Chile 9/11/73: When a Nation’s Torturous Past Resembles ‘The Twilight Zone’

Lee Heidhues 9.10.2021

Everyone. And I mean everyone remembers where they were on September 11, 2001. A date which will live in infamy in American and global history.

What few people remember is September 11, 1973.  The day the Chilean military led by Augusto Pinochet with the support of the Nixon Administration overthrew a democratically elected Socialist government in Chile.  President Salvador Allende was either murdered or committed suicide. 

I have a personal memory. In the early 1970’s I was the news editor at a weekly newspaper in San Francisco, The Sun Reporter. Several months before the September 1973 coup the pubisher, Carlton B. Goodlett, traveled to Chile and met with President Allende.  When he returned we published an article and photos of the trip. 

When I learned of the coup against President Allende I was shocked.

The Chilean coup ushered in nearly 20 years of fascist style government terror resulting in the disappearance and death of thousands of dissidents.

The American government involvement in the toppling of Salvador Allende was one of the most shameful acts in a long line of American misdeeds.

The coup and its aftermath have been well documented in literature and film. One contribution to the litany of chronicling the coup in Chile and its aftermath is the novel, The Twilight Zone by Nona Hernandez, a Chilean writer and actor. I am just finishing the novel. It is fascinating, depressing, intriguing and disconcerting. 

Following is a review by Chilean author Ariel Dorfman.

Excerpted from The New York Times 3.16.2021


It was back in 1984, in Chile, a country then suffering under the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, that I first read the sordid story of the torturer Andrés Valenzuela.

A barely tolerated opposition magazine had published an excruciating interview with him, and I forced myself — having recently returned to my native land after 12 years of exile — to devour it with a mix of perverse curiosity and obvious dread. It was a tale of multiple horrors, detailing how Valenzuela and his fellow state agents had abducted dissidents, applied electricity to their genitals, dumped the corpses in rivers and ravines. I knew some of those victims personally and was aware that the viciousness inflicted on them and so many others could very well erupt into my own life.

Overcome with revulsion, I resolved to forget that name, Andrés Valenzuela. As if banishing him from memory could deny his ferocious persistence. Because here he is again, the protagonist of Nona Fernández’s novel “The Twilight Zone,” translated fluidly into English by Natasha Wimmer. Given my initial distressing experience with the magazine interview, I approached this book with trepidation, also wary that a plethora of investigations, memoirs, films, fiction, essays, plays and poems had extensively covered the themes of terror, memory and the obstacles to national reconciliation since Pinochet’s loss of power in 1990. Could anything original still be expressed on the subject?

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Chilean President Salvador Allende

In fact, “The Twilight Zone” is wildly innovative, a major contribution to literature, in Chile and beyond, that deals with trauma and its aftermath. Fernández, whose previous works of fiction have been admirably iconoclastic, belongs to a generation of prominent Chilean writers (like Alejandro Zambra, Lina Meruane, Andrés Anwandter) who grew up under the dictatorship and have developed fresh perspectives on those turbulent years. She understands that, rather than fleeing from Valenzuela, we must pursue him and his secrets if there is ever to be a reckoning with the demonic legacy of men like him.

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Chilean military burning books after the Coup

In order to hold together the novel’s interlocking fragments, all those lives endlessly trapped in “dense, circular time,” Fernández deploys a brilliant literary strategy. She conjures up samples of popular culture, primarily from the TV series “The Twilight Zone,” and turns them into portals to another dimension. An astronaut stranded on a planet reminds her not only of Valenzuela adrift in a French village, unable to contact his homeland, but also of a prisoner who sends messages to a son he will never again see, as well as the author herself as she receives signals from the child she once was. It is a superb way of making familiar the unimaginable experience of torture and pain, helping her haunted readers descend with her into “the blaze of history.”


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Augusto Pinochet shaking hands with Sec. of State Henry Kissinger -1976