French before translation

Le vin les avait rendues un peu pompette. Spontanément, on était passé au tutoiement.
Tu dois bien t’amuser à nous observer, non?
J’avoue que parfois, j’ai du mal à me retenir.
L’autre jour, par exemple, quand Marlène a…. Léa?… Qu’est-Ce que tu fais?…
Léa souriait, l’œil vide, en remplissant le saladier de tout et n’importe quoi, les épluchures, ses clés, son porte-monnaie….Nadine la regardait faire, les yeux ronds….
Léa se laissa conduire jusqu’au canapé. À Peine fut-elle assise qu’elle ferma les yeux et s’endormit. Elle souriait toujours


Luc Chomarat ‘The Latest Norwegian Thriller’

You can bet on the next work of Grundozwkzson being a hybrid product, available only in digital form, with links that will steer the reader towards video extracts and creating crowdfunding for anything based on the text. You could even imagine a sufficiently controlled filing hierarchy allowing each reader to create his own ideal thriller, deleting such and such a person, raping and torturing such and such a girl, the book, the film, the game merging together into a single interactive product with maximum and immediate profitability.***

Dr Flknberg the profiler, Olaf Grundozwkzson the Nordic crime sensation, writer of The Eskimo and inspector Bjornborg and his detective Willander of the police force who are too short staffed to do anything except follow the procedure, well with these characters you know you’re in Scandinavia. In this, Luc Chomarat’s latest book, read for the Roman De Rochefort, the French editor Delafeuille, with his industry is disarray due to the impact of digital publishing, has been sent to Danemark by his traditional company to sign up Olaf Grunozwkzson, the biggest thing in Scandinavian thrillers, for all translation rights in the French speaking world, where he is in competition with Gorki who has a very “modern” vision of the “product” as illustrated in the opening quote.

In this satire on nordic thrillers, Delafeuille soon realises that he himself is in just such an interactive product as he discovers that both the story and exerpts from the book have the same sentences. He finds himself meeting Inspector Bjornborg who represents the boring Scandinavian police:

Bjornborg went back to his Volvo fleet car. As he slid behind the wheel, he felt an overwhelming weariness come upon him. The enquiry was going nowhere, and even that didn’t help him to see clearly. In reality enquiries didn’t actually advance, but neither did they in Nordic thrillers. They are often rather large laboriously written books. As for the cop’s wives waiting for them when they get home, and the relationship between them, well that too was like real life. In short there was no way out.***

And he soon finds himself working to solve the cases of the beautiful blondhaired girls being violently murdered in Copenhagen along with Sherlock Holmes. When they realise that they are protagonists of the story they decide to try too get an interview with Grundozwkzson with Holmes writing to him:

I’m writing to our friend. I’m proposing to interview him at his home on a certain number of subjects, the Nordic thriller, his personal works, the Change to digital form, etc. I’m flattering him a little That should interest him.
I don’t really understand. Why should he see us?
I’m using the old procedure of the Trojan horse. You see: I’m signing with a fantasy name, Ulla Ogsen, which sounds both Scandinavian and erotic, I’m quickly creating a pretty realistic false profile of a journalist, to which I’m attaching the photo of a silicon enhanced Ukrainian porn star.
It’s a crude trap.
He’ll fall for it old boy because his fantasies are as simplistic as my methods.***

Chomarat takes us through all of the clichés of the Nordic thriller, the violent deaths of beautiful young women this in countries famous for fighting for feminine equality, the pointless deadends to the story, the profiler obsessed by sex, the police force with no budget, the extreme climate eventually causing the main protagonists to be isolated from the world. Even the name of the book, “The Eskimo”. I liked the moment of realisation that something was wrong, if they were in Scandinavia trying to sign the rights for the French translation, as Holmes points out why was the story they were discovering already in French?

An amusing satire read in one day.

First Published in French as “Le Dernier Thriller Norvégien” in 2019 by La Manufacture de Livres
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Il y a gros à parier que le prochain opus de Grundozwkzson sera un produit hybride, lisible exclusivement sous forme numérique, avec des liens qui permettront de diriger le lecteur vers des extraits vidéo, et de générer automatiquement du crowdfunding pour toute forme dérivée du texte. On peut même imaginer une arborescence suffisamment maîtrisée pour permettre à chaque lecteur de créer son thriller idéal, supprimer tel ou tel personnage, violer et torturer telle ou telle fille. Le livre, le film, le jeu se fondront en un produit unique, interactif, à rentabilité maximum et immédiate.

