Chilean musician and writer Fernando (“Feña”) Andrés Torres' first book
"Walks Through Memories of Oblivion.” is a "tender, funny, poetic and inspirational work" of short stories, essays, and flashbacks about resistance, prison and exile.

Growing flowers out of sorrows.

That unlucky tree was born

from a crack in the rock.

Instead of feeling sorry for itself,

it grew flowers from its sorrows!

“El aromo”. Song by Atahualpa Yupanqui, Argentinian folklorist

These weeks, the Chilean musician and writer Fernando (“Feña”) Andrés Torres, is having a wonderful time. A few days ago, his daughter Valentina made him the grandfather of a healthy baby boy. Then, this week, on Oct. 7, La Peña Cultural Center, the venerable Berkeley icon for a progressive mix of Art and Politics, is hosting a reception for his first book.  

The book is titled, “Walks Through Memories of Oblivion.” An ex-political prisoner’s short stories, essays and other flashbacks about resistance, prison and exile. Beginning with the title, one might imagine that the book is a bit of a downer. Words such as exile, oblivion and political prison might cause one to think that way. 

It is much more than that. It is tender, funny, poetic, and inspirational work. A deeply moving account of the year spent in jail by a politically aware Chilean teenager. 

In his Author’s notes, Torres writes: “But the stories written here are personal; the flesh and bones behind the young militant that I once was. They are accounts from notes kept in the most unreachable corners of my memory. Some of them are tragicomic, which is emblematic of the typical Chilean response to coping by plucking a laugh out of any situation, no matter how tragic.”

Thus, the book is a mix of Feña’s personal experiences of events lived by other prisoners, shared while imprisoned and served to forge ties. Ties that would last a lifetime. Torres also shares some original segments that can be considered poetic prose. Dreams or adventures that took place before the military coup of Sept. 11, 1973, as well as later encounters, that occurred when he arrived as a political exile in the USA. First to Boston in 1977, then to New York, and eventually, a definitive landing in the SF Bay Area in 1979. 

Feña was 18 years old when he was incarcerated by the Pinochet soldiers. He was the youngest among the entire prisoner population. A population comprised of both political and “common criminals.” I believe, according to personal experience, that the distinction is a way to classify the prisoners according to their perceived level of danger. Danger to the jailers that is. 

I remember learning this in my brief period spent in a Chilean jail in 1973. The “common prisoners,” or “comunes” in Spanish, shared the very crowded space with the rest of us, the political prisoners, “Los Politicos.”

The common prisoners were thieves, drug pushers, and participants in a variety of criminal activities. They generally had little education and were accustomed to living on the edge of the law. The “politicos” were considered differently, perhaps more dangerous than the “comunes.” Dangerous to the jailers because political prisoners had motivations that most of the jailers did not dream or care about. “Los Politicos” were better educated and also had been labeled as dangerous communists. 

While in prison, first at the Cárcel Pública de Antofagasta, then at the Tres Alamos prison in Santiago, Chile’s capital, Fernando Torres managed to make contact and have meaningful and positive encounters with some “comunes.” But his main experiences occurred among fellow political prisoners. There, a strong sense of solidarity was created, which helped them to face their dire situations.

I asked Fernando why he wrote the book in English. His response: “I had a debt with the “gringos.” It is important to mention that “gringo” is not necessarily a bad term. Torres refers to activists and workers from Amnesty International, or “Norte Americanos” from an organization called NICH (Non-Intervention in Chile), people with whom he shared many years at La Peña Cultural Center, or even some iconic members of various religious denominations. 

There were many wonderful gringos and gringas who helped Fernando Torres to find refuge in this country. That is why he gives thanks to them, in English. He adds, proudly: “A Spanish version is being printed in Chile, in my city of origin, Antofagasta. Some young people read the book and felt that it was important to write the Spanish version. I am going to Chile, later this year or in early 2023, to present the book in different cities, including in Santiago.”

As we ended our conversation, we agreed that it is very important, for the personal and collective mental health of those who have gone through some terrible events, like the military coup of 1973 in Chile, to get their stories out. To write them or to tell them to other people.

Not all that happened to Fernando Torres was negative. In prison, he learned the true meaning of solidarity, he dared to write his first poems, he made his first musical instrument and became friends with some people who have been an inspiration for his entire journey. He came out a more defined human. A musician, a writer, and a lifelong activist. 

Like the Aroma tree from the song “El Aromo”, by Atahualpa Yupanqui, Fernando Torres “made flowers out of his sorrows.”