Ariel Dorfman Dorfman, Ariel - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Ariel Dorfman 1942-

Argentinean-born Chilean novelist, critic, essayist, playwright, short story writer, poet, memoirist, travel writer, screenwriter, and nonfiction writer.

The following entry presents an overview of Dorfman's career through 2003. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 48 and 77.

Dorfman is considered one of Latin America's most original social critics and fiction writers. He is best known for his essays, novels, and plays, in which he examines such topics as exile, life under authoritarian rule, the influence of popular culture on social and political values, and the interaction of power, language, and ideology. A world renowned political activist, Dorfman has garnered considerable attention for his outspoken opposition to cultural imperialism and political repression. His most recognized work, Death and the Maiden (1991), graphically explores the lasting impact of military aggression and torture on the individual.

Biographical Information

Born in Buenos Aires, Dorfman was two years old when his family was forced to flee to the United States due to his father's opposition to the Argentine government. Dorfman spent the next ten years in New York City, where his father worked for the United Nations, before the family settled in Chile in 1954. After completing his education at the University of Chile, Dorfman became a naturalized Chilean citizen in 1967. A year later, while working as an activist, journalist, and writer, he published his first book, El absurdo entre cuatro paredes: El teatro de Harold Pinter (1968), a critical analysis of English playwright Harold Pinter. Following the overthrow of Chilean president Salvador Allende by Augusto Pinochet in 1973, Dorfman was again forced into exile, living intermittently in Argentina, France, the Netherlands, and the United States. As a contributor to English and Spanish journals and a frequent guest on television news programs, Dorfman remained an active participant in Chile's political and social affairs. He returned to Chile in 1990 after Pinochet relinquished his position to his popularly-elected successor Patricio Alywin. Dorfman eventually settled in Durham, North Carolina, where he has taught at Duke University since 1984. He has frequently contributed essays, articles, and stories to a variety of periodicals, including Harper's, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Village Voice, and The Washington Post. Dorfman has also held teaching positions at such universities as the University of Chile, the Sorbonne, the University of Amsterdam, and the University of Maryland. An internationally acclaimed literary figure, Dorfman received the New American Plays Award from the Kennedy Center for Widows (1988) and the Sir Laurence Olivier Award for best play for Death and the Maiden.

Major Works

The interaction of culture and politics is a recurrent theme in Dorfman's nonfiction. In Para leer al Pato Donald (1972; How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic) and Reader's nuestro que estás en la tierra: Ensayos sobre el imperialismo cultural (1980; The Empire's Old Clothes: What the Lone Ranger, Babar, and Other Innocent Heroes Do to Our Minds), Dorfman argues that such forms of popular literature as cartoons, comic books, children's stories, and the magazine Reader's Digest subliminally promote capitalist ideology and encourage passivity. Some Write to the Future: Essays on Contemporary Latin American Fiction (1991) presents critical analyses of a selection of contemporary Latin American authors—such as Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Luis Borges, and Jose Maria Arguedas—noting the themes of political violence and repression prevalent in their works. Dorfman's 1998 memoir, Heading South, Looking North, chronicles his maturation as a political activist and author, while addressing the complex nature of language and identity. Dorfman reflects on how his bilingualism has affected his life and his relationship to the United States and Chile. Exorcising Terror: The Incredible Unending Trial of General Augusto Pinochet (2002) offers a journalistic account of the lengthy legal trial of the Chilean dictator, General Pinochet, examining the politician's rise to power and the numerous abuses that took place during his tyrannical reign.

