The American Boris Weisfeiler, ghost of the Pinochet dictatorship, reappears in a book

In Boris, 1985the Franco-Swiss writer Douna Loup follows in the footsteps of her great-uncle, a distant but omnipresent family figure, who died in January 1985 in Chile.

January 1985: Boris Weisfeiler, an American mathematician, disappears in Chile. Nearly forty years after the facts, never elucidated, his grand-niece exhumes in an intimate text this “ghostof the Pinochet dictatorship, one among thousands of others.

In Boris, 1985, published Friday by Zoé editions, the Franco-Swiss writer Douna Loup follows in the footsteps of this distant but omnipresent family figure. Born in the Soviet Union, Boris Weisfeiler went into exile in the United States in 1975, where he was naturalized a few years later. Having become a professor of mathematics at the University of Pennsylvania, he mysteriously disappeared during a hike in the south of Chile, then under the yoke of the dictatorship ofAugusto Pinochet (1973-1990). “The story of Boris is a small story in the big“, assures the author of forty years in an interview with AFP. It took a day in January 2018 for Douna Loup, who has already published two novels, to take hold of the subject.

As she listens to the song Vino del Mar written in homage to the communist leader Marta Ugarte, tortured and executed by the secret police of the Pinochet dictatorship in 1976, the first name of Boris comes to him “immediately in mind“.


But of him and his life, the author knows nothing. Both an intimate story and an investigative work nourished by declassified documents, testimonies and excerpts from his uncle’s personal notebooks, the book immerses the reader in the life of this man, the only American to figure among the some 3,200 people who died or disappeared under the Chilean dictatorship.

The starting point ? Boston, where Boris’s sister Olga lives. It was she who led the fight to shed light on this disappearance, the investigation of which was dismissed by a Chilean judge in 2016, for lack of evidence. United States, Chile, Russia: between January 2018 and March 2020, Douna Loup investigates, questions family members, ex-girlfriend and friends of Boris Weisfeiler. If the common thread of the book did not yet appear clearly to her at that time, her desire remained to tell the life of this uncle whose trace was lost when he was 44 years old, and whom she had long judged “elusive“. Over the testimonies emerges a brilliant man, solitary and passionate about hiking. On one condition: that it takes place in remote places, far from everything and everyone. “Telling about his life, his journey, is a way of paying homage to him“, confides the novelist, who says she regrets that the story of her great-uncle has, until then, only been told through the prism of news items, this”that he is not“, she assures.

In Chile, she surveyed residents who lived through the dictatorship and its horrors, a way of anchoring the story of Boris Weisfeiler in the tragedy that this South American country has gone through. But the words of Douna Loup do not stop there. Until the end of her investigation, she tried to find out more about the death of this “ghostfamily. According to declassified documents, Boris Weisfeiler was abducted by Chilean security forces who handed him over to a pro-Nazi religious sect based nearby. This sect is the “Colonia Dignidad”, a place of torture and sexual abuse founded and used during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. “Today, with hindsight, I believe that we will never know what happened.“, she confides. Failing to get the truth,I hope to contribute to the peace of Olga and that of my family and, why not, to that of the families of victims of the dictatorship“.

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