A father takes his 20-year-old son on a long trip from Santiago de Chile to southern Peru so the boy can see a dentist. In the Chilean health system, those who do not have money are inadequately cared for; It is affordable to go to the dentist in the neighboring country. The boy tells the story, who not only has dental problems, but also weighs a lot more. This is most evident in the reactions of others, friends, strangers, grandparents, who commented with the best advice about his blood-red teeth and his obesity. When he eats everything that brought him to the fast food restaurant, pedestrians stop and look.
Like his narrator, the author was born in Iquique, far north of Chile, and moved to Santiago in 2000 at the age of 13. A glance at the author’s picture reveals that obesity is an autobiographical element that Juniga apparently uses in his novel. His text is all the more diminished. From fragments that have just filled a page, Diego Zuniga creates the inner life of a boy that fate gave him all adversity and that hides behind the silence.
Dad left him and Mom for the little ones. Mom is poor, she’s already lost her teeth, and she’s overweight. Due to the cost of heating, she shares a bed with him. On the street he is the victim of young bullies. Zúñiga says all this in a remarkably dry tone, which the translator emphasizes. The voice that speaks here basically ignores what it means to feel.
On the way, when the father roars about what he has done for his son, he puts headphones on his ears. He doesn’t remember a close friend’s cause of suicide or other circumstances, but the sound of impact bones. Even when he was trying to get a scholarship, the message of success remained unchallenged: “Fortunately, I got them all.”
Moments of intimacy with the mother are even more touching. The boy wants to be a radio sports reporter and practices in front of silent sports reports on TV. Then he started interviewing his mother about his life. Her answers point to family catastrophe: sometimes by the mother, sometimes by the father, the family is abandoned, an uncle who was killed, the tragic loneliness that characterizes the mother’s life. But “during an interview, he would tell me that it was better not to remember anything.”
The situation took a turn when the mother asked her son to answer her questions about her childhood. The quiz game has all the psychological depth that a conventional novel needs to develop in flashback: what it was like to be separated from parents, to play baseball with the kids in the neighborhood, in the evenings when he was home alone and his mother was waiting.
Zúñiga received a decent award for this book, which was published in 2009 by a small publisher in Chile and then in 2012 by a large publisher, Random House. In any case, he is one of the most trusted writers in his country. A jury voted him among the most promising young writers in Latin America, including Samantha Schবলublein, who is already well-known in the country.
Juniga herself described her text as a lesson in childhood storytelling. He explains the puzzle, as the title’s artillery effect, that is, as the evening cools, fog spreads across the country from the sea, causing the landmarks that could be used for orientation to gradually disappear. A broken family as much as he spells it.