In full back-to-school spirit, I chose to read Ariel Dorfman’s latest memoir, Feeding on Dreams: Confessions of an Unrepentant Exile (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011) last week. It’s not the lightest of books, but one I’d highly recommend if you have a penchant for international relations or drama.
Best known as the playwright of Death and the Maiden (which I’m still kicking myself for not seeing 20 years ago in New York), Dorfman was born in Argentina, grew up in New York, spent his teenage and early adult years in Chile, and then went into exile right after Pinochet’s coup.
He addresses these many moves, all while focusing on the difficult life of an exile. Dorfman holed up in the Argentine embassy in Santiago for several months after Pinochet ousted Allende. He then fled Chile with his wife and young son, arriving in Paris via Havana. After a few years in Paris, the Dorfmans moved to Amsterdam, where their younger son was born.
All this time, Ariel Dorfman yearned to return to Chile for good. He’d been back several times starting in 1983, and was even deported at the Santiago airport a few years after that. But it wasn’t until things settled down in Chile that the Dorfmans realized life there might never return to the days of Allende.
So they decided to settle in the very place that helped usher in Pinochet’s reign of terror — the US.
Interspersed between the various countries and stages of Dorfman’s exile are excerpts of his 1990 journal from when he thought he was returning to Chile for good. The journal entries lead up to how he thought up the story of Death and the Maiden and the obstacles he ran into while trying to get it produced in Chile.
Despite the problems in Chile, Death and the Maiden went on to be a hit on Broadway and in London (and became a movie, which I did see, about 15 years ago).