In Dorfman's fictional works, he often emphasizes the long-lasting impact of political oppression on the human spirit. Published the same year as Pinochet's overthrow of Allende, Dorfman's first novel, Moros en la costa (1973; Hard Rain), explores the appropriateness of writing in the midst of mass murder, exploitation, and poverty. The short stories in Cría ojos (1979; My House Is on Fire) present a series of vignettes describing how individuals retain a sense of hope while living under a repressive military regime. Viudas (1981; Widows) centers on the struggle between an autocratic government and thirty-seven women who suspect that their missing husbands were abducted and killed by the authorities. Although Dorfman set the novel in occupied Greece during the 1940s to avoid government censorship, he changed the setting to Chile when he adapted the novel for the stage in 1988. Similarly, Dorfman portrayed a people's battle against an abusive power in La ùltima canción de Manuel Sendero (1982; The Last Song of Manuel Sendero), a complex novel containing multiple strands of labyrinthine narrative voices. The novel combines storylines told from several unusual perspectives, such as unborn fetuses who refuse to enter a world filled with violence and fear, two exiled Chilean cartoonists, and the characters within the cartoonists's comic strip. Dorfman utilized an analogous technique in Máscaras (1988; Mascara), wherein he incorporates the monologues of a voyeuristic photographer, an amnesiac woman with multiple personalities, and a plastic surgeon whose operations provide politicians with the faces the public expects.

A drama addressing morality and justice in post-Pinochet Chile, Death and the Maiden is set in an unnamed country recently returned to a democratic government after an era of fearsome repression. The protagonist, Paulina, is the wife of a lawyer asked to serve on a commission investigating the crimes under the previous government, including Paulina's rape and torture. Through her husband, Paulina meets the man she believes raped her—she was never allowed to see his face during her imprisonment. She kidnaps the man and places him on trial for his crimes in her own home. Dorfman later collaborated with Rafael Yglesias to adapt Death and the Maiden for a 1994 film by noted director Roman Polanski. Told almost entirely through dialogue, Dorfman's novel Konfidenz (1994) chronicles the ambiguous relationships between several individuals associated with a London political movement. In the play Reader (1995), the author concentrates on the issue of censorship and how it affects individuals and history. The lead character is a government censor who commits his wife to a mental institution after she espouses anti-government opinions. Based on a true-life event, Nana y el iceberg (1999; The Nanny and the Iceberg constructs a narrative around a terrorist's attempt to blow up an iceberg submitted as an exhibit from Chile to the 1992 World's Fair. Stylistically, the novel is presented as a suicide note e-mailed from the protagonist, Gabriel, to his girlfriend. Inspired by the nonfiction work by Kerry Kennedy Cuomo, Dorfman's play Speak Truth to Power: Voices from beyond the Dark (2000) combines the testimonies of torture survivors with statements from some of the world's leading social activists, including the Dalai Lama and Václav Havel. In Blake's Therapy (2001), Dorfman examines the corruptive power of corporate culture on the lives of individuals and the lure of voyeuristic entertainment. The plot centers around Graham Blake, the chief executive officer of a corporation called Clean Earth, who has not been able to sleep in three months due to a crisis of conscience. His associates arrange for him to come under the care of Dr. Tolgate, an immoral psychologist who treats executives plagued with moral dilemmas. Tolgate places Blake in total control of a poor Puerto Rican family, allowing Blake to play God and discover his true nature. In 2002 Dorfman published In Case of Fire in a Foreign Land: New and Collected Poems from Two Languages, a retrospective collection of his poetic works throughout his career.

Critical Reception

Critical scholarship on Dorfman's oeuvre has been varied, with scholars alternately focusing on his atypical narrative structures and his firm emphasis on promoting social justice. His early critical works, How to Read Donald Duck and The Empire's Old Clothes, have been praised for their insights on a rarely studied topic, though some have faulted Dorfman for failing to place his analyses within a firm social context. Scholars have frequently placed Dorfman within the tradition of such experimental Latin American novelists as Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar. His novels have been acclaimed by critics for their innovative narrative forms and complex thematic material. For example, Mascara has won acclaim for constructing a unique political allegory, which drew comparisons to the works of Franz Kafka and Günter Grass. However, many reviewers have derided Dorfman's fiction, arguing that his works feature convoluted plots and overwritten narratives. Though Death and the Maiden has unquestionably been Dorfman's most popular work, it has also received a diverse and conflicting range of scholarship. While some have lauded Death and the Maiden's powerful evocation of the emotional impact of torture, others have complained that the play is dramatically inert and overly polemic. The recurring political and socially conscious themes in Dorfman's works have been widely debated by commentators. His supporters have argued that Dorfman's texts present an unified vision that reject all forms of political repression, while his detractors have asserted that such political posturing interferes with the emotional truth of his narratives.

