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Isabelle Allende (An interview)

An Interview with Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende took the literary world by storm with her 1982 publication of The House of the Spirits, a novel which chronicled four generations of a Chilean family against the backdrop of Chile’s brutal history. The New York Times called the book "a unique achievement, both personal witness and possible allegory of the past, present and future of Latin America." Who was this author whose first novel had some comparing her work to those of the great Latin American writers of this century?

Born in Lima, Peru in 1942 and raised in Chile, Bolivia, Europe and the Middle East, Isabel Allende worked as a journalist in Chile until the 1973 military coup. Allende fled her homeland, settling in Venezuela with her husband, son and daughter. "I felt, as many Chileans did, that my life had been cut into pieces, and that I had to start over again," she recalls.

Paula, Allende’s first non-fiction book, is a deeply moving memoir inspired by the tragic fatal illness of her 28 year-old daughter. It began as a letter from mother to daughter that becomes a meditation on a mother’s life as a daughter’s death. It became an international bestseller when it was published in 1994.

Ever since the tragic events of 1991 & 1992, Allende has concentrated her considerable energies on the few essentials in her life: family, writing and, fortunately for us, helping those in need. We are grateful for her collaboration in this project.

Two days before a European tour to promote a new book, Ms. Allende set aside an hour to chat with AmeriSpan. We discussed everything from her contemporaries, to the spiritual world, to ways she would like to be remembered. Excerpts from our delightful conversation follow.

AS: Because you are Latina, it is tempting to assume that other Latin American writers have influenced your work. Who are the writers that have been role models or have influenced you?

Allende: I grew up reading at a time when there was no television in Chile and we went very seldom to the movies. So, I was trained to read…. I read all the Russian novelists. When I was ten I was reading Shakespeare. Have you seen the movie Shakespeare in Love?

AS: No, I haven’t seen it yet.

Allende: Well, go see it! When I saw it everything came back, all the fascination of my childhood with the stories, not the words in this case, because I wasn’t old enough to appreciate the beauty of the language. Also, I grew up reading science fiction, which was very important for me. Then in my twenties I started reading the Latin American writers. I belong to the first generation of Latin American writers who grew up reading other Latin American writers. The previous generation, which was called the "boom" generation of Latin American writers: García Márquez, Vargas Llosa, Octavio Paz, Carlos Fuentes, all of those…

AS: …Pablo Neruda?

Allende: Neruda, Donoso, all of them - they were a little older than me - grew up reading North American and European authors in translation. They were all writing at the time, but the books were not well distributed, so they couldn’t read each other…

By: AmeriSpan

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