Ariel dorfman has been hailed as one of the "greatest living Latin American novelists" (Newsweek) and a "storyteller of almost mythic intensity" (The Financial Times). In his brilliant memoir, Heading South, Looking North, Dorfman explores the many exiles of a life torn, from age two, between the United States and Latin America, between revolution and repression. Interwoven with the remarkable story of how he switched languages and cultures--not once, but three times--is a day-by-day account of his multiple escapes from death during a military takeover in Chile. Dorfman filters these events through his dual and hybrid life, speaking, reading, thinking at times in Spanish, at times in English. Beautifully written and deeply moving, Heading South, Looking North is at once a vivid account of a life as complex and mysterious as the fictional characters Dorfman creates and an enthralling meditation about true personal conviction and courage in the late twentieth century.
The details of this artfully constructed memoir by a Chilean novelist probably best known in this country for his play Death and the Maiden are dramatic, but what makes the book remarkable is its continuing meditation on language and its role in forging identity. When Dorfman was born in Argentina in 1942, his Jewish parents, who had fled Russia, named him Vladimiro in honor of Lenin. In 1945, they moved to New York City, where their son (who adopted the name Edward) refused to speak Spanish and became a believer in popular American culture, even rooting for his father's enemy, Peron, because as long as Juan and Evita remained in power, the Dorfmans would never return to Buenos Aires. In 1955, under pressure from Sen. Joseph McCarthy, Dorfman's father left his job at the U.N. and took his family to Chile, where "Edward" attended an English school. After college, he went north again in 1968 to study at Berkeley and returned to Chile in 1970 to be part of Salvador Allende's socialist government. Three years later, Allende was dead, the country was in the midst of a military putsch and Dorfman was fleeing for his life, back to North America. In alternating chapters, the author relates what happened when Allende was overthrown and the story of his own life and how it was shaped by the language he was speaking. Dorfman at times seems more concerned with writing a "literary" work than with telling a story, but as the book goes on, the self-conscious flourishes diminish and the result is an astonishing portrait of the shaping of a life.