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Heading South, Looking North: a Bilingual Journey.

Heading South, Looking North: A Bilingual Journey by Ariel Dorfman Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 282 pages. $24.00

The Chilean revolution--the decades-long process of peaceful mobilization culminating in the election of Salvador Allende in 1970--is arguably the high-water mark of socialism to date. It roundly disproved the Cold War myths that equated capitalism with freedom and socialism with dictatorship, and it inspired idealists around the world.

As the Chilean American novelist Ariel Dorfman explains in his memoir, Heading South, Looking North: A Bilingual Journey, "I was fortunate enough to find one of the only mass movements on the planet that reconciled my drastic need for structural, earth-shattering change and my desire that this change be accomplished without harm to others."

The Chilean revolution was the ultimate threat of a bad example for all the disobedient and disinherited peoples of the earth. Naturally, it had to be crushed.

But Dorfman does not put a gloss on the Allende period. The left made mistakes in Chile, he says, fewer than elsewhere, perhaps, but mistakes nonetheless. It alienated potential allies and indulged too much in fantasies.

Dorfman is a third-generation political exile. His parents were Russian Jews whose families emigrated to Argentina when they were children. His father, a leading intellectual, was forced to flee Peron. He eventually joined the U.N. staff in New York, only to encounter the McCarthy witch hunts, whereupon he went to Chile.

"Think of it: Joe McCarthy parting me from Charlie McCarthy," Dorfman writes. "As a child of seven, when I had preferred my parents to my flag, I had been able to live with the ensuing crisis of who I was by separating American politics and the transitory U.S. governments from what I understood to be the true and eternal America expressed in its popular culture. I could fear one while enjoying the other."

Following the 1973 coup of Augusto Pinochet, Dorfman managed to elude arrest, and for a while, he resisted those who urged him into exile. His inward struggles have a powerful poignancy. "When you have been defeated, when everything you believed in has been defeated, when the hope for change that a true revolution celebrates has been defeated, that is the moment when you can easily be drawn into the well of death," he writes.

This memoir's format is disarmingly simple: eight chapters recounting Dorfman's experience in the wake of the CIA-backed coup that overthrew Allende, eight others tracing his life up to the coup. Eight chapters haunted by the question of why he did not die, eight chapters stripping away inadequate reasons why and how he should live--two compelling stories intertwined.

Since so many of his friends died, Dorfman concludes that he was spared for a reason: to bear witness against evil. But he also bears witness to--and demands that we learn from--the left's mistakes.

There is plenty of story and little theory here, and the story is much more than a personal or even generational catharsis. It's an act of preparation and renewal. The current urge to toss out the baby with the bathwater--Marxism, progress, civilization, the Enlightenment, all of it--is part of the youthful excess Dorfman writes about.

Something more discerning is required now. There's a spiritual exhaustion to be overcome--far more than an intellectual one. The ideas and information are out there. What's needed is the heart to continue, tenderly, as this book is written.

Paul Rosenberg is a lifelong activist and writer in Long Beach, California.
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Author:Rosenberg, Paul
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 1998
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