Dorf does Babel

Corny title joke aside, author and playwright Ariel Dorfman arrived for Just Buffalo Literary Center’s second of four readings in their Babel series, and he was very humorous, very political, and very approachable. When I first heard about the series, I envisioned it to be more like this entry than the last. I liked Pamuk’s lecture about the author and his duty, but it just didn’t quite touch on his work as art itself. With Dorfman, we got anecdotes, background information, the reading of novel passages and journalistic articles, and, my personal favorite, a couple of poems read with all the inflection, emotion, and power that he himself meant them to be heard with.

I will admit that it all started a bit askew. The venue was not sold out, surprising to me because the weather was nice and the speaker more well-known (at least to me), and the introduction was overdone. Very flippant in an anti-Bush regime sprinkled speech, the intro was also too glorifying and indulgent—as Dorfman himself pointed out—blowing too much smoke before the man was able to attempt to live up to it. However, to his credit, the Argentinean born writer was entertaining to the fullest and seemed to really enjoy being on stage. Not only did they have to stop him to get to some Q&A, but he only really answered about three questions before the show came to a close. Never without words, Dorfman showed a true passion for his work and the advantages his fame has helped him acquire.

While there was a lot of fun stuff—his first recollected trip to Buffalo (crossing the border and Niagara Falls to scream obscenities at the US before realizing he and his family had no Visa to return; thank God for his upbringing in NYC from age 2-12 and his cultured Queens accent, the border patrol had no problem letting him through), his reasons for becoming a US citizen post-9/11 (“I’d rather go to jail then be exiled again”), and the harrowing tale of running on the lam to evade removal or possible death after the coup that took over Chile—there was even more political expounding and anti-war sentiment. Whether these strong viewpoints led to the numerous people leaving before the Q&A, I don’t know, but it was very coincidental if not.

As for the evolution of the series, they have learned to open the back doors, creating a nice even flow for exit and barely a trace of bottlenecking. When it came to the autograph session, however, we in line found it to be quite laborious. What at first appeared to be too many people talking Dorfman’s ear off, though, ended up being the author personalizing each signature and starting conversations with the fans. After asking what my occupation was and what I thought of the play, (I told him it was better than the film), he filled me in that Roman Polanski still tells him his film was just as open-ended as the play. I have to agree with Ariel, though, he is the only one who thinks it.

Just Buffalo Literary Center's Babel
Derek Walcott 3/13/08 8pm
Kiran Desai 4/24/08 8pm
Also, a special screening of the film “Promise of the Dead, Exiled Journeys of Ariel Dorfman” at Hallwalls, January 19th. Already short-listed as a possible Oscar-nomination for Best Documentary.

photography:
Courtesy of Bruce Jackson.

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