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

El absurdo entre cuatro paredes: El teatro de Harold Pinter (criticism) 1968

Imaginación y violencia en América (essays and criticism) 1970

Para leer al Pato Donald [with Armand Mattelart; How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic] (nonfiction) 1972

Moros en la costa [Hard Rain] (novel) 1973

Ensayos quemados en Chile: Inocencia y neocolonialismo (essays and criticism) 1974

Superman y sus amigos del alma [with Manuel Jofré] (essays and criticism) 1974

Culture et résistance au Chile (essays and criticism) 1978


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Ariel Dorfman and Wendy Smith (interview date 21 October 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Dorfman, Ariel, and Wendy Smith. “Ariel Dorfman.” Publishers Weekly 234, no. 17 (21 October 1988): 39-40.

[In the following interview, Dorfman discusses the themes and narrative voice of The Last Song of Manuel Sendero and Mascara.]

It is the dubious distinction of the 20th century to have created a vast literature of exile. The most compelling voices of our time are homeless, and modern fiction has been enriched by the passion of expatriate writers from cultures as diverse as those of Czechoslovakia, Colombia, Russia and Peru. Chilean author Ariel Dorfman gave near-definitive expression to the anguish of exile in The Last Song of Manuel...

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Cecile Pineda (review date 30 October 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Pineda, Cecile. “Plastic Sorcery.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (30 October 1988): 3.

[In the following review, Pineda finds Mascara to be an inventive and successful thriller, comparing Dorfman favorably to Franz Kafka and Kobo Abe.]

So we're finally going to meet, Doctor. Face to face, so to speak.

The opening words of Mascara establish the major premises of Ariel Dorfman's first novel written in English. The work will deliver on its promise of a sinister encounter (with astonishing results); and the immediacy of its tone will distinguish it throughout as a literary event as opposed to...

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Margarita Nieto (review date 28 January 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Nieto, Margarita. “In Chile: The Lingering Stench of Fear.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (28 January 1990): 3, 10.

[In the following review, Nieto comments on the strengths and weaknesses of the stories collected in My House Is on Fire, noting that all of the stories “reflect the omniscient presence of a repressive military state.”]

In the aftermath of the political changes that have swept across Eastern Europe and Asia during the last six months, two images stand out the horrifying massacre in Tian An Men Square and the joyful reunion of a once-divided people dancing on the Berlin Wall. As mute reminders of the universal meaning of oppression...

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John J. Hassett (essay date 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hassett, John J. “Dictatorship, Memory and the Prospects for Democracy: The Fiction of Ariel Dorfman.” Third World Quarterly 13, no. 2 (1992): 393-98.

[In the following essay, Hassett explores how Dorfman utilizes memory as a source of dramatic and emotional conflict in Viudas, La última canción de Manuel Sendero and “La batalla de los colores.”]

In my comments on “La batalla de los colores”, Viudas and La última canción de Manuel Sendero I intend to show how the narrative world of Ariel Dorfman revolves principally around two agnostic forces: the desire on the part of a repressive military regime to erase all memory of the...

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Stefan Kanfer (review date 23 March 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kanfer, Stefan. “Fantastic Voyages.” New Leader 75, no. 4 (23 March 1992): 20-1.

[In the following review, Kanfer presents a negative critical reading of Death and the Maiden, maintaining that the play “has no armature, no catharsis, no revelation, no real ending.”]

