Ways of Going Home
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Ways of Going Home

Alejandro Zambra, Megan McDowell

Growing up in 1980s Chile, a young boy plays hide and seek in the suburbs of Santiago with his friends while the adults become slowly entangled in the brutality of Pinochet’s regime accomplices and victims of the brutal dictatorship. As the country shudders under authoritarian rule, the boy creates stories of his own to explain the sporadic scenes of violence, the disappearances, and the deafening silence of his mother and father. Until, on the night of the Santiago earthquake, a mysterious girl named Claudia appears among the children and the boy’s world is changed forever.

Now, as a young man reflecting on the tragedies of his childhood, he must find the courage to confront as an adult what he could not have known as a child, and to untangle Chile’s troubled past. As he struggles to begin a novel which will encompass the clash between innocence and complicity, the boundaries between fiction and reality blur and the beautiful Claudia comes back into his life


I remember, as a child, sitting at our kitchen bench one morning before school and feeling an earthquake. I remember feeling our apartment gently moving, the low rumble, the rattling of the picture frames on the wall and the glasses on the table. It was a long way away from us, but yet we still felt it. I remember my parents switching on the radio not long after and listening to the news. And I remember these few, somewhat disconnected images like any child would, looking back upon their youth.

It is an earthquake, much like the one I recall as a child, that opens Chilean writer Alejandro Zambra’s latest novel, Ways of Going Home, a book that explores our memories and examines our recollections. This brief but beautifully written story is a literary and meta-literary account of Chile’s troubled past. It covers the Pinochet regime, which Zambra lived through, though he confesses he considers himself to be a ‘secondary character’ to his nation’s history.

We first meet our narrator as a boy, and then later as a young man falling in and out of love. He’s attempting to write a novel (a novel, in fact, much like the one we are reading) and remembering his childhood. Only we can’t help but sense his feelings of guilt – guilt at remembering, yet not fully comprehending, the events and later the consequences of what was happening around him in his youth.

Zambra’s work certainly blurs between fiction and memoir. It also only scratches the surface of exploring Chile’s darker history. This, for some, may be disappointing. Yet the strength of Zambra’s prose, his astute yet delicate clarity of observation and his unique voice consistently ring true. This is an intimate past revealed – one that will make us consider our own memories, which, for better or for worse, have shaped us into who we are today.

Nicole Mansour is the Assistant Manager of Readings St Kilda.

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