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Heading South, Looking North: A Bilingual Journey Paperback – May 1, 1999

3.3 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The details of this artfully constructed memoir by a Chilean novelist probably best known in this country for his play Death and the Maiden are dramatic, but what makes the book remarkable is its continuing meditation on language and its role in forging identity. When Dorfman was born in Argentina in 1942, his Jewish parents, who had fled Russia, named him Vladimiro in honor of Lenin. In 1945, they moved to New York City, where their son (who adopted the name Edward) refused to speak Spanish and became a believer in popular American culture, even rooting for his father's enemy, Peron, because as long as Juan and Evita remained in power, the Dorfmans would never return to Buenos Aires. In 1955, under pressure from Sen. Joseph McCarthy, Dorfman's father left his job at the U.N. and took his family to Chile, where "Edward" attended an English school. After college, he went north again in 1968 to study at Berkeley and returned to Chile in 1970 to be part of Salvador Allende's socialist government. Three years later, Allende was dead, the country was in the midst of a military putsch and Dorfman was fleeing for his life, back to North America. In alternating chapters, the author relates what happened when Allende was overthrown and the story of his own life and how it was shaped by the language he was speaking. Dorfman at times seems more concerned with writing a "literary" work than with telling a story, but as the book goes on, the self-conscious flourishes diminish and the result is an astonishing portrait of the shaping of a life.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (May 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014028253X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140282535
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #440,622 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is a great book. I have seldom read a book that is so honest and, at the same time, so full of sound and fury. Yes, it is highly idiosyncratic, especially when Dorfman tries to explain his reasons for chosing English over Spanish and vice versa, but, at the same time, it is written with such passion that one cannot help sympathizing with him. Being bilingual myself, going from English to Spanish and from Spanish to English every single day of my life, being an expatriate yearning for the lost paradise of my birth and childhood, I found in Dorfman's "Heading south, looking north" many of the encountered feelings that a person who participates in two cultures has--and I rejoiced in that I was not alone in my feelings.
But, apart from being a passionate meditation on the virtues and 'ravages' of bilingualism, "Heading south, looking north" is a corageous book full of the ironies that make up life and a hymn to the Allende revolution in Chile. There is much to be gained from his soul searching, much to be learned from his criticism of the revolution that he loves so much (yes, I think it's appropriate to use the present tense), and, above all, much to be admired from this singular journey. I highly recommend this book.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is the internal memoirs of a man whose defining moments were exile from his homelands and his languages. Exile was a longstanding way of life in Dorfman's family, from his grandparents who had to leave Eastern Europe, to his parents who had to flee both Argentina and the US, and now Dorfman himself, who was forced into asylum after the fall of Allende in Chile. But exile is more of a secondary or co-theme of this book. The other major theme is Dorfman's search for identity through his languages. Throughout the book, Dorfman describes how he came to know language, and the identity traits that go along with a language. He also describes how he came to choose which of his two languages, English and Spanish, to use in different contexts and to consciously construct different identities.
Rather than tell his story chronologically, Dorfman works from a repertoire of pivotal moments. He has asked himself, when and why did I first start using English? When did I begin to write? When did I embrace the philosophy of non-violence? He then describes these episodes in detail, and speculates and philosophizes on them. The story of Dorfman's political activities in Chile and what happened to him during the coup constitute about half of the book, with these political chapters alternating with chapters about the other significant events in his life. The bouncing back-and-forth between time periods moves almost smoothly, like the thought patterns of an insomniac reflecting back at the end of a busy day.
I found many aspects of this book quite interesting. The first-person account of bilingualism, and its ties to a conflicted identity were described very clearly. The inside perspective on the Allende regime and its fall was also informative.
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By shan1212 on October 28, 2000
Format: Paperback
Ariel Dorfman manages to express in the words of only one language the treason which two languages coexisting within him create. He traces his own working through pain and developing of identity in the dichotomy of his culturalism and sheds an almost joyfully existential light on the blind forces which bless some and curse others. Heading South, Looking North may be above the heads of the less literary (i.e. some of the previous reviews), but it is a triumph and should be enjoyed by any reader willing to find himself in the spaces between language, culture, and politics.
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Format: Paperback
This book is a wonderfully woven, yet economical, description of one young man's constant self examination and exploration of his surroundings. I would like to think that I and others could be as sensitive and compassionate. Also, between the lines I understood what amazing, positive people his parents must have been. Thoughtful, provoking, and above all, beautifully crafted.
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Format: Hardcover
It is a great experience to read through this painful memoir turning into a dramatic novel. I am fascinated with Mr. Dorfman's artful narratives as they seem to illuminate not only the tragedy of his country but that of Korea, which was brought about by the same ideological conflicts and interracial war. Moreover, the themes of bilingualism and cultural hybridity are treated here with such a remarkable sensitivity that, though not a bilingual person in a strict sense, I feel a full sympathy toward a young boy growing up in America with fear and death in his heart. The search for one's identity is so dear and so painful. It is a truly moveing story with an acute sense and insight into contemporary multicultural scenes.
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Format: Paperback
Both as a memorial to the democracy that was delayed for a generation in Chile (and to his friends who were casualties in the Pinochet terror) and as an account of how a major writer became the bilingual hybrid he is by rejecting first one and then the other of his linguistic selves, this is a fascinating book. . Battered from continent to continent by political events of the twentieth century, Dorfman's survival (as he knows well) depended on considerable luck and on his father's connections. Although he has accepted that his vocation is to tell stories, especially the stories of repression in Chile, there is no doubt that he harbors a considerable amount of survivor guilt.
Contrary to the misrepresentation of earlier reviewers, Dorfman does mention Borges (three times, all with respect), criticizes Castro as well as Pinochet (though Chile is a place to which he gave his heart and soul), and is not just aware, but explicit that it is ironic "I should have become a spokesperson for the poor in Latin America because I had spent so many years in the rich North" and of the recurrent ironies that the connections of his marxist father got them out of harm's way.
This is a very honest, un-narcissistic account of an interesting life of multiple exiles, observing failures of democracies, making clear the different selves that emerge in different languages. I would have liked more on the second American exile and assenting to bilingualism, and I regret that the hardback cover composition was replaced by the duller, less bicultural one on the paperback.
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