In the program for Death and the Maiden, Chilean writer Ariel Dorfman states that his tragedy occurs in a country that “is probably Chile” but may in fact be someplace else. This coyness sets exactly the wrong tone for the evening, and Director Mike Nichols amplifies it for two acts.

A totalitarian leader has been deposed, his regime replaced by liberal...

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Jack Byrne (review date spring 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Byrne, Jack. Review of Hard Rain, by Ariel Dorfman. Review of Contemporary Fiction 12, no. 1 (spring 1992): 151-52.

[In the following review, Byrne praises Dorfman's fragmentary narrative in Hard Rain, calling the work a “brilliant anti-novel.”]

“All you need are a body, a killer, and a detective. Perfect first ingredients. Season well with a few other characteristics (a list of suspects, limited to residents and visitors who had access to the closed space where the crime took place; authorities who feel bewildered and impotent; a criminal who threatens to strike again; a detective who is emotionally involved in the case; an explosive...

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Gerald Weales (review date 8 May 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Weales, Gerald. “Go Ahead, Shoot.” Commonweal 120, no. 9 (8 May 1992): 21.

[In the following review, Weales argues that, despite Dorfman's “elegant” plot, Death and the Maiden fails to engage the audience or make the characters and plot believable.]

Somewhere beneath the slick and enervating surface of Ariel Dorfman's Death and the Maiden, there are serious themes struggling to get out. The play is set in “a country that is probably Chile,” one that has recently emerged from a dictatorship and has become, tentatively, a democracy. The question—one that is asked every day in Eastern Europe, in South and Central America, in Africa—is...

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Stanley Kauffmann (review date 11 May 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kauffmann, Stanley. “Assumptions.” New Republic 206, no. 19 (11 May 1992): 30-4.

[In the following review, Kauffmann laments the lack of resolution in Death and the Maiden, noting that the American actors are “miscast” as South Americans.]

Having cleared my throat by questioning the importance of opinions, let me offer my own highly arguable evaluations of the productions disputed by Rich and Richards, hoping that my views, however negative, will be an incentive rather than a deterrent to interest in the plays. I confess I didn't see a lot of virtue in Ariel Dorfman's Death and the Maiden. The work is about a woman—from a “country...

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Amanda Hopkinson (review date 10 July 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hopkinson, Amanda. “Silencers.” New Statesman and Society 5, no. 210 (10 July 1992): 40-1.

[In the following excerpt, Hopkinson commends the emotional range of the stories in My House Is on Fire and praises Dorfman's attention to detail in his short fiction.]

For decades, publishers have told us that the short story is dead: not because people didn't want to write or read the things, but because they have lacked the wish to anthologise them. Yet one means by which stories have become part of an expanding market is through translation. Why? Is it simply because we assume that only foreigners are skilled in such an antiquated form? Or that, being...

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Ilan Stavans (review date summer 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Stavans, Ilan. Review of Death and the Maiden, by Ariel Dorfman. World Literature Today 67, no. 3 (summer 1993): 596.

[In the following review, Stavans lauds the powerful ambiguity of Dorfman's narrative in Death and the Maiden, arguing that the play is “full of action and disarming ideas.”]

The Chilean novelist and critic Ariel Dorfman's 1990 play Death and the Maiden (the title comes from a Schubert quartet) has the taste of a tautly constructed classic. Although its cast is minimal (three characters), it is full of action and disarming ideas. Divided into three acts and set in Chile or in “any country that has given itself a...

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Ariel Dorfman and Ilan Stavans (interview date summer 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Dorfman, Ariel, and Ilan Stavans. “The Gringo's Tongue: A Conversation with Ariel Dorfman.” Michigan Quarterly Review 34, no. 3 (summer 1995): 303-12.

[In the following interview, Dorfman discusses the challenges of being a bilingual writer, the influence of his Jewish background on his work, and the role of memory, suffering, and justice in his fiction.]

Ariel Dorfman (b. 1942), responsible for, among other works, Widows, The Last Song of Manuel Sendero, Death and the Maiden, and Konfidenz, is a proud member of what could be called the “Translingual Literary Club,” also populated by Joseph Conrad, Vladimir Nabokov, Jerzy...

