Brimming with konfidenz

The play that made his name has now been filmed by Roman Polanski. But there is more to Ariel Dorfman than Death and the Maiden. Clare Bayley reports

"Can you write a tragedy in our times? That's the question I ask myself. My answer is, I'm trying - but how do you make sure you're not writing a melodrama?" This is what's bothering Ariel Dorfman, the man many would say pre-eminently succeeded wi th Death and the Maiden. There's no doubt it's a tragedy - the story of a South American torture victim, Paulina, who accidentally encounters her old torturer and enacts her own kind of justice upon him. Yet despite its macabre subject, the play has stru ck a chord with contemporary audiences. Productions are being mounted in theatres from Bolton to Bogota to Berlin, and for the final seal of approval, Polanski himself has made it into a film which comes to Britain next month.

The exiled Chilean writer is not resting on his laurels, however. Success seems to have provoked a rush of creativity, and this week sees the publication of a novel, Konfidenz, simultaneously in Britain, Germany and Italy.

"I was very glad to get a novel written amid all the chaos of the filming of Death and the Maiden," beams Dorfman. Bounding with energy, slightly distracted from the excitement of it all, ideas cascading off the top of his head in a confused but invigorating flow, Ariel Dorfman is a man in the full flush of his success. He has even emerged from Hollywood unscathed. Whatever else anyone says about the film (which stars Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley) there is agreement that it is a faithful adaptationof the play, and not in danger of melodrama. "It was a wonderful experience working with Polanski," enthuses Dorfman. "I learned a lot from him. He has such an eye for the concrete, for detail. He understands very clearly that I have ideas about things and atmospheres, but no visual imagination. I could never be a director."

Even so, Dorfman has not been seduced by the silver screen. "Polanski was very faithful to my text and my story, but writers really control so little of a movie. I'm going to stay out of doing it again. In the theatre you only have control up to a point.The written page is my territory."

In Latin America, Dorfman is known principally as a novelist who also writes plays. His supporters, who include Salman Rushdie, consider him one of the most important fiction writers coming out of Latin America, even though here it is solely for Death and the Maiden that he is known.

Konfidenz has the stamp of a playwright's craft on it. A self-consciously enigmatic story about a woman who arrives in Paris to be telephoned by a man whom she has never met but who apparently knows every intimate detail of her life, it takes the form ofdialogue. Periodically the conversational narrative is interrupted by the prose voice of a shadowy third character, the author, commenting on his characters.

"Very often in my novels I find that my characters simultaneously exist as projections of the inner life. It has to do with the playfulness of the literary imagination. The same thing happens in my plays. For example in Death and the Maiden, both Paulina's husband and the man she believes was her torturer have their versions of how she should work out her future life. There's the silence option or the accommodation option. She's got her own version. You could see them all as parts of one mind working itout: the ego, the super-ego and the id. I don't want to give up the mystery that is behind these stories - as a novelist that's what I bring to the theatre."

July sees the premiere of yet another Dorfman work, The Reader, at Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre. This is the story of a censor who is horrified to discover that the text he is censoring is in fact the story of his own life. Dabbling in a Pirandellian exploration of character and identity, the play uses the same actor to play the "real" Reader and his fictional self. Although stylistically very different, similar preoccupations can be traced through all of Dorfman's work. The nature of identity, the telling of stories, the speaking of truth are constant preoccupations. And always there is the context of political oppression, torture, betrayal and censorship.

"I don't write to denounce a situation of torture," says Dorfman. "Many of the people who have been tortured have had their stories suppressed. The first crime is the torture. The more terrible crime is that they are silenced. As a writer I'm more worried about silence, because I can do something about that. In all my work there are people struggling to tell their stories." In both Konfidenz and The Reader, Dorfman employs the psychological thriller conceit that the protagonist's story is being told to them by somebody else. Never mind identity - truth itself is called into question. And the title of Konfidenz, with its peculiar, phonetic spelling, seems to undermine our trust even in language.

It's perhaps not surprising that The Reader began life as a novel. "The novel is supremely equipped to deal with fluidity, and with the shaping and misshaping of identity. On stage you have to deal with real bodies, so it is a much more complicated process. But people have got to realise that I am not just dealing with reality. My work is full of reality but it is not realistic," he says. "A director is able to work it stylistically so it succeeds at the level of metaphor and myth."

Just as Dorfman moves easily between the novel and the play, so too he is equally fluent writing in English and in Spanish. Born in Argentina, brought up in Chile, exiled in 1973 and now living in New York, Dorfman speaks rapid and elegant American-English with more of an East Coast accent than any trace of Latino. Since his success in the English-speaking world, he has acquired the habit of writing simultaneous versions in both languages. "If you don't betray a text you cannot translate it. Most betrayals are terrible, but some may be necessary in certain moments. For example, when you betray your former self, are you betraying you, or a someone you used to be but you are no longer?"

n `Konfidenz', by Ariel Dorfman, is published by Sceptre on 16 Feb, price £5.99

Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks in 2011

Review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandal

books
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian Jack Dee has allegedly threatened to quit as chairman of long-running Radio 4 panel show 'I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue'

Edinburgh Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Director Paul Thomas Anderson (right) and his movie The Master featuring Joaquin Phoenix

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>Laura
Carmichael- Lady Edith Crawley</strong></p>
<p>Carmichael currently stars as Sonya in the West End production of
Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre. She made headlines this autumn
when Royal Shakespeare Company founder Sir Peter Hall shouted at her in a
half-sleepy state during her performance. </p>
<p>Carmichael made another appearance on the stage in 2011, playing
two characters in David Hare’s <em>Plent</em>y
at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. </p>
<p>Away from the stage she starred as receptionist Sal in the 2011
film <em>Tinker Tailor Solider Spy</em>. </p>

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana admits she's

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star