Bjornborg rejoignit sa Volvo de service. En se glissant derrière le volant il sentit une lassitude sans nom lui tomber sur les épaules. L’enquête n’avançait pas, et même cela ne l’aidait pas à y voir plus clair. Dans la réalité, les enquêtes n’avançaient pas effectivement. Mais dans les polars Nordiques non plus. C’étaient souvent des assez gros bouquins, à l’écriture laborieuses. Quant aux épouses de flics retrouvaient à la maison et aux rapports qu’ils entretenaient avec elles, cela aussi ressemblait fort à la vraie vie. Bref, il n’y avait pas d’issue.

J’écris à notre ami. Je lui propose de l’interviewer chez lui, sur un certain nombre de sujets, le thriller nordique, son œuvre personnelle, le passage au numérique, etc. Je le flatte un peu. Cela devrait l’intéresser.
Je ne comprends pas très bien. Pourquoi nous recevrait-Il?
J’utilise le vieux procédé du cheval de Troie. Voyez: je signe d’un nom fantaisiste, Ulla Ogsen, qui sonne à la fois scandinave et érotique. Je crée très rapidement un faux profil de journaliste assez vraisemblable, auquel je rajoute une photo de pornstar Ukrainienne siliconée.
C’est un piège grossier.
Il va tomber dedans, vielle branche, parce que ses fantasmes sont aussi rudimentaires que mon procédé.

Pedro Mairal ‘The Uruguayenne’

Just that morning, I’d looked at your earrings in the bathroom, large silver hoops, expensive, thrown down there…and I remembered that saying from the Caribbean: she shakes her hoops with anyone. Who shook your hoops Catalina? Your earrings from Ricciardi bouncing around in your sexual endeavours, your rings from avenue Quintana ringing in deceit, chiming like a crystal chandelier in an earthquake.***

Lucas Pereyra, an archetypal loser, weighed down by money problems, owing a book to his editor, not meeting many people or so it would seem outside of his participation in literary festivals can save himself, his self esteem and his marriage in this book read for Spanish and Portuguese lit month. But then there is Guerra the Uruguayenne he met at a festival months ago, with whom he has stayed in touch with WhatsApp and whose name he has called out in his dreams.

The Argentine Peso is not exactly a stable currency, and the taxes! Pereyra arranges to be paid in a bank in Montevideo and leaves early one morning to take the boat across the Rio De la Plata, and will meet up with Guerra. But wasn’t his own wife not above suspicion, as his thoughts are given in the opening quote.

But a loser is a loser, Lucas picks up the money in cash which he hides in a secret money belt. And he is careful, watches all around himself as he strolls in the pleasant sun filled avenues of Montevideo, reminiscing of the time he had wanted Guerra, where they had nearly had sex together on and around the beach but we’re always interrupted, a loser. He has a few drinks and relaxes a little and as he meets up with Guerra and then drinks a lot more and smokes weed his defences weaken:

You have to watch out with Uruguay, especially if you turn up thinking that it’s like a province in Argentina but better, kinda like there’s no corruption or péronisme, you can smoke weed in the street, it’s the little country where everyone is nice and likeable and all that shit. If you don’t watch out Uruguay will fuck you from behind!***

He should have read the previous quote before going. A short easy read, a well worthwhile change of horizons.

First Published in Spanish as “La Uruguaya” in 2018 by Libros del Asteroida
Translated into French by Delphine Valentin and published as “L’Uruguayenne” in 2018 by Buchet-Chastel
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Ce matin justement, j’avais regardé tes boucles d’oreilles dans la salle de bains, de grandes anneaux en argent, coûteuses, jetées là…et je m’étais rappelé cette expression des Caraïbes: Elle fait trembler ses créoles avec n’importe qui. Qui faisait trembler tes créoles, Catalina? Tes boucles de chez Ricciardi se balançant dans la cavalcade sexuelle, tes boucles de l’avenue Quintana tintant dans la tromperie, cliquetant comme le cristal d’un lustre en pleine secousse sismique.