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Stephen Gregory (essay date fall 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Gregory, Stephen. “Ariel Dorfman and Harold Pinter: Politics of the Periphery and Theater of the Metropolis.” Comparative Drama 30, no. 3 (fall 1996): 325-45.

[In the following essay, Gregory investigates the influence of Harold Pinter on Dorfman's work, concluding that the two writers both focus heavily on “issues of the interaction of politics and language and of the mental and physical abuse of the rebellious and the powerless.”]

The skeleton of this article is what looks like a string of contingencies. The Chilean writer Ariel Dorfman's first book was a lengthy study of Harold Pinter's first play The Room (1957).1 Some twenty years...

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George R. McMurray (review date autumn 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: McMurray, George R. Review of Konfidenz, by Ariel Dorfman. World Literature Today 70, no. 4 (autumn 1996): 922.

[In the following review, McMurray criticizes Dorfman's confusing and overly obtuse narrative structure in Konfidenz.]

A native of Chile residing in the United States, Ariel Dorfman is one of Latin America's better-known contemporary writers. My favorite of his works is Some Write to the Future (1991), a collection of perceptive essays. One of his best-known novels is La última canción de Manuel Sendero (1982), about the revolt of unborn babies against an oppressive society. The criticism of that novel as being somewhat abstruse...

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Susan Smith Nash (review date winter 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Nash, Susan Smith. Review of Reader, by Ariel Dorfman. World Literature Today 71, no. 1 (winter 1997): 153-54.

[In the following review, Nash compliments Dorfman's “chilling” portrayal of political oppression in Reader, drawing parallels to the plot of Death and the Maiden.]

Ariel Dorfman, a Chilean citizen living in exile in the U.S., is best known for his play Death and the Maiden, which was made into a major motion picture directed by Roman Polanski. In Reader he has written a chilling, utterly riveting play which was performed at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. Here the issue of political repression comes to the forefront,...

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Gordana Crnkovic (essay date spring 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Crnkovic, Gordana. “Film Reviews: Death and the Maiden.Film Quarterly 50, no. 3 (spring 1997): 39-45.

[In the following essay, Crnkovic presents a critical analysis of director Roman Polanski's film adaptation of Death and the Maiden, discussing how the director interpreted both the original play and Dorfman's screenplay.]

I had already been in the United States for a few years when the war started in my homeland, the former Yugoslavia. As time passed, the images and reports of massacres, rape, shelling, and ethnic cleansing accumulated. And yet many of my American friends and acquaintances still could not see who was doing what to whom;...

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Miranda France (review date 30 May 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: France, Miranda. “Loyalty and Betrayal.” Spectator 280, no. 8860 (30 May 1998): 31.

[In the following review, France regards Heading South, Looking North as an autobiographical reflection “on the nature of language and identity.”]

Ariel Dorfman's new autobiography shows how political upheaval has forced nomadism on the people of this century. Dorfman, best known for his play Death and the Maiden, was born in Buenos Aires, in 1942, to a mother and father whose parents had fled revolution in eastern Europe. In 1945 Perón forced his communist father to remove the family to the United States. Later McCarthyism moved them on again, this time...

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Miranda France (review date 24 April 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: France, Miranda. “Sad Shaggy Dog Story.” Spectator 282, no. 8907 (24 April 1999): 38.

[In the following review, France laments Dorfman's unfocused narrative in The Nanny and the Iceberg, calling the novel “confused, over-long and often clumsy.”]

Ariel Dorfman is a Chilean writer and was a cultural adviser to Salvador Allende's government at the time of General Pinochet's coup in 1973. Since then he has lived in the United States, lecturing and writing about Chileans' experience of the dictatorship in novels, poems and plays. His famous play, Death and the Maiden, describes the agony of life in a country where one-time torturers still walk...

