In La Vida Doble Chilean author Arturo Fontaine tracks one woman’s transition from leftwing anti-Pinochet radical to someone who, after being kidnapped and tortured, ends up conspiring with the enemy against her former colleagues.

What inspired you to write this story?

There were three women who fought for the leftwing political cause even before the military coup, and all of them were captured in different locations. All of them had the same transformation or conversion and became very ferocious agents of the Pinochet dictatorship for many years. Two of them wrote a kind of testimony. The third had never written anything but I saw a documentary about one of them. By then I knew I wanted to write about this, so it was a real story that triggered my imagination.

How were you able to track down your sources?

The easiest thing was for me to interview people who were part of the MIR, the leftwing movement, which was active in the '60s even before the coup, following Che Guevara’s worldview. I had friends in that movement. Finding one of the three women was pure luck. We had a friend in common. I talked to him one night about this novel I was writing and he called the next morning and said, “Let’s have coffee.” So we met and he said, “You know I have a connection with one of these women, do you want me to make contact?” And of course I said, “Yes.”

Your book depicts some pretty horrific torture scenes. Did the actual interrogators you spoke to express any remorse for what occurred under their watch?

They all said, “That had been a mistake.” At the same time, after one or two whiskeys, they would begin to remember old times. They were full of passion and emotion. They were young when all these things happened, most of them in their late 20s, early 30s. These men were reactive, energetic, not at all intellectuals, not at all people with a capacity to reflect about what they had done. My impression is that they felt more defeated rather than remorseful.

Since you were able to speak to one of the women who ended up switching loyalties, did you have the impression that it was a relief for her to talk to you?

She cried a lot of course, but she was happy she talked about it, and she trusted me because she had read my first novel, Oír su voz (To Hear Her Voice). She was a woman who had an awareness of what she had done, who had guilt; she was intelligent and she had a capacity to analyze herself. So that helped me to invent Lorena, my main character. She was able to describe both worlds – of the rebel fighters and of the CNI, the national center of intelligence, the main repressive apparatus during the Pinochet years. And that gave me the key to the novel.