Faut faire gaffe avec L’Uruguay, surtout si tu débarques persuadé que c’est comme une province argentine mais en mieux, genre il n’y a pas de corruption ni de péronisme, on peut fumer de l’herbe dans la rue, c’est le petit pays où tout le monde est gentil et aimable et toutes ces conneries. Tu lâches prise et l’Uruguay te baise par derrière.

David Machado ‘The shelf life of happiness’

The vacuum cleaner scheme went like this: the company that sold them (it was called WRU, though I never found out what that stood for) rented equipment by the week to its employees—me and everyone else who had been selected—so we could do demos. We were expected to arrange these demos ourselves, … They didn’t give me a desk, just the address of a warehouse where I’d go pick up the vacuum cleaners. Everything else was done over the phone. I didn’t have a contract, which allowed me to keep collecting unemployment, and I earned a commission for each vacuum cleaner I sold, between 7 and 11 percent, minus rental fees. In other words, I had to pay to work. I accepted the job immediately.

David Machado’s Daniel had a job, a family and friends and them came Portugal’s financial crisis. In this book read for Spanish and Portuguese lit month, as Daniel ‘s wife moves back in with her parents at the other end of Portugal to find work, and then Daniel’s well paid job as a lunch pin in a travel agent’s just get’s swept away in the internet tsunami, We follow Daniel as he fights to survive in a world that no longer really exists, unable to face up to what is happening to him. There are no jobs out there and in order to try to keep the appartement his family no longer live in he is forced towards degrading jobs, like the one in the opening quote.

The story is told as a conversation between Daniel and his friend, Almodôvar, who is in prison and we slowly learn that despite himself, Daniel is there for his friends and their families around him, for instance for the seemingly asocial Xavier, who has not left his room for a decade and who was more Almodôvar’s friend where we hear of the website the three friends had tried to create to try to bring people together to help each other:

In Xavier’s room, time slows down, things take longer to happen, as if our bodies become denser there, as if nothing—no gesture, no sentence, no silence—could ever really end. After about three minutes, he spoke. “We messed up,” he said. “What do you mean, ‘we messed up’?” “The site,” he said. “The site isn’t working.” Can you believe it? The dude was still working on the site. You hadn’t been around for over six months and Xavier had kept working on that shitty site. … He was right: the site wasn’t working. But I had forgotten about it a long time before. Meanwhile, a year later, Xavier was still messing around with it. I didn’t want to have that pointless conversation, so I tried to be patient. “What do you want to do about it?” I asked him. “We can’t put in more money.” He closed his laptop, and his face went dark. “There are people using the site,” he said. “The problem is that none of them need any help.”

And for Almôdovar’s son, Vasco, who, since his father has been jailed, has become mixed up with other kids of his age, first of all filming themselves pissing on drunks and then posting the films on line, films which, to Daniel’s surprise, have tens of thousands of views a day “who would want to watch this?” And then when Daniel has lost his appartement and is living in his car, as he is talking to Vasco, these same friends set fire to his car.

It takes a road trip in a van with Xavier, Vasco, Daniel’s troubled children and a pensioner who had posted on their website to say he had a seven seater van, in order to help the first person that had ever asked for help on their website, for Daniel to see that everyone struggles and that he needs to let go of the past to redefine himself. And as for Almodôvar, well the clue to what’s happening there is in the first page.

First Published in Portuguese as “Índice médio de felicidade” in 2013 by Publicações Dom Quixote
Translated into English by Hillary Locke and published as “The Shelf Life of Happiness” in 2016 by AmazonCrossing

Jeroen Olyslaegers ‘Murky’

I know what everyone thinks: he’s going to fall down and break his hip. He’ll find himself in a bed in Saint-Vincent’s. And that’ll be the end of him, struck down by one of those bacteria they have the secret of growing in hospitals. It’s strange how old people allow themselves to be contaminated by other people’s fear. Because of that fear they let themselves be locked up in old people’s homes, let themselves be ovecome with tasteless muck and twaddle, with a stupid bingo night and a Maroccain woman stuck behind their bums with a strip of toilet paper.***

