Dorfman, Ariel 1942-
DORFMAN, Ariel 1942-
PERSONAL: Born May 6, 1942, in Buenos Aires, Argentina; naturalized Chilean citizen, 1967; exiled from Chile, 1973; came to United States, 1980; son of Adolfo (an economist, engineer, and adviser to the government of Argentina) and Fanny (a Spanish literature teacher; maiden name, Zelicovich) Dorfman; married Maria Angelica Malinarich (an English teacher and social worker), January 7, 1966; children: Rodrigo, Joaquin. Education: University of Chile, Licenciado en filosofia con mencion en literatura general (summa cum laude), 1967.
ADDRESSES: Home—Durham, NC; Santiago, Chile. Offıce—Center for International Studies, Duke University, 2122 Campus Dr., Box 90404, Durham, NC 27708-0404. Agent—Andrew Wylie, The Wylie Agency, Ltd., 250 West 57th St., Ste. 2114, New York, NY 10017. E-mail—[email protected]
Novelist, short story writer, poet, essayist, lecturer, critic, and dramatist. University of Chile, Santiago, Chile, teaching assistant in Spanish literature, 1963-65, assistant professor of Spanish literature and journalism, 1965-68, associate professor of Spanish and Spanish-American literature, 1970-73, professor of Spanish-American literature, 1970-73; Sorbonne, University of Paris, France, Maîumflex;tre des Conférences (Reemplaçla;ant) of Spanish-American literature, 1975-76; University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Holland, chief research scholar at Spaans Seminarium, 1976-80; Duke University, Durham, NC, post-doctoral fellow and consultant to Latin-American Council, 1984, visiting professor of literature and Latin American studies during fall semesters, 1984-89, research professor of literature and Latin-American studies, 1989-96, Walter Hines Page Distinguished Professor of Literature and Latin-American studies in the Center for International Studies and the Center for Romance Studies, 1996—. Visiting professor at University of Maryland, College Park, 1983.
Co-producer of film Death and the Maiden, Canal Productions/Fine Line Features, 1994. Guest on television and radio news programs, including All Things Considered, Nightline, This Week with David Brinkley, Crossfire, This Morning, Nightwatch, and Larry King Live.
MEMBER: International PEN; National Writers' Union; Reader's International (editorial advisory board); The New Press, New York (editorial advisory board); Sociedad de Escritores Chilenos; Drama Guild; America Watch (Academic Freedom Committee); Revista de Crítica Literaria Lationamerica (Comité de Redacción); Academie Universelle des Cultures (1993—); American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2001—).
AWARDS, HONORS: Research scholar, University of California, Berkeley, 1968-69; award for best screenplay from Chile Films, Santiago, 1972, for unproduced film Balmaceda; Premio Ampliado Sudamericana from La Opinion (Buenos Aires newspaper), 1973, for Moros en la costa; Friesrich Ebert Stiftung research Fellow, 1974-76; Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, Washington, DC, Smithsonian fellowship, 1980-81; Institute for Policy Studies visiting fellow, 1981-84; Israeli Alternative Theatre Festival Prize, 1987; New American Plays award from Kennedy Center-American Express, 1988, for the play Widows; Roger L. Stevens Award for extraordinary playwrighting, 1991, for Reader; Time Out Award for best play in London, 1991, for Death and the Maiden; Sir Laurence Olivier Award for best play in London, 1992, for Death and the Maiden; 29th Dong Award (Korean) for best play of the season, 1992-93, for Death and the Maiden; named Literary Lion, New York Public Library, 1992; Dora Mavor Award for best production of a play in Canada, 1994, for Death and the Maiden; Charity Randall Citation, International Poetry Forum, 1995; Writer's Guild of Great Britain Award for best feature film (TV category), 1995, for Prisoners in Time; Académie Universelle des Cultures member, 1996; World Economic Forum (Davos, Switzerland) fellow, 1997; St. Vincent de Paul (Chicago, IL) Centennial Lecture Medal, 1999; Yoshiko Yuasa Prize for best foreign play in Japan, 1999, for Death and the Maiden; American Academy of Arts and Sciences fellow, 2001; ALOA Prize, Denmark, 2002, for Heading South, Looking North; nominated for the Dan David Prize for the Present Time Dimension, 2003. Honorary degrees: L.H.D., Illinois Wesleyan University, 1989, Litt.D., Wooster College, 1991, L.H.D., Bradford College, 1993, L.H.D., American University, 2001.
