WIDOWS by Ariel Dorfman
Translated by Stephen Kesler
Almost twenty years after I picked Widows up at second hand book sale, a strange premonition that Ariel Dorfman would win the Nobel caused me to finally pull it off my shelf. Set on a Greek island under Nazi occupation, it tells the unusual tale of bodies - beaten and unrecognisable - washing up on the banks of a river. Women from the nearby town come to claim them, insisting that they belong to their husbands, brothers, fathers and sons who have not been seen since being arrested by the regime. It’s a battle of will and wits, fuelled on one hand by love and despair, and the other by military obstinance.
Beginning in parable-like fashion, it soon gives way to experimental allegory, as Dorfman lambastes the countries of his early years - Argentina and Chile - and their record of disappearances. Ultimately, Widows is a testament to the defiance of women against dictatorships (eerily prescient right now) as well as the complex moral paradox of local complicity under threat of total annihilation. The stylistic experimentation wears a bit thin at times, but it hardly detracts from an otherwise powerful and still - forty years after publication - urgent book.
Widows by Ariel Dorfman (Tr. Stephen Kesler)
Pantheon Books, 1983