So begins Olyslaeger’s excellent novel of the Second World War in Anderlecht, a story being told by a cynical old man to his unborn great grandson in this Dutch language Belgian book read for the “Roman De Rochefort” prize. As the title suggests the narrator, a young man at the outbreak of the Second World War walks a questionable line in this occupied city. As the story begins Wilfried Wils obtains a job as a Belgian policeman in order to avoid forced labour service in Germany, but pretty soon he was employed in rounding up those that tried to avoid this same service, with an insight into the ambiguous views of the public in general, welcoming the Nazis, and the police force in general to the German occupation. As he comments after being ordered by German military to follow them:

In principal, we should present ourselves to get our orders, but when a Feldfritz shouts, you obey. We head down the Pelikaanstraat towards the south. Lode and I marching behind the two uniformed Übermenschen in complete silence, like two punished children. The Germans have only been here seven months and it’s as if they’ve been here several years. The town lead on its back, legs wide open, for these supermen.***

Wilfried Wils sails through pretty muddy water, not necessarily understanding everything that’s going on around himself, mostly putting up with the Germans but with an ambivalent reaction to their occupation, pushed by his friend Lode who despite personal risk seems to have a clearer view of the “übermenschen” and despises the local lookalikes:

A Waffen-SS uniform suddenly pulls up at our table.
May I invite the young lady to accompany me to the dance floor?
We look up. He’s not a German. He’s one of our’s, but with his hair shaved on the sides and the heels he clacks together, you could take him for the real thing, as if this town was only good for shitting in and that his heart and soul had been cast in Prussia.***

Olyslaegers, in interviews,tells of his personal relationship to this story as, at a university reading, he comes across a story of a Jewish family who, during the first roundup of Jews in Anderlecht commit suicide with the father cutting his own throat spouting blood on the Belgian policeman that had come to get him. The street name in the story rang a bell to him and when he later asked his mother she told him he had an aunt who worked for a Jewish family, who had committed suicide, in that street and that afterwards she had lived on in the house with her SS boyfriend.

He tells us of Wilfried Wils living this story and of the policemen wanting to file reports saying that the Jews had not been told why they were being arrested but that they caved in under pressure from above. Wils had found his job with the police through an old school teacher, an active Nazi sympathiser with whom he keeps up a relationship throughout the war, despite his abhorrence, a friend of his aunt’s Nazi boyfriend, this quote towards the end of the book, gives an idea of the views of this group of people:

For you, its a fucking game. But it’s people like me that pay for it. We succeeded in wiping out the Jews in this town, those parasites who have infested our town for so many years are nearly all gone. It was a promise we kept. the credit is mine in part, in spite of the hypocrisy of people like you…..All that I want, is ….a tobacconist’s with Jenny….comfortable…without a Jew boy in view, in a town fully thankfull to people like me for all the sacrifices we’ve made.***

Even those that seem to be less murky than others, such as Lode and his father who hide a Jew at great risk to themselves are shown to be doing it for money, Anderlecht was the diamond capital of Europe. As the war comes to an end and Wilfried Wils gets involved in a bloody act of vengeance against one of the worst Jew hunters, disgusting Lode with his violence. All of which comes back to haunt him in a personal tragedy some fifty years later.

This is a book that, far from the binary simplification of good and bad, goes some way to explaining how life might have been under occupation in a town showing no real sympathy to what they considered a migrant population. As Wils says early in the story, no one knew where the Jews were being sent but at the same time they didn’t suppose that it was to a place where they could be integrated into society.

First Published in Dutch as “Wil” in 2016 by Bezige Bij b.v.
Translated into French by Françoise Antoine and published as “Trouble” in 2019 by Stock
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Je sais ce que tout le monde pense: il va tomber et se fracturer la hanche. Il va se trouver dans un lit à saint-Vincent. Et puis s’en sera fini de lui, terrassé qu’il sera par l’une de ces bactéries qu’ils ont le don de cultiver dans les hôpitaux. C’est curieux comme les vieilles personnes se laissent contaminer par la peur des autres. À cause de cette peur, elles se laissent enfermer dans les maisons de repos, se laissent abreuver de fadaises et de bouillies froides, avec une soirée bingo à la con et une Marocaine pendue à leur derrière avec un morceau de papier cul.

