La Vida Doble

By Corral, Will H. | World Literature Today, September/October 2013 | Go to article overview

La Vida Doble


Corral, Will H., World Literature Today


Arturo Fontaine. La vida doble. Megan McDowell, tr. New Haven, Connecticut. Yale University Press. 2013. isbn 9780300176698

How to represent evil and torture bear- ably, enhance or put into perspective a lasting and frequently trite and polemi- cal literary topic, without the culture of complaint? Arturo Fontaine s lucid and moving novel, whose original is a liter- ary and critical best-seller amply praised by Vargas Llosa, Fuentes, and writers of later generations, opts for a poetic com- ing to terms with a much-too-human predicament: Would you sell your soul to save yourself and yours? The novels nuanced discussion of moral dilemmas like shame and betrayal are stressed in the abundant reviews of the original, and in great measure translator Megan McDowell relays La vida doble's bril- liance in conveying those quandaries, ascertaining Fontaines penchant for avoiding formulas.

Those dilemmas are embodied in Irene/Lorena, an aging leftist and poetry-quoting teacher of French captured by Pinochets forces. With- in that frame, Fontaines eloquent and coherent achievement, a dozen years in the making, surpasses his national and Latin American cohort, discarding the ideological blindfold that other novelists wear for their characters worldwide, as if suffer- ing were the privilege of particular political worldviews. Peerless as tes- timony, infinitely memorable as a reassessment of memory's role in narrative, La vida doble is a model and in myriad ways a closing statement for authenticating historical periods.

If uncontrolled passion and Ion- ization of fellow travelers is an oxy- moron that best defines how political novels can limit their art, what makes Fontaines brilliant fiction superior is his methodical and painstaking re-creation not of a particular his- tory but of the microhistories that define it-before, after, and during Pinochet. The novels meanings are contained as much in sound as in the soliloquies' philosophical patina, attuned with Fontaines professions and conviction. …

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