Moros en la costa (novel; title means "The Coast Is Not Clear in Chile"), Editorial Sudamericana (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1973, translation by George R. Shivers published as Hard Rain, Readers International (Columbia, LA), 1990.
Desaparecer (novel), illustrated by Guillermo Nuñez, Lamuv (Bornheim-Merten, Germany), 1979.
Het Kind als Onderontwikkeld Gebied: Kinderliteratuur en de Derde Wereld (novel), Orion (Brugge, Belgium), 1980.
Viudas (novel), Siglo XXI (Mexico, D.F.), 1981, translation by Stephen Kessler published as Widows, Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 1983, republished, Seven Stories Press (New York, NY), 2004.
La última canción de Manuel Sendero (novel), Siglo XXI (Mexico, D.F.), 1983, translation by Dorfman and Shivers published as The Last Song of Manuel Sendero, Viking (New York, NY), 1987.
Sin Ir Mas Lejos: Ensayos y Cronicas Irreverentes (novel), CENECA (Pehu&eacvute;n, Argentina), 1986.
M'scaras (novel), Editorial Sudamericana (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1988, translated as Mascara: A Novel, Viking (New York, NY), 1988, republished, Seven Stories Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Konfidenz (novel), Planeta (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1994, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1995, republished with an introduction by Andrei Condrescu, Dalkey Archive Press (Normal, IL), 2003.
The Nanny and the Iceberg (novel), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1999, Spanish translation published as La nana y el iceberg, Seix Barral (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 2000.
Terapia (novel), Objetiva (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), 1999, translation published as Blake's Therapy, Seven Stories Press (New York, NY), 2001.
SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS
Dorando la píldora (stories; title means "The Medicine Goes Down"), Ediciones del Ornitorrinco (Santiago, Chile), 1985.
Cría Ojos (stories), Nueva Imagen (Mexico, D.F.), 1979, translation by Dorfman and George Shivers published as My House Is on Fire (includes "Reader"), Viking (New York, NY), 1990.
Cuentos Para Militares: La Batalla de los Colores y Otros Cuentos (stories), Editorial Emision (Santiago, Chile), 1986.
Travesia: Cuentos (stories), Ediciones de la Banda Oriental (Montevideo, Uruguay), 1986.
Cuentos casi completos (stories), Ediciones Letra Buena (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1991, republished as Acércate m's y m´s; Cuentos casi completes, Siglo Veintiuno de España Editores (Madrid, Spain), 2002.
ESSAYS AND CRITICISM
Imaginación y violencia en América (essays; title means "Imagination and Violence in Latin America"), Editorial Universitaria (Santiago, Chile), 1970.
(With Manuel Jofre) Superman y sus amigos del alma (essays; title means "Superman and His Cronies"), Galerna (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1974.
Ensayos quemados en Chile: Inocencia y neocolonialismo (essays; title means "Essays Burnt in Chile: Innocence and Neocolonialism"), Ediciones de la Flor (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1974.
Culture et résistance au Chili (essays; title means "Culture and Resistance in Chile"), Institut d'Action Culturelle (Grand-Saconnex, Geneva, Switzerland), 1978.
La ultima aventura del Llanero Solitario (essays; title means "The Last Adventure of the Lone Ranger"), Universitaria Centroamericana (Ciudad Universitaria Rodrgio Facio, Costa Rica), 1979.
(Contributor) El intelectual y el estado, Venezuela-Chile (essays; title means "The Intellectual and the State, Venezuela-Chile"), University of Maryland (College Park, MD), 1980.
