Injustice viewed from afar
Feeding on Dreams: Confessions of an Unrepentant Exile
By Ariel Dorfman MUP, 332pp, $27.99
STEFAN Zweig’s description of Casanova is equally applicable to Ariel Dorfman: ‘‘ Imaginative writers rarely have a biography, and men who have biographies are only in exceptional circumstances able to write them . . . [Dorfman] is a splendid, almost unique exception.’’ Feeding on Dreams: Confessions of an Unrepentant Exile, Dorfman’s latest memoir, stands testament to this. It picks up where his first, Looking South, Heading North, finished, with Augusto Pinochet’s military coup in Chile and the ensuing dictatorship, an event and situation that would alter the course of Dorfman’s life, along with those of many others.
Dorfman, best known for his Death and the Maiden, made into a film by Roman Polanksi, was born in 1942 in Buenos Aires, reared for the best part of a decade in New York and migrated to Chile in his early teens when his father, a writer and economics professor, was persecuted by senator Joseph McCarthy.
Santiago, Chile, the Cordillera, Los Andes, is where he called home and where he worked for Salvador Allende’s election and for the revolution, where he was cultural adviser to the president before the military coup. In Feeding on Dreams, Dorfman flees Chile while being hunted by militia who wanted him and his family dead, who killed his friends and his colleagues and made them ‘‘ disappear’’ in order to claim that these crimes never happened. These men were, in Dorfman’s eyes, killing Chile.
We travel with Dorfman and his family to Paris, Amsterdam, Washington and Durham, North Carolina, as he writes poetry, plays, stories, novels and nonfiction, all the time working for the Chilean resistance and deeply struggling with the fact he fled when so many compatriots, his companeros, were being killed. This is a tale of how individuals and communities cope with guilt, exile, the continual need to create and, in the end, wanting to go home.
In Dorfman the wanderer’s case, this fable is focused through the lenses of politics, dictatorship, the power of literature and family. He inhabited, perhaps more so than Roberto Bolano, the world that Bolano continually invokes, the intersecting domains of the written word and fascism. Paradigmatic of this were the events in Paris that led Dorfman to write an allegorical indictment of Pinochet’s military regime that plainly could not be published in Chile as it stood, as a novel by an exiled Chilean. Heinrich Boll, instrumental in smuggling Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s manuscripts out of Russia, would help by publicly claiming to have found a lost text written in French by a Dane. Julio Cortazar generously