En principe, nous devions nous présenter pour recevoir nos ordres, mais quand un Feldfritz gueule, tu t’exécutes. Nous prenons la Pelikaanstraat en direction du sud. Lode et moi marchons derrière les deux Übermenschen en uniforme dans un silence parfait, comme deux enfants punis. Les Allemands ne sont ici que depuis sept mois et c’est comme si la place était à eux depuis des années. La ville s’est couchée, cuisses grandes ouvertes, devant ces surhommes.

Un uniforme de la Waffen-SS se dresse tout à coup à côté de notre table.
Puis-je inviter la demoiselle à m’accompagner sur la piste de danse?
On lève les yeux. Ce n’est pas un Allemand. C’est un gars de chez nous, mais avec des cheveux rasés sur les côtés et les talons qu’il fait claquer l’un contre l’autre, on dirait un presque vrai, comme si cette ville n’était plus bonne que pour y déféquer, et que son corps et son esprit avaient été coulés en Prusse.

Pour toi, c’est un jeu salaud. Mais ce sont des gens comme moi qui paient l’addition. On a réussi à exterminer les juifs de cette ville, ces parasites qui ont infesté notre ville pendant tant d’années sont presque tous partis. C’était une promesse et nous l’avons réalisée.Le mérite m’en revenait en partie, malgré l’hypocrisie de gens comme toi….Tout ce que je veux, c’est.. un tabac avec Jenny…à notre aise…sans un youpin à l’horizon, dans une ville pleine de gratitude à l’égard de gens comme moi pour tous les sacrifices consentis.

Fernando Aramburu ‘Homeland’

Txato shared his grave with his maternal grandparents and an aunt, at the edge of an alley on a gentle slope, in a row of similar graves. On the gravestone there were the Christian names and names of the dead, his date of birth, and that of the day they killed him but not his nickname, Txato. In the days leading up to the burial, family members in Azpeita, had advised Bittori not to have any allusions, emblems or signs, which would identify Txato as a victim of ETA, carved on the headstone. That way she would avoid problems. She protested;—Come on, they’ve already killed him once. They’re surely not going to start again. Not that Bittori had thought of having a comment on the death of her husband carved on the headstone; but it only needed for someone to try to dissuade her from doing something for her to dig her heels in. Xabier agreed with the family and the only things carved on the grave were the names and the dates. In Saragossa, Nerea had the cheek to suggest that they falsify the second date. Astonishment. What do you mean?—I thought we could put a date either before or after the attack. Xabier shrugged his shoulders. Bittori said it was out of the question.***

This story, read for Spanish and Portuguese lit month, begins as three men wearing ski masks and white cloaks, Klu Klux style announce to the world that ETA are finally giving up the armed struggle. Fernando Aramburu, then takes us in a wide sweeping story of the tragedy of these years, centred on the story of two families in a small Basque village, impressing on us that here, as with any other terrorist organisation, the very people that they are fighting for must become their victims for them to fuel the fight. We first discover Bittori, an old woman living in San Sébastien but making clandestine trips back to the village to see her house, and of her husband Txato, dead these many year, killed by ETA and of her children, Xabier and Nerea both scared of ETA, Nerea to the point of not attending her father’s funeral so that her friends and professors in her new life in Saragossa would not link her to the assassination. The opening quote tells us something of the time of Txato’s murder.

We also follow the story of Miren and her husband Joxean, the families, like the wives are close friends until the “armed struggle” begins when events take them along different paths, the wives both stubborn for their own reasons:

Before Txato’s tragedy she was a believer, but not anymore. She had been, however, devout in her youth. She had even nearly become a nun. Her and that friend from their village that it’s better not to remember. Both of them had changed their minds at the last minute when they had already one foot in the door of the noviciate. Now , she takes all those stories of resurrection of the dead, of eternal life, of the creator and the Holy Ghost for nonsense.***

Txato, who has built up a transport business in this poor, high unemployment area, receives anonymous letters to pay the “revolutionary tax” in order to fuel ETA, which of course he pays, but as he pays, the demands increase until he can no longer pay. Aramburu then tells us something of the randomness of the terrorists as the local bar owner fuels hatred of Txato in the community by organising graffiti against him including targets next to his name and with his previous friends then out of fear staying away from him. This is in itself not enough to get him killed, but then as the ETA organisation sends autonomous cells into the country side, avoiding contact with the locals so as not to be betrayed. These cells then, in this case at least read street graffiti to identify potential targets.

