In­jus­tice viewed from afar

Feed­ing on Dreams: Con­fes­sions of an Un­re­pen­tant Ex­ile

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Hugo Bowne-an­der­son

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

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