Reader's nuestro que estás en la tierra: Ensayos sobre el imperialismo cultural (essays; title means "Our Readers That Art on Earth"), Nueva Imagen (Mexico, D.F.), 1980, translation by Clark Hansen published as The Empire's Old Clothes: What the Lone Ranger, Babar, and Other Innocent Heroes Do to Our Minds (includes three previously unpublished essays in English), Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 1983, published in German as Der Einsame Reiter und Babar, Konig der Elefanten: Von Harmlosen Helden in Unseren Kopfen, Rowohlt (Reinbeck bei Hamburg, Germany), 1988.
Hacia liberación del lector latinoamericano (essays), Ediciones del Norte (Hanover, NH), 1984.
Some Write to the Future: Essays on Contemporary Latin American Fiction (criticism), translated by Ariel Dorfman and George Shivers, Duke University Press (Durham, NC), 1991.
Patos, elefantes y héroes: La infancia como subdesarrollo (essays; title means "On Ducks, Elephants, and Heroes"), Ediciones de la Flor (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1985, revised edition, Planeta (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1997.
Pruebas al canto (poems; title means "Soft Evidence"), Nueva Imagen (Mexico, D.F.), 1980.
Missing (poems), translation by Eddie Grossman, Amnesty International British Section (London, England), 1982.
Pastel de choclo (poems), Sinfronteras (Santiago, Chile), 1986, translation by Dorfman and Edith Grossman published as Last Waltz in Santiago and Other Poems of Exile and Disappearance (includes selected poems originally published in Missing), Penguin (New York, NY), 1988.
(Contributor) Cantos Sagrados (poems), Boosey & Hawkes (London, England), 1998.
In Case of Fire in a Foreign Land: New and Collected Poems from Two Languages, translated by Grossman and Dorfman, Duke University Press (Durham, NC), 2002.
Widows (two-act play based on Dorfman's novel of the same name; first produced in Williamstown, MA, at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, 1988; revised version, cowritten with Tony Kushner, produced in 1991), Nick Hern Books (London, England), 1996.
La muerte y la doncella (drama), Ediciones de la Flor (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1990, translated as Death and the Maiden, Viking (New York, NY), 1992.
Teatro (play collection), Ediciones de la Flor (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1992.
Traverse Theatre Presents the World Premier of Reader (play; based on Dorfman's short story "Reader"), Nick Hern Books (London, England), 1995.
Speak Truth to Power: Voices from beyond the Dark (based on the book by Kerry Kennedy Cuomo), Index on Censorship (London, England), 2000.
(With Armand Mattelart) Para leer al Pato Donald, Siglo Vientiuno Argentina (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1972, translation by David Kunzle published as How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic, International General (New York, NY), 1975, 2nd edition, 1984.
Sobre las Artes del Espectaculo y Fiestas en America Latina: Documento de Informacion y Trabajo para la Reunion de Expertos Organizada por la Unesco en Bogota, Marzo de 1976, Oficina Regional de Cultura para America Latina y el Caribe, Centro de Documentacion (Havana, Cuba), 1976.
Los sueños nucleares de Reagan (nonfiction), Editorial Legasa (Buenos Aires, Aregentina), 1986.
La Rebelión de los Conjos Magicos (fiction), De la Flro (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1987.
(Contributor) Chile from Within, 1973-1988, Norton (New York, NY), 1990.
Missing Continents, Pantheon (New York, NY), c. 1991.
The Resistance Trilogy, Nick Hern Books (London, England), 1998.
Rumbo al sur, desando el norte: Un romance en dos lenguas (nonfiction), Planeta (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1998, translated as Heading South, Looking North: A Bilingual Journey, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (New York, NY), 1998.
The Rabbits' Rebellion (children's book), illustrated by Chris Riddell, Doubleday Juvenile (New York, NY), 2001.
Más allá del miedo: El largo adiós a Pinochet, Siglo XXI de España Editores (Madrid, Spain), 2002.
