For the November installment of Chile’s book of the month, we explored Desert Memories: Journeys Through the Chilean North by the Chilean novelist and playwright Ariel Dorfman. The book makes a great read for before, during, and after your trip to Chile because it delves deep into the complexities of one of the country’s most popular travel destinations: the Atacama Desert.
In the following special interview with Professor Dorfman, the acclaimed author and current professor at Duke University shares his thoughts on visiting the Atacama Desert, and his love for the friendly and resilient people of Chile.
This is Chile: Why in your opinion is the Atacama an important destination to experience on a trip to Chile?
Ariel Dorfman: The Atacama is a unique experience both as nature and as history. The book [Desert Memories] explores the way in which an extreme and arid desert asks you questions about your identity that no other geographical location can offer, it places you close to death and therefore the sources of life (most great monotheisms were born in a desert, after all). As if that weren’t enough, the sky is open there, allowing queries about the origins of the universe itself, constellations and galaxies and stars and planets.
But the Atacama is also a space for other origins: the origins of the industrial world through nitrate and copper and other raw materials. The origin of Latin America and the first tribes to create communal societies. The origin of Chile itself in so many ways. And the desert preserves the past in extraordinary and surprising ways. And – of course – there’s the sheer beauty of rock and sand and sunset. Wild sea within one hundred miles of majestic mountains. And the food – Andean and Chinese and Croatian and European, blending into a unique culinary experience.
TiC: What keeps you coming back to Chile, and what about the country do you miss when you are away?
AD: As I explain in my latest memoir, Feeding on Dreams, my heart is here in Chile, where I write these words. I come back with my love Angelica, to the land that made me, that haunts me, and also, once in a while, exasperates me, but even the exasperation is familiar. I miss the mountains, naturally, when I am away, but especially I miss the people. Not just my friends and family, but the folk on the streets and in the stores and on the bus. Friendly, gossipy, mischievous, enduring, resistant, they remind me that something of the Chile I love will never die.
By Liz Rickles