Mascara, by Ariel Dorfman, is the story of an unnamed character who is born without a recognizable face. He is effectively invisible: no one ever remembers who he is. All his life he has been obsessed with photography and uses his talent to capture the faces of others, constructing what he calls “an authentic gallery of human privacy – thousands of faces at their worst, their most intolerable.”
Two other characters expand the themes of the novel: a young girl/woman love interest who in opposition to the man with no face is the woman without a past, and a plastic surgeon who can provide his patients with any face they desire.
Ariel Dorfman, who now lives and teaches in the United States, is a Chilean writer and as such has some experience and knowledge of living in an authoritarian state. Mascara, while also being a strange horror story, reflects the difficulties that come out of that authoritarian state: paranoia and human identity. So like many of Dorfman’s works, Mascara is also a commentary on the political atmosphere in Chile and South America.
Dorfman isn’t an easy read—he skips around in time and place so you have to be on your toes—and he doesn’t depend on the standard forms of fiction in his writing, such as dialogue and exposition. Mascara reads like the main character is telling you all about it over a few beers; other works may rely on one-sided telephone calls or extended letters. This is not unique to Dorfman but some readers will find his fiction lacking in the easy clues of the popular novel.
Whereas most of Dorfman’s writing has been in Spanish, Mascara was the first book he wrote in English. Wikipedia provides us with a partial list of the author’s other works:
- El absurdo entre cuatro paredes: el teatro de Harold Pinter. Santiago, Chile: Editorial Universitaria, 1968.
- How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic (Para leer al Pato Donald, 1971), with Armand Mattelart; tr. David Kunzle. London: International General, 1975
- The Rabbits’ Rebellion (La rebelión de los conejos mágicos, 1986), 2001
- Hard Rain (Moros en la costa, 1973), tr. George Shivers & Dorfman. Columbia (LA): Readers International, 1990
- Widows (Viudas, 1981), tr. Stephen Kessler. New York: Pantheon Books, 1983
- The Last Song of Manuel Sendero, (La última canción de Manuel Sendero, 1982), tr. George R. Shivers & Dorfamn. New York: Viking, 1987
- The Empire’s Old Clothes. What the Lone Ranger, Babar, the Reader’s Digest, and other false friends do to our minds, Pantheon Books, New York, 1983 (2nd edition 2010) (Patos, elefantes y héroes: La infancia como subdesarrollo, 1985)
- Last Waltz in Santiago and other poems of exile and disappearance (Pastel de choclo, 1986), tr. Edith Grossman & Dorfamn, New York: Viking, 1988
- Mascara (Máscaras, 1988), New York: Viking, 1988
- My House Is On Fire, short stories, tr. George Shivers & Dorfman; New York: Viking, 1990
- Some Write to the Future: Essays on Contemporary Latin American Fiction (1991)
- Death and the maiden (La muerte y la doncella, 1991), a play in three acts; London: Nick Hern Books (New York: Penguin Books, 1992).
- Konfidenz (Konfidenz, 1994), New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1994
- Reader, drama, Nick Hern Books, London, 1995
- Heading South, Looking North: A Bilingual Journey (Rumbo al Sur, deseando el Norte, 1998), New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1999
- The Nanny and the Iceberg (La Nana y el Iceberg, 1999), New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1999
- The Resistance Trilogy (Death and the Maiden, Widows, Reader), Nick Hern Books Limited, 1998
- Exorcising Terror: The Incredible Unending Trial of Augusto Pinochet (Más allá del miedo: El largo adiós a Pinochet, 2002), Seven Stories Press, 2002
- Blake’s Therapy, Seven Stories Press, in New York, 2001 (Terapia)
- In Case of Fire in a Foreign Land: New and Collected Poems from Two Languages (2002)
- Other Septembers, Many Americas: Selected Provocations, 1980–2004 (2004) (Otros septiembres)
- Manifesto for Another World: Voices from Beyond the Dark. Seven Stories Press, 2004
- Desert Memories: Journeys through the Chilean North. National Geographic Books, 2004.
- Burning City (with Joaquin Dorfman) (2006)
- Americanos: Los pasos de Murieta (2009)
- Feeding on Dreams: Confessions of an Unrepentant Exile (2011)