Exorcising Terror: The Incredible Unending Trial of Augusto Pinochet, Seven Stories Press (New York, NY), 2002.
(Contributor) Pilar Aguilera and Ricardo Fredes, editors, Chile: The Other September 11 (also published as Chile: El otro 11 de septiembre), Ocean Press (New York, NY), 2003.
Desert Memories: Journeys through the Chilean North, National Geographic (Washington, DC), 2003.
Other Septembers, Many Americas: Selected Provocations, Seven Stories Press (New York, NY), 2004.
The Burning City (children's book), Red Fox (New York, NY), 2004.
(With son, Joaquín Dorfman) Soft Tidings, Random House (New York, NY), 2005).
Author of plays, with son, Rodrigo Dorfman, Mascara (based on Ariel Dorfman's novel of the same title), staged in both Germany and the United States, 1998, and Who's Who, staged in Germany, 1998. Also wrote teleplay with son, Rodrigo Dorfman, Prisoners in Time (BBC, 1995); also author and director, with son, Rodrigo Dorfman, of film short My House Is on Fire, 1997. Also author of unproduced screenplay Balmaceda, 1972.
Contributor of articles, stories, and editorials to periodicals, including Harper's, Nation, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Village Voice, Washington Post, and New York Times Sunday Magazine. His works have been translated into fifty languages, including Spanish, English, Catalan, Turkish, Portuguese, Hebrew, Japanese, Dutch, German, French, Italian, Russian, Albanian, Croatian, and Korean.
ADAPTATIONS: Death and the Maiden was adapted as a motion picture, written by Dorfman and Rafael Yglesias, directed by Roman Polanski, starring Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley, Canal Productions/Fine Line Features, 1994; also released as a sound recording, L.A. Theatre Works (Venice, CA), 1994.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A second part of Heading South, Looking North, to be titled Heading North, Looking South. Play "Purgatory" to appear on Broadway in 2004; play "The Other Side" to premiere in Tokyo, 2005, before being produced in London by Sir Peter Hall.
SIDELIGHTS: Argentinean-born author and scholar Ariel Dorfman is best known for his opposition to political oppression in Chile. Since his 1973 expulsion from his adopted country for his outspoken resistance to dictator Augusto Pinochet, Dorfman's poetry, nonfiction, short stories, plays, and acclaimed novels probe the terror of dictatorship and the despair of exile.
Dorfman first established himself in Chile as a writer, activist, and journalist, publishing his first novel, Moros en la costa, and several nonfiction studies. Then, in 1973, Salvador Allende's democratically elected Marxist government was overthrown by Pinochet in a United States-supported coup, resulting in Allende's death and the expulsion of thousands of intellectuals, writers, clergymen, and politicians from the country. After receiving death threats and witnessing the burning of his books in Santiago, Dorfman was expelled from Chile. Devastated by the loss of his citizenship and appalled by the intimidation and violence perpetrated on his countrymen by the Pinochet regime, Dorfman settled in France where he worked for the Chilean resistance movement.
After two years during which his distress over his country's turmoil blocked his creativity and left him unable to write, Dorfman composed a group of poems expressing his thoughts about the atrocities—torture, murder, abductions—he knew were still occurring in his homeland. The poems, which were published in an English collection titled Missing in 1982, center on desaparecidos, people deemed subversive by the Chilean government and abducted ("disappeared") by secret agents. "I discovered a way in which I could become a meeting ground of the living and the dead—a way to give voice to the missing, which was also a metaphor for the whole country and what had been irretrievably lost," Dorfman later told Leslie Bennetts of the New York Times. "All of my poems are ways of giving voices to those who have disappeared and those who are left behind; I am a bridge between them. Words become a way of returning to your country—a cemetery, but also a resurrection ground."
