WIDOWS by Ariel Dorfman


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Dorfman, a Chilean novelist in exile, introduces his novella with a foreword aiming it directly at the political situation in Chile, though the book itself is set in German-occupied WW II Greece. And indeed the anger here registers beyond one place and time: the story is deliberately unparticularized, universalized. Sofia Angeles, an old Greek country matriarch, has been robbed of all her family's men--father, husband, two sons--by the military authorities, who accuse the Angeles men of being subversives. Now, day by day, still other male bodies come floating down the local river: bloated and unrecognizable corpses that the military government wants quickly removed, hidden. However, the women of the town, all 37 of them, the ""widows"" of the title, claim each body as individually theirs--frustrating all attempts at disposal of such evidence of wanton murder. To the officer in charge, this choral and obdurate claim is ""collective hysteria""; yet, as a tactic of responsibility (and threat), it first haunts him--and then starts to undo him. Dorfman presents the women (in black, huddled as one) very visually, strongly conveying the stench of torture, of silent reproach. His point, at the end, is made starkly: ""There were the bodies that someone was dumping with premeditated efficiency upriver, the bodies that would go on turning up later, perhaps by accident, in cesspools, ravines, crossroads, and they'd have to keep killing so that no one would ask where they came from, who'd put them there, why, how, how much longer."" And though the story becomes monotonous, with a single idea that never develops into fully-characterized fiction, the 37 widows make for a powerful image--in a thin yet vivid slice of polemical fable-telling.

Pub Date: May 16th, 1983
ISBN: 1583224831
Publisher: Pantheon