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Heading South, Looking North:
Ariel Dorfman is no stranger to exile. Before his 30th birthday, he had fled with his parents (Jews who had escaped from Eastern Europe) from Argentina to the U.S. and then later to Chile. Then, following a military coup, he fled Chile for a stint in Europe before returning to the U.S. For Dorfman, this was not traveling but enduring, as his forced movement between nations, cultures, and languages left him without a place to call home or a culture he could completely define as his own. Although heralded as one of Latin America's leading writers, he once renounced the Spanish language and swore to become an American in both speech and culture. Later, while a student at Berkeley, he abandoned English with the same vengeance and returned to his native Spanish. Such vacillation caused him to ponder the role of language in forming identity, and this theme runs throughout Heading South, Looking North: A Bilingual Journey. His desire to embrace his Latin roots went beyond language, however, for it was politics that ultimately thrust him into the role of a writer, thus changing his life. He had wanted to be a part of the American protest movement, but he feared the official wrath that could befall him due to his immigrant status: "This seemed to be my fate. In Chile, I had been Argentinean; here, I was Chilean; always the danger of deportation, my foreign passport weighing down on me. So I looked on while heads were broken, sit-ins were disrupted, and damsels in distress were dragged off by the 'pigs.' ... My participation was always surreptitious and oblique...." But in Chile his involvement took a more active stance. His status as official citizen emboldened him and he enthusiastically embraced Salvador Allende's socialist movement, serving for a time as the administration's communications and media advisor; a choice that eventually earned him yet another round of exile back in the U.S. (where he continues to reside) after the death of Allende and the rise of General Augusto Pinochet. A remarkable story of perseverance and the inherent power of language, Heading South, Looking North is ultimately a quest for self-identity. The fact that he wrote this book in English may answer the question of where he stands--for now. --Shawn Carkonen [via]