Dorfman's novel Viudas (Widows), which was first printed in Europe under the pseudonym Eric Lohmann to prevent his country from immediately banning the book, also expresses his concern for the disappeared. The manuscript's foreword—written by "Lohmann's son"—explained that Lohmann was a World War II Danish resistance fighter who had set the story in Greece in order to have it safely published in his homeland. It also stated that Lohmann had been killed by the Nazi secret police just days after the book's completion, and that Lohmann's son had only recently found and published the manuscript. Dorfman planned to have the novel published first in Danish, French, or German and subsequently issued at home as a Spanish translation of the European novel. "That double distancing—of mediation through an author who was not me and a country which was not my own—allowed me to write an allegory which is simultaneously realistic, [and] a literary solution to the problem of how to write about overwhelming horror and sorrow," the author explained in an interview with Peggy Boyers and Juan Carlos Lertora in Salmagundi. At the last minute, however, Dorfman's Spanish-language publisher backed out; the novel was ultimately released, under Dorfman's real name, by the Mexican firm Siglo XXI in 1981.
Translated in 1983, Widows is set in a Greek village under the control of Nazi soldiers during World War II and centers on Sofia Angelos, a village peasant woman whose husband, father, and son have been disappeared by the military regime. Given no information about their menfolk's safety or whereabouts, Sofia and the other peasant women—whose male relatives have also been abducted—rise in opposition to the soldiers when Sofia claims an unidentifiable corpse that has washed up on the river bank is her father and demands the right to bury him.
Widows was acclaimed for its political relevance and its powerful portrayal of the grief and emotional strain that disappearances put on the families of the missing. In his New York Times Book Review critique, Alan Cheuse compared the book's intensity and scope to that of such Greek tragedies as Antigone and The Trojan Women, and praised Widows's "emotional amplitude and political resonance." Noting especially its "sharply observed details of the bereaved . . . who suffer . . . painfully," Cheuse asserted that the reader "moves [through the novel] as if in a dream of outrage among its tombs of love." Times Literary Supplement contributor Nicholas Rankin also admired Dorfman's work, applauding the way the author bypassed the "realist clutter of local detail" in order to create "a tragedy of universal application."
Dorfman followed Widows with La ultima cancion de Manuel Sendero, a lengthy novel that explores the larger implications of repression and exile through several complexly interwoven narratives. "There's fantasy," Dorfman said of the book in an interview with Richard J. Meislin in the New York Times Book Review, "but also the very harsh terror of reality. Writers of Latin American literature, especially my generation, are constantly being pulled between two poles: what you would call the dictatorship of everyday life and the imagination of things that might come and might be." Translated as The Last Song of Manuel Sendero, the work unfolds through several perspectives, mainly that of unborn fetuses who have been organized into a revolt—in the form of a mass refusal to emerge from their mothers' wombs. They debate whether it is better to reject a world full of violence and fear, or to risk birth in order to solve human problems. The babies, according to Dorfman, also serve as the book's principal metaphor. "They are the utopia that are inside each of us," the author affirmed in a Los Angeles Times interview with Mona Gable. "There are millions of people who are born and never born—they don't leave any change in the world. To read the novel means I want people to come away with a sense of what is unborn inside them."
Critical response to The Last Song of Manuel Sendero was generally favorable, with reviewers commenting both on the book's complexity and Dorfman's success in blending his political and artistic concerns. In the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Judith Freeman stated, "This is a demanding book, but for those who make the effort it requires, the result is a ride on a parabolic roller coaster of timely and humanitarian thought." Earl Shorris's New York Times Book Review critique expressed a similar sentiment, noting that "after the complications of plot and puzzle have done their work, the richness of invention breaks through."
In 1983, ten years after Dorfman was forced to leave Chile, Pinochet's government softened its attitude somewhat towards many of the nation's exiles. Dorfman was allowed to return to the country temporarily and began to split his time between Santiago and North Carolina, where he taught at Duke University. He persisted, however, in voicing his criticism of Pinochet's dictatorial policies during the next five years, in articles and editorials in American and international publications, and during appearances on American news programs. These criticisms were followed by unsettling incidents such as Chilean news reports announcing Dorfman's death and Dorfman's unexplained detention and expulsion from the Santiago airport after which he was temporarily refused entry into the country in 1987.
