The Suicide Museum: A Novel (Paperback)
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A billionaire Holocaust survivor hires a writer to uncover the truth of Salvador Allende’s death, and they must confront their own dark histories to find a path forward—for themselves and for our ravaged planet.
An expansive, engrossing mystery for fans of Gabriel García Márquez, Margaret Atwood, and Bill McKibben, from the acclaimed author of Death and the Maiden.
Ariel needed money, and Joseph Hortha had it. Bound by gratitude toward the late Chilean president and a persistent need to know whether murder or suicide ended his life during the 1973 coup, the two men embark on an investigation that will take them from Washington DC and New York, to Santiago and Valparaíso, and finally to London. They encounter an unforgettable cast of characters: a wedding photographer who can predict a couple’s future; a policeman in pursuit of the serial killer targeting refugees; a revolutionary caught trying to assassinate a dictator; and, above all, the complex women who support them along the way, for their own obscure reasons.
Before Ariel and Joseph can resolve a quest full of dangers and enigmas, they must help each other come to terms with guilt and trauma from personal catastrophes hidden deep in the past. What begins as an intriguing literary caper unfolds into a propulsive, philosophical saga about love, family, machismo, fascism, and exile that asks what we owe the world, one another, and ourselves. By boldly mixing fiction and reality, imagination and history, The Suicide Museum explores the limits of the novelistic genre, expanding it in an unsuspected and exceptional way.
About the Author
Ariel Dorfman is a Chilean-American author, born in Argentina, whose award-winning books in many genres have been published in more than fifty languages and his plays performed in more than one hundred countries. Among his works are the plays Death and the Maiden and Purgatorio, the novels Widows and Konfidenz, and the memoirs Heading South, Looking North and Feeding on Dreams. He writes regularly for the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, New York Review of Books, The Nation, The Guardian, El País, and CNN. His stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper’s, The Threepenny Review, and Index on Censorship, among others. A prominent human rights activist, he worked as press and cultural advisor to Salvador Allende’s chief of staff in the final months before the 1973 military coup, and later spent many years in exile. He lives with his wife Angélica in Santiago, Chile, and Durham, North Carolina, where he is the Walter Hines Page Emeritus Professor of Literature at Duke University.
“An intricate examination of guilt and grief…evocative of Philip Roth. Its prose is brainy and confident, building momentum through the intensity of its ideas…profoundly moving.” —New York Times Book Review
“Set largely in the nineteen-nineties…[The Suicide Museum is] also a novel that looks toward the future…exhilarating…In what feels like Dorfman’s parting admonition to us to act before it’s too late…he insists that the myth of Allende retains its utility, even in a world the man himself wouldn’t recognize.” —The New Yorker
“A thriller nested inside a literary novel nested inside a memoir…playful and intriguing.” —Los Angeles Review of Books
“Engrossing…an erudite riddle that gracefully melds history and fiction, this feels like the capstone to Dorfman’s literary career. It’s a brainy, dazzling treat.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Gripping and expansive…Unlike most thrillers, this cerebral tale also serves as a history lesson and a philosophical contemplation on humanity’s shared fate, making it a thought-provoking high point in Dorfman’s prolific literary career.” —Shelf Awareness (starred review)
“[A] wide-ranging novel that’s both complex investigation and emotional history.” —Literary Hub
“[Dorfman’s] life and career demonstrate a sensitivity to the themes of liberation, repression, and exile—themes he takes up in his idiosyncratic new book…Dorfman poses questions of truth, guilt, memory, responsibility, and commitment—all of which bear thinking about.” —Jewish Book Council
“Dorfman opens a wide tunnel into history and tackles well-known events in a surprising, genre-twisting manner…[He] crafts a world of nuanced sentiment and expanded belonging as we continue to reimagine the world according to Allende’s legacy…Dorfman is a global writer at a time when we need his magnitude of understanding, as well as his gentle loyalty to roots, the Earth, and memory, which together have sustained the author’s lifelong belief in human beings and justice.” —Markaz Review
“The Suicide Museum is a memoir, a mystery, a tragedy, a philosophical treatise, a song of homecoming, and a spectacular mix of the real and the imagined. In this novel Ariel Dorfman puts his whole literary life on the page—and what a life it has been! For decades Dorfman has written in defiance of the ordinary. He gets to the very pulse of who we are: the social, the political, the artistic, and beyond. Right down to its moment of last-line grace, The Suicide Museum keeps the essential questions alive and, at the same time, joins us all together.” —Colum McCann, National Book Award–winning author of Let the Great World Spin
