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Widowsby Ariel Dorfman
Following the (U.S. backed) military coup of Chilean president Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973, Ariel Dorfman (until then a cultural advisor to Allende) was forced into exile. Widows was the first novel Dorfman authored as an émigré. As some of his books had previously been banned, he had initially considered publishing this one under a pseudonym (Eric Lohmann) to avoid further censorship in the countries whose readers he was hoping would have access to his work. Following submission of the completed manuscript, a publishing house that had previously shown "enthusiastic interest" in the project abandoned publication for fear of repercussions.
Dorfman set Widows in Greece, rather than in his native Chile, under the presumption that, in conjunction with the aforementioned pen name, readers would have been "persuaded that it had indeed been penned forty years ago in Denmark, just before the author himself was taken off into the nacht und nebel." With themes that would be revisited in his later works, Widows concerns the disappearance of a rural village's menfolk at the hands of a military regime. The many atrocities and human rights violations (murder, torture, detention, etc.) that took place throughout Pinochet's regime (following the coup) were very clearly inspiration for Widows. Political repression, despotic violence, military insolence, and the moral vacuity of armed conflict are all subjects explored in this stunning and well-written novel. Also of considerable note are the strong, independent, and forthright female characters Dorfman regularly employs in his books, ones that challenge the reader to rethink the male-crafted paradigm of contemporary war novels that often portray women as weak, dependent, subordinate nonindividuals. From the preface:
By forcing myself to choose my words with caution, by forcing myself to witness such a traumatic and immediate experience from a distance, by forcing myself to explore a language which could not be traced to the style that Latin American readers and critics might have recognized as my own, it seemed to me I had managed to make the plight of the missing people into something more universal, which could happen anywhere today in my own Chile, in El Salvador, in South Africa, in the Philippines. It happened in Denmark yesterday, and who knows where it will happen tomorrow. Just a little imagination is needed to shift the characters and change the landscape.
Recommended by Jeremy, Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
Set in a Greek village in 1942, and purportedly written from his imagination by a Danish man before he was picked up by the Gestapo and not seen again, here is Ariel Dorfman's haunting and universal parable of individual courage in the face of political oppression. Widows forms a testament to the disappeared — those living under totalitarian regimes the world over, who are taken away for "questioning" and never return.
One by one, the bodies of men wash up on the shore of the river, where they are claimed by the women of the local town as husbands and fathers, even though the faces of the dead men are unrecognizable. A tug-of-war ensues between the local police, who insist that the women couldn't possibly recognize their loved ones, and the women demanding the right to bury their beloveds. As it evolves, the stand-off reveals itself to be a power struggle between love, dignity and honor, and the lesser god of brute force. A lesson in how power really works, and how it can be made to work differently.
"The plot resounds with the moral thunder of classic....The reader, deeply touched, moves as if in a dream of outrage among its tombs of love." The New York Times Book Review
"Lyrical and even elegiac?Dorfman gives flesh to a human rights issue of our time." Chicago Tribune
"[A] brilliant, indispensible fable and an exquisite novel of truly unforgettable characters in a dreadful but, alas, all too familiar situation." Tony Kushner
First published in 1983, Widows is one of Dorfman's most popular and lasting books, a classic in the literature of social protest.
In this moving novel set in a Greek village in 1942, the corpses of disappeared men wash ashore. The village women claim the bodies as husbands and fathers, even though their faces are unrecognizable. A tug of war ensues between the local police, who insist the women cannot identify their loved ones, and the women, who demand the right to bury their dead. Their standoff becomes a struggle for dignity and honor against the forces of fascism. First published in 1983 and anticipating some of the themes of his award-winning play Death and the Maiden, Widows is Ariel Dorfmans eloquent tribute to those who have perished under totalitarian regimes. This is a classic parable of individual courage in the face of oppression from a literary grandmaster (Time). Lyrical and even elegiac ... Dorfman gives flesh to a human rights issue of our time. Chicago Tribune
About the Author
Born in Buenos Aires in 1942, Ariel Dorfman is a Chilean citizen. A supporter of Salvador Allende, he was forced into exile and has lived in the United States for many years. He is distinguished professor at Duke University and lives in Durham, North Carolina.
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