In the late 1980s Dorfman published another volume of poetry titled Last Waltz in Santiago and Other Poems of Exile and Disappearance and My House Is on Fire, a translation of earlier short stories. He also completed the thriller Mascara in 1988. Written in English and considered the least overtly political of Dorfman's novels, the story centers on personal identity as it is created, controlled, changed, and escaped by three characters—an anonymous loner who works as a photographer for an obscure government agency, an amnesiac woman with multiple personalities, and a manipulative plastic surgeon—whose monologues form the book's three sections. Mascara's critics admired its compelling narration, suspenseful plot, and ambiguous ending. Mascara, noted Atwan, "is an intricately layered book [that] can be read as an ominous fairy tale, a literary horror story, a post-modern version of Jekyll and Hyde. But the book is also a parable of human identity and paranoia engendered by authoritarian politics."
Dorfman returned to playwriting in 1992 with his critically acclaimed piece, Death and the Maiden. A powerful story centered on three characters, it takes place in a country recently returned to a democratic government after an era of fearsome repression. Paulina is the wife of a lawyer asked to serve on a commission investigating the crimes under the previous government, including her own brutal rape by a doctor. Through her husband, she meets the man she believes raped her. Paulina kidnaps him and places him on trial for his crimes in her own home. The play, which was staged in London and New York, was later produced as a film by Roman Polanski. The story's juxtaposition of politics and ethics was hailed by critics. John Butt, in the Times Literary Supplement, noted that "More than one critic has commented on . . . the way it unwinds with a remorseless inevitability that recalls the finest classical tragedy" and concluded "Such praise hardly seems exaggerated." In World Literature Today, Ilan Stavans also found Death and the Maiden to have "the taste of a tautly constructed classic."
Dorfman's next novel, The Nanny and the Iceberg, is the book-length suicide note of twenty-four-year-old Chilean virgin Gabriel Mackenzie, who exiled with his mother when Pinochet came to power. Gabriel suffers sexual inadequacy and longs for the advice of his sexually prolific father still in Chile. When Gabriel and his mother return to their country in 1991, his father helps him lose his virginity. But sex embroils his life more than he expected, and Gabriel ends up tangled in a social web more complex than the coinciding mystery he attempts to solve with the help of his father and nanny: the threatened destruction of the Antarctic iceberg Chile intends to display at the World's Fair.
Some reviewers expressed dissatisfaction with the book's subject and narrator. Ed Peaco of The Antioch Review thought that Gabriel was "an annoying narrator" who spoke like a "sex-starved frat boy" and pointed out that "the work suffers chronically from inelegant treatment of women and sex." Other reviewers, however, considered the work another attribute to Dorfman's intellect and talent. Barbara Mujica of Americas called the novel "convoluted but highly entertaining," praising Dorfman for a work "brilliantly conceived and crafted," and Booklist's Carolyn Kubisz called it "a fascinating tale of intrigue with a touch of dark humor." In the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jamieson Spencer maintained, The Nanny and the Iceberg "predicts a genre of fiction that tales for its larger subject a hemisphere, a century, and a culture that are still questing for self-realization, integration, and acceptance."
First published in 1999 as Terapia, Dorfman's next novel, Blake's Therapy, traces the mental deterioration of corporate CEO Graham Blake. When the stress of trying to run an environmentally sound and ethical corporation overwhelms Blake, he checks into the Corporate Life Therapy Institute and meets Dr. Tolgate, who devises a unique healing plan. Blake is instructed to monitor a family's life through hidden cameras and to play God, deciding their fates and sending out people to enact them. Blake reluctantly watches them and ends up falling in love with the daughter of the family, Roxanna. He intends to win her love and creates circumstances in her life that leave her single and in need of his help. When he becomes disgusted with himself and confesses to her, he discovers that they are hired actors, their lives based on the real family of a worker at Blake's manufacturing plant. He becomes obsessed with tracking them down, and with the intimate details of life that he feels he must now view.