“A master storyteller uses the devices of fiction to shine a light on the mysteries of real life—and to push ever deeper into everything that haunts him: what a culminating gift from an essential spokesman for humanity and conscience.” —Pico Iyer, national bestselling author of The Half Known Life
“Ariel Dorfman has created a history book disguised as a mystery, or maybe a mystery written as history. Lodged between memoir and fiction, The Suicide Museum is a labyrinth of mirrors, a tale of one nation, or perhaps all nations, where the tortured are condemned to live alongside their torturers. An intricate, thought-provoking read by a literary magician.” —Sandra Cisneros, national bestselling author of The House on Mango Street
“The wildly brilliant Ariel Dorfman has outdone himself with this rivetingly original and mesmerizingly profound supernova of a novel…The Suicide Museum is so many perfect things: a globetrotting mystery, a courageous journey into Chile’s nightmare past, a tender paean to the bonds that keep us human, but above all it’s just about the best book I’ve read in a decade.” —Junot Díaz, author of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award–winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
“At the crossroads of history and memory, the masterful Ariel Dorfman has given us a portrait of a generation that lived under the shadow of Fidel Castro and Che, and then suffered the destruction of the alternate vision of socialism offered by Salvador Allende—a tragedy that haunts us still.” —Alma Guillermoprieto, author of Dancing with Cuba: A Memoir of the Revolution
“In this engrossing novel, Ariel Dorfman has found the perfect sweet spot where history, politics, and literary fiction blend. Dorfman, like some of his major characters, operates as an archeologist digging into the remains of recent traumas. Anyone interested in how the past impinges on the present and is transformed into art, should read this book.” —Ian Buruma, author of The Collaborators: Three Stories of Deception and Survival in World War II
“Ariel Dorfman is surely the modern-day conscience of Latin America. He is the elegant scribe of its blue sky as well as its iron fist. He is the clear-eyed, loyal witness to its sputtering bids for democracy. The Suicide Museum is the story he was always meant to write. In it, his prodigious talents are everywhere in evidence—in his breathtaking gifts as a storyteller; in his fierce pursuit of history’s truths; in his sly, deliciously wicked humor; in his essential humanity. This is a riveting novel with a large brain, big heart, and a dark secret at its core. It deserves a universe of readers.” —Marie Arana, prize-winning author of American Chica, Bolívar: American Liberator, and Silver, Sword, and Stone
“I was enthralled by Ariel Dorfman’s The Suicide Museum. I have always loved his writing, loved performing his poetry Last Waltz in Santiago, but this work twisted my heart. To be the expat, the outsider without a home, looking for a way back in is so powerful and lonely. His scrupulous search for the truth holds us all to a very high standard.” —Kathleen Turner, Golden Globe Award–winning actress
“A novel that is also an elegy that in its mournful and nostalgic funeral song exalts the figure of Allende as a moral hero of a generation…This is a novel of multiple paths that intersect and interweave, and where the reader goes up and down different floors, entering and leaving the various levels of reality as they open, a history of the homeland, autobiography, testimony, chronicle, journalistic story, detective story, all of which, seen as a whole, is what a novel should best be according to Cervantes. The Suicide Museum is total and totalizing, an imaginative artifact to understand the occurrences of history and learn to read reality through fiction.” —Sergio Ramírez, author of Divine Punishment
“The Suicide Museum is a thrilling crossroads of genres, where history, chronicle, autofiction, memoir, thriller, and essay converge, and where a complex moral reflection and a call to political rebellion take the form of an investigation into one of the fundamental myths of the twentieth century: the death of Salvador Allende. Ariel Dorfman has written the book of his life.” —Javier Cercas, author of Soldiers of Salamis and The Impostor
“A hallucinatory novel that opens up multiple questions and whose central theme is ultimately the impossibility of language to access death.” —Raúl Zurita, Cervantes Prize–winner and author of Sky Below: Selected Works
“The Suicide Museum is an extraordinary metaphor about the place that (the 1973 military coup) occupies in Chile’s mind…one of the great traumas of Latin American history, one of those moments that not only marked one country, but was transformed since that first zero hour into part of our collective consciousness.” —Juan Gabriel Vásquez, author of The Sound of Things Falling and The Shape of the Ruins
“The author of Death and the Maiden has done it again: this novel transforms the dark memory of Chile into a meditation on history, guilt, and the traces left by horror. To read this is indispensable on the fiftieth anniversary of Pinochet’s coup d’état.” —Santiago Roncagliolo, author of Red April
“What a formidable artifact…something like a cross between Norman Mailer, Don DeLillo, and—last but not least and before anyone else and above all—Ariel Dorfman.” —Rodrigo Fresán, author of Kensington Gardens
“Highly recommended…An impressive mix of novel and essay…It will have many readers and deserves a warm reception.” —Benjamín Prado, author of Not Only Fire and Snow is Silent