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John Butt (review date 7 May 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Butt, John. “Days without Love.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5014 (7 May 1999): 22.

[In the following review, Butt derides Dorfman's complex and overworked language in The Nanny and the Iceberg.]

This novel is neither serious nor funny. The portrayal of the anti-hero's father shows why. He is named Cristóbal and is linked to Christopher Columbus in some obscure and unimportant way. After losing his virginity on the day of Che Guevara's death, he bets some Chilean friends that he will sleep with a different woman every day for twenty-five years (no prostitutes), and he keeps it up throughout most of his son Gabriel's youth, and most of the novel too. The...

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Ed Peaco (review date winter 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Peaco, Ed. Review of The Nanny and the Iceberg, by Ariel Dorfman. Antioch Review 58, no. 1 (winter 2000): 121.

[In the following review, Peaco argues that, despite the novel's “promising” subject material, The Nanny and the Iceberg suffers from Dorfman's “inelegant treatment of women and sex, and tedious rendering of rants from all corners of Chilean politics.”]

Dorfman assembles promising materials for this novel [The Nanny and the Iceberg]. Family turmoil: Chilean expatriates Gabriel McKenzie, 23, and his mother return from New York seeking reconciliation with father/husband, Cristobal, who is trying to win a bet by engaging in...

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Sophia A. McClennen (review date spring 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: McClennen, Sophia A. Review of The Nanny and the Iceberg, by Ariel Dorfman. Review of Contemporary Fiction 20, no. 1 (spring 2000): 182-83.

[In the following review, McClennen praises Dorfman's literary experimentation in The Nanny and the Iceberg but notes that the nontraditional narrative “wavers on the absurd.”]

The Chilean Pavilion at the 1992 World Expo in Seville featured an Antarctic iceberg as its main attraction. This surreal effort at highlighting Chile's emergence from dictatorship serves as the historical backdrop for Dorfman's new novel. Yet, unlike Dorfman's play, Death and the Maiden, which also addressed Chile's...

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Robert A. Morace (essay date summer 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Morace, Robert A. “The Life and Times of Death and the Maiden.Texas Studies in Literature and Language 42, no. 2 (summer 2000): 135-53.

[In the following essay, Morace traces the initial success and eventual decline in popularity of Death and the Maiden, arguing that the several celebrity-driven adaptations of the play have ultimately lessened the work's dramatic and emotional impact.]

The rise and fall of Ariel Dorfman's Death and the Maiden is a subject worthy of close scrutiny, particularly now, following the arrest of Augusto Pinochet in Britain on 16 October 1998 at the request of the Spanish judiciary. How did a play that...

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Barbara Mujica (review date March 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Mujica, Barbara. “Into the Labyrinth of Truth and Fiction.” Americas 53, no. 2 (March 2001): 60-2.

[In the following review of The Nanny and the Iceberg, Mujica maintains that Dorfman presents“ample food for thought in a rich, complex, and sometimes hilarious text.”]

In his convoluted but highly entertaining new novel [The Nanny and the Iceberg], Ariel Dorfman returns to his favorite subject—not sex, as the suggestive cover and bildungsroman format might lead you to believe, but the author's native Chile. Composed as a long suicide note from a young Chilean, Gabriel McKenzie, to an American friend, the novel explores the tensions between...

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Lynne Sharon Schwartz (review date May 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Schwartz, Lynne Sharon. “Corporate Sinners and Crossover Saints.” New Leader 84, no. 3 (May 2001): 35-6.

[In the following excerpt, Schwartz regards Blake's Therapy as a “nightmarish social parable.”]

In a 1989 interview in Salmagundi, the Chilean writer and political activist Ariel Dorfman described one of his characters as caught in “the anguish of not being able to distinguish between his fears and his everyday life.” Anyone who knows Dorfman's prodigious body of work—novels, plays, social criticism, and the memoir, Heading South, Looking North (1998)—will infer a context of political repression, especially in Chile under...