In parallel, José Mari, Miren’s oldest son, passes from delinquent to full blown ETA soldier and is seen in the village the night before Txato’s assassination. As the story begins he has been in prison, far from his family and the Basque Country, in Andalusia for many years. This long and engaging story then follows the slow breakdown of resistance as Bittori, before her death, wants to know the true story of what happened that day, hear of Joxe Mari’s role and wants him to ask her for forgiveness and the roles of the different family members in this process. The difficulty of the task is placed before us at the start, as on hearing of the ETA announcement Miren says:

They’ve given up the struggle, in exchange for what? Have they forgotten the liberation of Euskal Herria? And the prisoners rotting in prison? Cowards. We must finish what we’ve started.***

An excellent study of grass roots terror.

First Published in spanish as “Patria” in 2016 by Tusquets Editores
Translated into French by Claude Bleton and published as “Patria” in 2018 by Actes Sud.
Translated into English in by Alfred MacAdam and published as “Homeland” in 2019 by Picador.
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Le Txato partage sa tombe avec ses grands-parents maternels et une tante, au bord d’une allée en pente douce, dans l’alignement de sépultures similaires. Sur la pierre tombale figurent le prénom et les noms du défunt, sa date de naissance et celle du jour où on l’a tué. Mais pas son surnom. Dans les jours précédant l’inhumation, des membres de la famille, à Azpeitia, avaient conseillé à Bittori de s’abstenir de graver sur la pierre des allusions, emblèmes ou signes qui identifient le Txato comme une victime de l’ETA. De cette façon, elle s’épargnerait des problèmes. Elle protesta :—Dites donc, on l’a déjà tué une fois. Ils ne vont quand même pas recommencer. Non que Bittori ait envisagé qu’on grave un commentaire sur le décès de son mari ; mais il suffit qu’on cherche à la dissuader de faire une chose pour qu’elle s’y accroche. Xabier donna raison à la famille. Et ne furent inscrits que les noms et les dates. À Saragosse, Nerea au téléphone avait proposé, quel culot, de falsifier la seconde date. Étonnement. Comment cela ?—Je me suis dit qu’on pourrait mettre sur la tombe une date antérieure ou postérieure à l’attentat. Xabier haussa les épaules. Bittori dit pas question.

Avant la tragédie du Txato, elle croyait, mais plus maintenant. Et pourtant, elle était dévote dans sa jeunesse. Elle avait même failli prendre le voile. Elle et cette amie du village qu’il vaut mieux ne pas se rappeler. Toutes deux renoncèrent à leur projet au dernier moment, alors qu’elles avaient déjà un pied dans le noviciat. Maintenant, elle prend toutes ces histoires de résurrection des morts, de vie éternelle, de Créateur et de Saint-Esprit pour des sornettes.

Ils renoncent à la lutte en échange de quoi ? Ont-ils oublié la libération d’Euskal Herria ? Et les prisonniers qui croupissent en prison ? Lâches. Il faut finir ce qu’on a commencé.

Nona Fernandez ‘The Twilight Zone’

In January 2010, the museum of Memory and Human rights of Chile was inaugurated. The four presidents of the Concertation were present, a coalition of parties in charge of what political analysts called the Chilean Transition, the period when the official line was reconciliation and justice where possible….,Democracy was preserved with the same General Pinochet as commander in chief of the army and then as senator in the parliament. The recent past was as a consequence not up for debate. When I had to explain to my son the Transiton period during our first visit to the museum of Memory that’s what I told him in a simple and concise fashion, so that at ten years old he could understand. When I told him that the person responsible for everything he had just seen was now one of the people running the country he looked at me in disbelief and then burst out laughing as if it were a joke. At his age my son was already aware of the lousy jokes of Chilean history.***

In 1984 a member of the Chilean military walked in off of the street into the offices of the newspaper Cauce and told them he wanted to confess. The man Nona Fernandez names but then throughout the book refers to as “the man that had tortured”. In this book read for Spanish and Portuguese lit month, Nona Fernandez tells an intimate story of the Chilean dictatorship likening it at times to episodes of the television show ‘The Twilight Zone” she had seen as a child,as if there was a parallel dimension coexisting with normal life. She also speaks of life since the dictatorship and Chile’s inability to come to terms with its past as illustrated in the long opening quote.

