The Compensation Bureau

ARIEL DORFMAN



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About the Book

“I have created for each of you a fate, one tailored specifically for your needs and desires. Each of you has a defining moment—not before, not after—when a wrong turn or decision led to the disastrous outcome that you and I mourn. To isolate that malignant moment is an exacting, exhaustive process, which only the most well-trained and competent professionals, armed with the most sophisticated of predictive models and processing power, can accomplish. You can put your trust in me, as you would in an expert surgeon, a surgeon of the soul.”

On a distant planet overlooking Earth, the nameless protagonist of The Compensation Bureau is one of a team of Actuaries at work on the innovative Lazarus Project. Conceived in response to the shocking violence observed in humankind, the project identifies people who have wrongfully died at the hands of others—whether victims of war, hate crimes, or random brutality—and attempts to compensate for the cruelty and pain they faced in life and death.

But balancing the accounts for the sufferings and wrongdoings of humanity proves hardly a clinical exercise. The Actuary soon finds himself personally invested in the project’s mission, and the goals of the project itself are complicated as the fate of Earth’s inhabitants becomes more uncertain. The Compensation Bureau explores the power of individual and collective action, from a writer hailed by The Washington Post as “a world-novelist of the first category.”

112 pages • Paperback ISBN 978-1-68219-500-0 • E-book 978-1-68219-264-1

About the Author

ariel dorfman author photo

photo © Lee Todd/Duke University

Born in Argentina in 1942, Ariel Dorfman spent ten years as a child in New York, until his family was forced out of the United States by the anti-communist frenzy stirred by Joe McCarthy. The Dorfmans ended up in Chile, where Ariel spent his adolescence and youth, living through the Allende revolution and the subsequent resistance inside Chile, and abroad after the dictatorship that overthrew Allende in 1973. Accompanied by his wife Angélica, he wandered the globe as an exile, finally settling down in the United States, where he is now Walter Hines Emeritus Professor of Literature at Duke University. Dorfman’s acclaimed work, which includes the play and film “Death and the Maiden,” and the classic text about cultural imperialism, How to Read Donald Duck, covers almost every genre available (plays, novels, short stories, fiction, essays, journalism, opinion pieces, memoirs, and screenplays). His award-winning books have been published in more than fifty languages and his plays performed in over one hundred countries. He contributes regularly to major papers and magazines worldwide and has been active in the defense of human rights.

Read an Excerpt

PRELIMINARY FINDINGS OF THE HIGH COMMISSION OF INQUIRY’S INVESTIGATION INTO THE TROUBLES OF THE COMPENSATION BUREAU

It is unusual for any High Commission of Inquiry to reveal some of its findings before a report has been completed, but its members have made an exception in this case. Given the overwhelming interest—and even alarm—provoked by the crisis besetting the Compensation Bureau, we thought it urgent to release the information we have thus far gathered.

As to a full account, it shall be emitted as soon as we are able to depose, for a second time, the outgoing Chairperson of the Bureau. The fact that she has, at this point, failed to appear for that second hearing despite our insistence, does not mean that we prejudge her. On the contrary, rather than starting this chronicle by laying out how she cunningly and deliberately concealed secret plans for the Lazarus project, we have taken pains to highlight her ground-breaking accomplishments, pointing out that any history of the Bureau must begin with her and, of course, with the glitch that she was instrumental in discovering.

As is well-known, when the faint, initial signals that something might be amiss on the far-flung speck called Earth were picked up by the surveillance machines ascribed to that sector of the Galaxy, she was the only one of several Overseers assigned to intermittently review that remote material who paid any attention to it. She was as busy as her colleagues, rotating between multiple constellations and receiving, as they did, only a minimal dribble of intel from the respective site, and yet she was disturbed by what she remarked: though humans, the latest species on that planet, had made their appearance as intended and at the appointed hour of evolution, this appearance had been accompanied by what seemed to be an unsettling tendency among some of them to enact violence upon their fellows. Less well-known is that when she brought up this potential problem to the other Overseers—all of whom, let it be noted, were superior to her in status—they arrogantly dismissed her reservations. Didn’t she see, they said, that humans were well on their way to an Edenic future on a lush and impeccable planet, like the rest of other intelligent species in the Universe? They reminded her that for billions of eons, events had hummed along efficiently and peaceably, just as the Founders who had put us in charge had divined. Everything infallibly under control, no surprises thus far, no unpleasant predicaments. So any uptick in isolated acts of aggression among these people should probably be treated as a mere statistical blip.

The next review of the presumably untroubled planet was only due hundreds of thousands of Earth years in the future, but she was bothered enough—that word “probably”, that word “mere” kept gnawing at the edges of her conscience,—to eventually take the unprecedented step of leading a damage assessment team to the site to evaluate conditions on the ground.

She verified an exceptional surge in new acts of abomination and malice on “an epic scale”, in her own words to this Commission, “a major meltdown that I traced to a slight glitch in the biological code regulating life on that particular planet, a glitch that had now obviously gone viral. I blame myself,” she added, “because if I had exposed that malfunction earlier on, before the species was vastly and irreversibly contaminated, Technical Services could have conceivably found a way to modify this tragic course of events. As it was, our team, being undetectable to human eyes and ears, was able to observe the havoc at close quarters, concluding that unless some external force intervened even more ominous atrocities would occur.”

“Hence, you felt guilty at having let your guard down?”

“Responsible,” she answered. “Which is why I signaled that I was willing to have my status as impartial and invisible observer changed to that of impassioned envoy, with the express mission of urging humans—who were, in many other ways, quite admirable—to take corrective action.”

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