La vida doble

La vida doble / La Vida Doble: A Novel

Novel , 2010


A tale of violence, lofty ideals, and moral ambiguity

Set in the darkest years of the Pinochet dictatorship, La Vida Doble is the story of Lorena, a leftist militant who arrives at a merciless turning point when every choice she confronts is impossible. Captured by agents of the Chilean repression, withstanding brutal torture to save her comrades, she must now either forsake the allegiances of motherhood or betray the political ideals to which she is deeply committed.

Arturo Fontaine’s Lorena is a study in contradictions—mother and combatant, intellectual and lover, idealist and traitor—and he places her within a historical context that confounds her dilemmas. Though she has few viable options, she is no mere victim, and Fontaine disallows any comfortable high moral ground. His novel is among the most subtle explorations of human violence ever written.

Ranking with Roberto Bolaño and Mario Vargas Llosa on Latin America’s roster of most accomplished authors, Fontaine is a fearless explorer of the most sordid and controversial aspects of Chile’s history and culture. He addresses a set of moral questions specific to Pinochet’s murderous reign but invites us, four decades later, to consider global conflicts today and question how far we’ve come.

"The first pages of La Vida Doble are so powerful, of such truly convulsive dramatic composition, that it seems almost impossible for the story to maintain the tension until the end. Nonetheless, the truth is that almost all the novel’s action scenes regain the electrifying atmosphere of the beginning, making the reader live through extraordinary suspense and emotion. . . . A novel that as a whole shows great ambition, a very serious documentary undertaking, and a great dexterity in structure and style. It should be read in one sitting, and one emerges from its pages quiteshaken." Mario Vargas Llosa

"An extreme and intense immersion into the ‘heart of darkness’ that was Pinochet’s Chile. This is not for the faint of heart, but it is a very powerful and honest look at the human cost of extreme politics." Ray, Blackwell’s Bookshop Oxford 

"...A relentlessly harrowing book... Fontaine's novel is... a scientific report on the extremes of our behaviour. Not monsters but men and women, like any one of us, did these things and will do them again." Alberto Manguel, The Guardian, July, 27, 2013

"Lorena is... too malleable, and too intelligent; she is easily swayed and her clever and devious mind is ready with rationalizations every time. And yet she is the incarnation of the mostrous evil... The gap between that terrible fact and complexity of the woman seen in close-up is at the heart of this gripping novel…What makes one read on with wide-eyed amazement is a sense of humility about one’s prejudices and one’s confidence in commanding the moral high ground. I can think of novel which makes torture and abuse of human rights... seem more repugnant. But is does so in a original manner..." David Gallagher, The Times Literary Supplement, September 2010

"[A] masterpiece...(A) lucid and moving novel... Fontaine's eloquent and coherent achievement... surpasses his national and Latin American cohort...Peerless as testimony, infinitely, memorable as a reassessment of memory's role in narrative, La Vida doble is a model and in myriad ways a closing statement for authenticating historical periods. ...A whirlwind of self-estrangement, ideologically virtuous obsessions, bold sexuality, unalloyed grief, bottomless invectives... and, above all, page-turning psychological suspense. ... In great measure translator Megan McDowell relays La Vida doble's brilliance." Will Corral, World Literature Today, September 2013

Fontaine’s novel poses uneasy questions aimed at challenging the reader’s moral judgments. His way of creating suspense in describing the actions is itself morally challenging. In Lorena, Fontaine has created a forbidding character." David Gallagher, The New York Review of Books, March, 6, 2014

"Lorena, talking nonstop, does so from a place beyond where language is truly comprehensible. ...She is a complex and original creation, acutely alert to the dark, even perverting, powers of her own story. She expresses no remorse...And yet, tragically, there was innocence. ...Lorena was in many ways a literary romantic.” Marguerite Feitlowitz, Los Angeles Review of Books, February, 10, 2014