The story really begins as Nona Fernandez, all these years later discovers the cassette recordings of the interviews between the journalist and “the man that had tortured” and imagines the journalist listening to stories about the disappearances of many of the people she knew personally and how difficult this must have been, as the man from the dark side unfolded his stories. And as she sinks further into what seems to be an unbelievable world, she even recognises from the interviews a story from her youth, where the interview relates a story she has crossed paths with but throws light onto what had happened:

One day whilst we were having lunch, my mother told my grandmother and I that she had just witnessed a strange event. At midday in the middle of Nataniel street, a few blocks from us, a man had thrown himself under the wheels of a bus. It wasn’t an accident, the man had been walking along the pavement when, suddenly, he threw himself in full consciousness of what he was doing. The bus stopped dead. The passers by froze, without understanding what was happening, not speaking, not moving, as if the man who could stop time in the Twilight Zone had programmed his magic watch to freeze time.***

She learns from the interviews that the man, Carlos Contreras Maluje, a communist, had been captured the previous day and tortured all night, he had told his torturers that he had a meeting with another communist in Nataniel street and could lead them to him in order to stop the torture, and as he advanced along the street with secret service men around him he had tried to take his life.

“The man who tortured” knew that his breaking ranks and going public would make him the public enemy number one of a state within the state that had no scruples, we learn of his exfiltration and of all these years later where he is still in hiding.
The story told by Nona Fernandez is in the form of a letter that she is sending to Andrés Antonio Valenzuela Morales, soldier 1st class, “The man who tortured”.

First Published in spanish as “La dimensión desconocida” in 2017 by Random House
Translated into French by Anne Plantagenet and published as “La Quatrième Dimension” in 2018 by Sock
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

En janvier 2010, le musée de la Mémoire et des Droits de l’homme du Chili a été inauguré. À la cérémonie ont assisté les quatre présidents de la Concertation, coalition de partis en charge de ce que les analystes politiques appellent la Transition chilienne, cette période pendant laquelle le discours officiel a été la réconciliation et la justice dans la mesure du possible. Au cours de ces années, on a atténué le souvenir de la violence récente pour mettre en place une politique de consensus susceptible de maintenir l’harmonie. La démocratie était préservée par les militaires, avec le même général Pinochet comme commandant en chef de l’armée, puis sénateur au Congrès. Le passé immédiat n’était donc pas un sujet de débat. Lorsque j’ai dû expliquer à mon fils le processus de la Transition, lors de notre première visite au musée de la Mémoire, c’est ce que je lui ai dit, de manière simple et concise, afin qu’il puisse comprendre du haut de ses dix ans. Quand je lui ai raconté que le responsable de tout ce qu’il venait de voir dans le musée était un des hommes qui gouvernaient le pays, il m’a regardée avec stupeur puis a éclaté de rire comme si je plaisantais. À son âge, mon fils avait déjà conscience des mauvaises blagues de l’histoire chilienne.

Un jour, alors que nous déjeunions, ma mère nous a raconté, à ma grand-mère et à moi, qu’elle venait d’assister à une scène très étrange. À midi, en pleine rue Nataniel, à quelques blocs de chez nous, un homme s’était jeté sous les roues d’un bus. Ce n’était pas un accident, l’homme marchait sur le trottoir quand, soudain, il s’était jeté volontairement, tout à fait conscient de ce qu’il faisait. Le bus avait stoppé net. Les passants s’étaient figés, sans comprendre ce qui se passait, sans parler, sans bouger, comme si l’homme qui arrêtait le temps dans La Quatrième Dimension avait programmé des minutes de paralysie grâce à sa montre magique.