Blake's Therapy, which was widely reviewed, received praise from many critics. Esteemed reviewer Donna Seaman wrote in Booklist: "In this tautly strung tale in which Orwellian skepticism is spiked with Hitcockian suspense and tempered with magic realism—[Dorfman's] provocative blend of intellectual high jinks and political awareness achieves a vigorous complexity." Similarly, New Leader's Lynne Sharon Schwartz felt that the novel "enriches the genre of social nightmarish parody; like the best of such works, it unfolds an ambiance of unbearable anxiety, where fragile individual identity is crushed by huge abstract power." Chad W. Post of the Review of Contemporary Fiction called the book "a playful (and deceptive) exploration of truth and falsity" and maintained that the novel "solidif[ies] Dorfman's place within the grand tradition of experimental Latin American novelists."
Turning back to the infamous dictator in Exorcising Terror: The Incredible Unending Trial of Augusto Pinochet, Dorfman relates the events leading to Pinochet's capture including emotional descriptions of the horrors he inflicted on the Chilean people and throughout the duration of his trial. In the book, Dorfman also examines Pinochet as a human being and ponders how he became a ruthless ruler. While short at 144 pages, Exorcising Terror had a large impact on its audience. One Publishers Weekly reviewer described the book as "a work slim but dense with emotion," reporting it as "an excellent, quick, and powerful read accessible to everyone." In the Los Angles Times, Tim Frasca commented that though the prose is sometimes "overheated," Dorfman's "mix of current history and personal anecdote is a bracing reminder that an entire nation was not only successfully terrorized but also violently split into factions."
In 2003's Desert Memories: Journeys through the Chilean North, Dorfman takes readers to the Atacama desert in Chile where his wife Angelica looks for tidbits of family history while Dorfman searches for the body of his disappeared friend Freddy Taberna. A Publishers Weekly reviewer points out that Dorfman's experience with many different types of writing helps to make this book unique. "Dorfman the journalist weaves encyclopedic information into his text . . . while Dorfman the poet gives color in the desert . . . [and] Dorfman the novelist unravels the labyrinthine tale [of Angelica's family history] along with her," wrote the reviewer, who concluded that the book "entertains, informs, and deeply engages."
Dorfman continues to protest—through his writing and in person—repression and brutality in his homeland and elsewhere. Denouncing violence and offering hope through his writing that the situation in Chile will improve, Dorfman remains optimistic. "My literature should be the literature of despair," Dorfman explained to Geoffrey Stokes in the Voice Literary Supplement, "but always, not because I desire it, but because it comes out, I find myself telling the story of human beings who have managed to rescue dignity from the midst of terror."
Dorfman wrote CA: "My writing has been haunted, ever since I can remember, by twin obsessions, a central paradox that I cannot be rid of: on the one hand, the glorious potential and need of human beings to tell stories; and, on the other, the brutal fact that in today's world, most of the lives that should be telling these stories are generally ignored, ravaged, and silenced.
"My life has been fortunate, inasmuch as I have been able to dedicate my existence to reaching others through my imagination; and unfortunate because a great part of that life, like the life of so many others in the twentieth century of ours, has been spent under the shadow of innumerable tyrannies that thrive by denying people the possibility of communicating with each other.
"And yet, as of late, I have come to the conclusion that my writing may not be determined exclusively by the exploration, at the personal and the historical levels, of the two opposite experiences of liberation and domination, but that there is another struggle going on simultaneously in my life and in my work: the attempt to overcome distance, question its corrosion, defeat it. Wondering, all these years, how to achieve closeness. Even while recognizing that too much closeness can also be dangerous. Embraces can smother: being too near anybody, anything, too deep inside a community. We may lose ourselves in closeness—just like in distance. So that I have had to learn to use distance, use exile, use the perspective of the uprooted, to understand what otherwise I would perhaps not even have been able to see, let alone deal with.
