Born in Chillán to Jewish immigrants (Ukrainian Moisés Teitelboim and Bessarabian Sara Volosky), Teitelboim was interested in literature from an early age. He finished high school, then began his studies in the Faculty of Law of the University of Chile, where at graduation he presented his senior thesis “The Dawn of Capitalism - The Conquest of America.”
At the age of 29, Teitelboim married Raquel Weitzmann, who had also studied law. In the 1940s, while Teitelboim, like other members of the Communist Party, was forced to go underground, Weitzman became pregnant with the child of a former university colleague. The child, named Claudio, was adopted by Teitelboim and Weitzman's affair was hushed up. Due to Teitelmboim's frequent long periods of absence due to party activities, persecution, and imprisonment, the marriage suffered, and finally ended in 1957, when Weitzman left for Cuba in company of Jaime Barros. Teitelboim then took charge of Claudio, who was 10 years old at the time. When, in 2005, Claudio learned that he had been deceived and that his father was actually the lawyer Álvaro Bunster, he broke relations with Teitelboim and took on his biological father's surname.
Teitelboim's second marriage, at the age of 51, was to Eliana Farías. Together, while in exile in Moscow following the Chilean military coup d'état of September 11, 1973, they raised Faría's son, Roberto Nordenflycht, and their own daughter, whom they named Marina. Roberto followed Teitlboim's example and also became a communist. He was killed in August 1989 while taking part in a guerrilla action in Chile with the Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front. The grief over Roberto's death marked the end of Teitelboim's marriage to Farías. Marina, for her part, eventually became a career diplomat.
Teitelboim joined the Chilean Communist Party's youth section at the age of sixteen. During the 1940s he endured persecution, along with all the militants of the Communist Party, and was imprisoned in Pisagua under the so-called Democratic Defense Law (also known as Ley maldita).
In 1961 he was elected to Congress as a Deputy for Valparaíso and Quillota, a post he held until 1965, when he was elected Senator for Santiago. He was re-elected to this post in March 1973, but was only able to further serve in it until Congress was disbanded following the September 11, 1973, coup d'état.
During the military regime of Gen. Augusto Pinochet Teitelboim lived in exile in Moscow, where he launched the twice-weekly radio program Escucha, Chile ("Listen, Chile"). Despite the risk, he clandestinely returned to Chile in 1988 and campaigned for a provisional government following the regime's having been handed a defeat in that year's national plebiscite. The following year he was elected president of the Communist Party, a position he held until 1994.
Teitelboim's literary work, for which he was awarded Chile's National Prize in Literature in 2002, as well as the Literature prize of the 1931 Floral Games, is chiefly in the form of memoirs, biographies, and literary essays. His first book Antología de poesía chilena (Anthology of Chilean Poetry) was published in conjunction with Eduardo Anguita in 1932, and compiled the great poets of Chile. He would later say that it committed the errors of omitting Gabriela Mistral and of accentuating the dispute between Vicente Huidobro, Pablo de Rokha, and Pablo Neruda. His series of memoirs, Un muchacho del siglo XX (A Boy of the Twentieth Century, 1997), La gran guerra de Chile y otra que nunca existió (The Great War of Chile and Another That Never Existed, 2000) and Noches de radio (Radio Nights, 2001) present from a political and social perspective the great arch of Chilean history during the 20th century. His best known capacity is that of a biographer, in which he wrote about Jorge Luis Borges, Vicente Huidobro, and with the most critical acclaim, Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral. In terms of membership in literary movements, he is generally located within the Chilean Generation of '38.
List of published works
- Antología de poesía chilena (Anthology of Chilean Poetry) - 1935
- El amanecer del capitalismo. La conquista de América (The dawn of capitalism. The conquest of America) - 1943
- Hijo del salitre (Son of saltpeter) - 1952
- La semilla en la arena. Pisagua (The seed in the sand) - 1957
- Hombre y hombre (Man and man) - 1969
- El oficio ciudadano (The duty of the citizen) - 1973
- El pan de las estrellas (The bread of the stars) - 1973
- La lucha continúa, pólvora del exilio (The struggle continue, powder from exile) - 1976
- Narradores chilenos del exilio (Chilean storytellers from exile) - 1978
- Neruda - 1984
- La palabra y la sangre (The word and the blood) - 1986
- El corazón escrito (The written heart) - 1986
- En el país prohibido (In the forbidden country) - 1988
- Gabriela Mistral, pública y secreta (Gabriela Mistral, public and secret) - 1991
- Huidobro, la marcha infinita (Huidobro, the infinite march) - 1993
- Los dos Borges (The two Borges) - 1996
- Un muchacho del siglo XX (A Boy of the 20th Century) - 1997
- Notas de un concierto europeo (Notes from a European concert) - 1997
- Voy a vivirme (I am going to live myself) - 1998
- La gran guerra de Chile y otra que nunca existió (The great war of Chile and another which never existed) - 2000
- Noches de radio (Nights of radio) - 2001
- Ulises llega en locomotora (Ulysses arrives in a locomotive) - 2002
- Teitelboim, Volodia (1943). El amanecer del capitalismo. La conquista de América Archived 2007-03-12 at the Wayback Machine..
- "Los hijos de Volodia", La Nación online, 2 Feb. 2008.
- "Volodia Teitelboim se confesó "triste" y "resignado" por la postura de Claudio Bunster", Cooperativa online, 24 Oct. 2005 (Accessed 28 Nov. 2013)
- "Claudio Bunster no asistirá a funeral de Volodia Teitelboim", El Mercurio online, 1 Feb. 2008 (Accessed 28 Nov. 2013)
- Reseňa biográfica parlamentaria: Volodia Teitelboim Volosky, at Historia Política Legislativa del Congreso Nacional de Chile website (Accessed 27 Nov. 2013)
- Teiteilboim, Enyclopædia Britannica online (Accessed 27 Nov. 2013)
- Teteilboim, Stalwart of the Chilean Communist Party, Friend of Allende and Award-Winning Writer, The Guardian online, 13 Feb. 2008 (Accessed 27 Nov. 2013)