La Vida Doble

A Novel

Arturo Fontaine; Translated by Megan McDowell

View Inside Price: $15.00


April 29, 2014
312 pages, 5 x 7 3/4
ISBN: 9780300205763
PB-with Flaps

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A tale of violence, lofty ideals, and moral ambiguity, Fontaine’s best-selling novel is now available in a superb English translation


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.


Arturo Fontaine is professor of philosophy at the Universidad de Chile. He is the author of four volumes of poetry and three novels, and he regularly publishes essays on cultural topics. Megan McDowell is a translator specializing in Chilean and Latin American literature.

La vida doble delves into moral dilemmas and betrayal. No one better represents contemporary Chilean narrative than Arturo Fontaine."—Carlos Fuentes, “Babelia,” El País (Madrid)

"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 electifying atmosphere of the beginning, making the reader live through extraordinary suspense and emotion. Likewise, the moral complexity of the protagonist’s experience is very well drawn. 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 quite shaken."--Mario Vargas Llosa
“After the celebrated novels Oír su voz and Cuando éramos inmortales, La vida doble confirms Arturo Fontaine as a storyteller who is part of the most invigorating current of contemporary realism. He plays with confusion of genres (history and fiction) and with the Dantesque element of reality. Characters with several identities, able to posess but rarely to give themselves over. Or naive characters who thought they died as heroes for an ideal. All is laid bare by Lorena’s words, or Irene’s—her real name doesn’t matter, because reality is elusive—as she describes her life. Fontaine has brought these political conflicts to life, turning them into powerful moral delimmas about heroism, betrayal, and devotion to ideals in a world that has none.”--La Vanguardia (Barcelona, España)
“This novel deserves to endure. Based on actual events, it penetrates like a corckscrew into the depths of the human condition of every era. It shakes, astonishes, unsettles, reveals, and maintains a powerful suspense from beginning to end. La vida doble exceeds Chile and exceeds its time. The narrative flow sews together different moments, moving forward or backward, without losing cohesion. On the contrary, it seeks to—and does—surprise and illuminate. The language is rich and acquires an intense color from its marinade of Chilenismos of every social strata. The characters are realistic, endowed with a solid incarnation. There are periods of calm, of poetry, of intense eroticism, even a torrid sexuality. After reading La vida doble, one is left with the feeling of having undertaken a journey both tenebrous and enlightening. Told by a novelist who knew how to convert his abundant material into a score of fascinating sonority.” --Marcos Aguinis, La Nación (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

"Chilean author and poet Fontaine's searing examination of the consequences suffered by those who conspired against the Pinochet regime (1974-1990) raises timeless questions about the morality of torture."—Publishers Weekly
“How to represent evil and torture bearably, enhance or put into perspective a lasting and frequently trite and polemical literary topic, without the culture of complaint? Arturo Fontaine’s lucid and moving novel, whose original is a literary and critical best-seller amply praised by Vargas Llosa, Fuentes, and writers of later generations, opts for a poetic coming to terms with a much-too-human predicament: Would you sell your soul to save yourself and yours? The novel’s nuanced discussion of moral dilemmas like shame and betrayal are stressed in the abundant reviews of the original, and in great measure translator Megan McDowell relays La vida doble’s brilliance in conveying those quandaries, ascertaining Fontaine’s penchant for avoiding formulas.” —World Literature Today
“I don't think I've seen such a complex psychological study of devotion and betrayal undertaken with such poetic beauty.”—Bait for Bookworms

“A word about this fine translation. . . . In Spanish, Fontaine makes use of a host of verbal registers and levels of diction. One of the most poignant aspects of Irene-La Cubanita-Lorena is her exacting feel for the Chilean landscape, her knowledge of exotic trees, her sense memories of a particular beach, her native immersion in Santiago. Megan McDowell achieves the subtle shifts in this woman’s voice as she tries to order her account; she maintains tautness in an account that must never (but could easily) flag, and clarity in a realm of horror.. . . . A word about this fine translation. . . . In Spanish, Fontaine makes use of a host of verbal registers and levels of diction. One of the most poignant aspects of Irene-La Cubanita-Lorena is her exacting feel for the Chilean landscape, her knowledge of exotic trees, her sense memories of a particular beach, her native immersion in Santiago. Megan McDowell achieves the subtle shifts in this woman’s voice as she tries to order her account; she maintains tautness in an account that must never (but could easily) flag, and clarity in a realm of horror.”
—Marguerite Feitlowitz, Los Angeles Review of Books
“[La Vida Doble is] a harrowing examination of political violence during the Pinochet period. . . a complex, open-minded investigation into the mentality of those involved on both sides.”—David Gallagher, New York Review of Books

 “...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, Guardian

 "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."The New York Review of Books

 “[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" --World Literature Today

"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 the 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... I can think of novel which makes torture and abuse of human rights... seem more repugnant. But is does so in an original manner..." —Times Litterary Supplement
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