In 1994, twenty-one years after General Pinochet seized power in Chile, and just four years after his leaving office, Roberto Rivera published A fuego eterno condenados (literally Condemned to Eternal Flames). Partly grotesque political satire, partly social realism, the novel follows two parallel narrative strands: the first chronicles the rise and fall of a minotaur in the dark corridors of political power; the second captures the inertia of a group of disenfranchised young people living out their lives on the fringes of Chile’s rapidly changing society. Taken together, they present a vivid portrait of the absurdity and corruption in the political sphere and the tragic human cost visited at the hands of its cruelty.
Despite having been largely ignored in Chile, the novel represents a serious literary attempt to address the legacy of the dictatorship at a time when wounds were still very much open. Arguably ahead of its time in many aspects, it is notable for a political outlook that constitutes a rare attempt to transcend the partisan fighting between right and left and address the larger issue of the political process as a whole.
In this interview, I discuss with the author some of the inspirations behind the novel and the challenges of writing in such a complex political dynamic.