Chilean actor and writer Fernández explores the dark years of the Pinochet dictatorship in this affecting portrait of childhood friendship.
Estrella González, 10 years old, appears one morning in 1980 at a Santiago school, her right shoe untied, accompanied by a father distinguished by his officer’s cap—a telling detail, for, as Fernández writes, “the new constitution proposed by the military junta was approved by a broad majority.” Outside the doors of the school a totalitarian state flourishes, but within it the children who befriend Estrella, bearing names like Zúñiga, Donoso, and Maldonado, are innocent of politics, absorbed by the video game of the title and other childhood pursuits. The Pinochet regime was infamous for “disappearing” its opponents, but in this slim novella it is Estrella who disappears: “The desk at the back of the classroom sits empty now. For some reason, the girl never occupies it again.” That reason remains hazy, but Estrella reappears in occasional letters and in dreams as her friends grow into young adulthood and take on political lives of their own. Slowly, page after page, the reader learns of the tragedies that beset Estrella, who signs her letters with a star—the meaning of her name in Spanish—even as she reveals bits and pieces of her life: “I should try to obey my dad. He deserves to be obeyed, for me to obey him." Dad has everything to do with Estrella’s sudden departure from school and her friends’ lives; later, the dictatorship finally ends, but the violence of everyday life continues, lending a tragic end to a story that has hitherto unfolded quietly and with only occasional moments of drama. Like compatriot Alia Trabucco Zerán’s recently published novel The Remainder, Fernández takes a sidelong, subtle approach to the grim realities of life in the Chile of her youth, episodes of which, she suggests, figure in her story.
A slender story, impressively economical, that speaks volumes about lives torn by repression.