"The struggle with distance must have begun at my birth, but as I don't remember that initial leap into life, it is with banishment that this story really starts: when, hardly more than two years old, I left my native Argentina to go to the United States in 1945. I adopted my new country as a foster homeland and its language, English, as my protector; but distance was following me, it lay in wait, and ten years later, when my father had to flee McCarthy and go to Chile, I found myself suddenly returned to Spanish and Latin America, with literature as my one secure ally against the currents and outrages of geography and death, my connection to a community that had been marginalized from history and power. Seduced by Chile and its language and by an upcoming revolution, I eventually disowned English and the United States, hoping that I could will myself into becoming monolingual, intact, immobile, hoping that distance would leave me alone. It did not: the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende was overthrown in 1973 and, like my father before me, I had to escape a dictatorship. I had to accept that I would not be able to live and die in one land forever, accept, in fact, that the word 'forever' was not meant for me: except inasmuch as I marked a page with words that could withstand the vagaries and ambiguities of a body that can be expelled one day, arrested another, welcomed on yet a different day, literature as a home in the midst of migration. The migration of words through a text bridging that other distance, with other members of this errant humanity, bringing me closer to them, allowing me to persist inside heads and hearts that I suspect exist, out there, in here, waiting to create a community of interconnected language and imagination. Political distance defeated by closeness; closeness facilitated by aesthetic distance.
"Divided and joined by politics and literature: like my work itself, my books, my plays, my films, my poems. Trying to go back home in the only way I now know, in a way that I carry with me every place I travel, in the disturbances and joyful turbulence I create in others, returning to men and women what they unknowingly have offered me, the nearby voices beyond frontiers they have loaned to my distance all these years.
"The culmination of this search has probably been Heading South, Looking North: A Bilingual Journey. By writing a memoir and figuring out how my life had ended up being so different from what I had planned, trying to come to terms with how and why I had survived the 1973 military takeover that fractured my existence and tore my country asunder, by looking at my two languages and cultures and continents, I feel that I have liberated myself to write in a different way, though probably always obsessed by the same themes of memory and justice, duality and resistance."
A full interview with Dorfman appears in CA, Volume 130.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Almanac of Famous People, 8th edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2003.
Chevalier, Tracy, editor, Contemporary World Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1993.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 48, 1988, Volume 77, 1993.
Dictionary of Hispanic Biography, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Drabble, Margaret, editor, The Oxford Companion to English Literature, 6th edition, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 2000.
Hispanic Literature Criticism, Volumes 1 and 2, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994.
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Amnesty International Web site,http://www.amnesty.org.uk/journal_july97/carlos.html, (June 28, 2004), Carlos Reyes and Maggie Patterson, interview, "Ariel Dorfman on Memory and Truth."
The Connection.org,http://www.theconnection.org/ (September 24, 2002), "Chilean Writer Ariel Dorfman," online link to radio interview hosted by Dick Gordon.
Duke University Web site,http://www.duke.edu/ (June 28, 2004), "Faculty: Ariel Dorfman;" Ariel Dorfman, "Forum: Faculty Viewpoints: The Last September 11."
Guardian Unlimited Books Web site,http://books.guardian.co.uk/ (June 14, 2003), Maya Jaggi, "Speaking for the Dead," article on Ariel Dorfman.
Homepage of The Progressive magazine,http://www.progressive.org/ (June 28, 2004), Danny Postel, "The Progressive Interview: Ariel Dorfman."
Infoplease Web site,http://www.infoplease.com/ (June 28, 2004), "Ariel Dorfman."
Random House Web site, (UK) http://www.randomhouse.co.uk/ (June 28, 2004), "Ariel Dorfman;" descriptions of The Rabbits' Rebellion and The Burning City.
Z-Net,http://www.zmag.org/ (August 28, 2003), Ariel Dorfman, "Martin Luther King: A Latin American Perspective."*