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Chad W. Post (review date fall 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Post, Chad W. Review of Blake's Therapy, by Ariel Dorfman. Review of Contemporary Fiction 2, no. 3 (fall 2001): 203.

[In the following review, Post contends that Dorfman constructs a playful and effective narrative in Blake's Therapy and notes that the novel solidifies “Dorfman's place within the grand tradition of experimental Latin American novelists.”]

Most of Ariel Dorfman's work to date has addressed the detrimental effects of dictatorships upon the body and mind (Hard Rain, Konfidenz, Death and the Maiden), but in his newest novel, he leaves Latin American politics behind to explore the corruptive power of corporate...

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Stephen Grecco (review date winter 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Grecco, Stephen. Review of Speak Truth to Power: Voices from beyond the Dark, by Ariel Dorfman. World Literature Today 76, no. 1 (winter 2002): 150-51.

[In the following review, Grecco asserts that, despite its admirable subject matter, Speak Truth to Power is “dramaturgically inert and does little to further the cause to which it aspires.”]

Best known for Death and the Maiden, his 1991 play (and later film) about terrorism and torture, Ariel Dorfman has once again returned to a topic that informs a good deal of his writing: human-rights abuses. The awkwardly titled Speak Truth to Power is based on Kerry Kennedy Cuomo's Speak...

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Publishers Weekly (review date 7 October 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Review of Exorcising Terror: The Incredible Unending Trial of General Augusto Pinochet, by Ariel Dorfman. Publishers Weekly 249, no. 40 (7 October 2002): 65.

[In the following review, the critic commends Exorcising Terror as an “accessible” and “powerful” look at modern Chilean politics.]

Acclaimed Chilean novelist Dorfman (Blake's Therapy, etc.) offers a work slim but dense with emotion [Exorcising Terror: The Incredible Unending Trial of General Augusto Pinochet]. The author follows the appeals, victories and defeats involved in Spain's, and then Chile's own, attempts to try Augusto Pinochet for crimes he committed as...

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Ana Maria Hernandez (review date July-September 2003)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hernandez, Ana Maria. Review of Blake's Therapy, by Ariel Dorfman. World Literature Today 77, no. 2 (July-September 2003): 76.

[In the following review, Hernandez compliments Dorfman's timely examination of ethics and corporate politics in Blake's Therapy.]

Ariel Dorfman is not only a master of fiction but a master of timing as well. Written in English and copyrighted in 2001, the completion of Blake's Therapy synchronistically paralleled—and anticipated—the Enron/Cisco/Worldcom debacles and prefigures the ethical questions raised in their wake. Kafkaesque in tone, flawless in structure, seamless in narrative technique, the novel presents a...

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Naomi Lindstrom (review date July-September 2003)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Lindstrom, Naomi. Review of In Case of Fire in a Foreign Land: New and Collected Poems from Two Languages, by Ariel Dorfman. World Literature Today 77, no. 2 (July-September 2003): 147-48.

[In the following review, Lindstrom praises the poetry collected in In Case of Fire in a Foreign Land: New and Collected Poems from Two Languages, asserting that the volume presents “distinguished examples of both exile writing and what is sometimes categorized as ‘literature of human rights.’”]

The Chilean Military Regime that began with the 1973 coup and lasted through the 1980s is well known for such practices as holding citizens in undisclosed...

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Further Reading

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


Agosin, Marjorie. “Chilean Novelist's Surreal Political Fable of Lives in Limbo.” Christian Science Monitor 79, no. 60 (23 February 1987): 24.

Agosin praises the “fascinating and original plot” of The Last Song of Manuel Sendero.

Arana-Ward, Marie. “A Voice in the Night.” Washington Post Book World 25, no. 8 (19 February 1995): 4.

Arana-Ward asserts that, with the publication of the novel Konfidenz, Dorfman “steps confidently from the realm of Latin American storyteller into the arena of a world novelist of the first category.”

Doughty, Louise. “Under the...

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