|Born||August 2 1942
|Literary movement||magical realism|
|Notable work(s)||The House of the Spirits|
|Influences||Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Pablo Neruda|
Isabel Allende (born August 2, 1942) is a Chilean writer. Allende, whose works sometimes contain aspects of the genre magical realism, is known for novels such as The House of the Spirits (La casa de los espíritus, 1982) and City of the Beasts (La ciudad de las bestias, 2002), which have been commercially successful. Allende has been called "the world's most widely read Spanish-language author." In 2004, Allende was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 2010, she received Chile's National Literature Prize. President Barack Obama awarded her the 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Allende's novels are often based upon her personal experience and historical events and pay homage to the lives of women, while weaving together elements of myth and realism. She has lectured and toured many U.S. colleges to teach literature. Fluent in English as a second language, Allende was granted United States citizenship in 1993.
Allende's style is associated with Magic realism, an artistic genre in which magical elements or illogical scenarios appear in an otherwise realistic or even "normal" setting. The characters' reactions to the "inexplicable" is key to the definition of magic realism: inexplicable phenomena occur in extremely mundane circumstances and the character(s) tend to not respond adequately (or at all) to the supernatural or magic nature of the event. On the contrary, they often treat the magical event as an annoyance, a setback, or an unwanted obligation. This blasé response to the supernatural is what distinguishes magic realism from other more traditional representations of magical phenomena in narrative fiction. It is also what gives magic realism its characteristically ironic and humorous quality.
Allende was born Isabel Allende Llona in Lima, Peru, the daughter of Francisca Llona Barros and Tomás Allende, who was at the time a second secretary at the Chilean embassy. Her father was a first cousin of Salvador Allende, President of Chile from 1970 to 1973.
In 1945, after Tomás disappeared, Isabel's mother relocated with her three children to Santiago, Chile, where they lived until 1953. Between 1953 and 1958, Allende's mother was married to Ramón Huidobro and moved often. Huidobro was a diplomat appointed to Bolivia and Beirut. In Bolivia, Allende attended an American private school; and in Beirut, Lebanon, she attended an English private school. The family returned to Chile in 1958, where Allende was also briefly home-schooled. In her youth, she read widely, particularly the works of William Shakespeare.
While living in Chile, Allende finished her secondary studies and met engineering student Miguel Frías whom she married in 1962. Reportedly, "Allende married early, into an Anglophile family and a kind of double life: at home she was the obedient wife and mother of two; in public she became, after a spell translating Barbara Cartland, a moderately well-known TV personality, a dramatist and a journalist on a feminist magazine."
From 1959 to 1965, Allende worked with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Santiago, then in Brussels, and elsewhere in Europe. For a short time in Chile, she also had a job translating romance novels from English to Spanish. However, she was fired for making unauthorized changes to the dialogue of the heroines to make them sound more intelligent, as well as altering the Cinderella ending to allow the heroines to find more independence and do good in the world.
Allende and Frías's daughter Paula was born in 1963. In 1966, Allende again returned to Chile, where her son Nicolás was born that year.
In 1973, Salvador Allende was overthrown in a coup led by General Augusto Pinochet. Isabel found herself arranging safe passage for people on the "wanted lists," which she continued to do until her mother and stepfather narrowly escaped assassination. When she herself was added to the list and began receiving death threats, she fled to Venezuela, where she stayed for 13 years. It was during this time that Allende wrote her debut novel The House of the Spirits (1982). Allende has stated that her move from Chile made her a serious writer: "I don’t think I would be a writer if I had stayed in Chile. I would be trapped in the chores, in the family, in the person that people expected me to be." Allende believed that, being female in a patriarchal family, she was not expected to be a "liberated" person. Her history of oppression and liberation is thematically found in much of her fiction, where women contest the ideals of patriarchal leaders. In Venezuela she was a columnist for El Nacional, a major national newspaper. In 1978, she began a temporary separation from Miguel Frías. She lived in Spain for two months, then returned to her marriage.
She divorced her first husband, Miguel Frias, in 1987. During a visit to California on a book tour in 1988, Allende met her second husband, San Francisco lawyer and novelist Willie Gordon. They married in July 1988. In 1994, she was awarded the Gabriela Mistral Order of Merit, the first woman to receive this honor.
In 2006, she was one of the eight flag bearers at the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. In 2008, Allende received the honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters from San Francisco State University for her "distinguished contributions as a literary artist and humanitarian." In 2014, Allende received the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters from Harvard University for her contributions to literature.
Allende resides in San Rafael, California. Most of her family lives nearby, with her son, his second wife, and her grandchildren just down the hill, in the house she and her second husband vacated. She separated from Gordon in April 2015. In July 2019, she married Roger Cukras in an intimate ceremony in Washington, DC.
Beginning in 1967, Allende was on the editorial staff for Paula magazine, and from 1969 to 1974 for the children's magazine Mampato, where she later was the editor. She also published two children's stories, La Abuela Panchita (Grandmother Panchita) and Lauchas y Lauchones, as well as a collection of articles, Civilice a Su Troglodita. As a journalist, she once sought an interview with Pablo Neruda, the notable Chilean poet. Neruda declined, telling her she had too much imagination to be a journalist, and should be a novelist instead. He also advised her to compile her satirical columns in book form. She did so, and this became her first published book. In 1973, Allende's play El Embajador played in Santiago, a few months before she was forced to flee the country due to the coup.
In 1981, when Allende learned that her grandfather, aged 99, was on his deathbed, she started writing him a letter that later evolved into a book manuscript, The House of the Spirits (1982); the intent of this work was to exorcise the ghosts of the Pinochet dictatorship. The book was a great success; Allende was compared to Gabriel Garcia Marquez as an author of the style known as magic realism.
Allende's books have since became known for their vivid storytelling. Allende's trademark is the use of emotive words and phrases. Isabel also holds to a very methodical, some would say menacing, literary routine. She writes using a computer, working Monday through Saturday, 9:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M. "I always start on January 8," Allende stated; "a tradition she began in 1981 with a letter she wrote to her dying grandfather that would become the groundwork for her first novel, The House of the Spirits." Allende is also quoted as saying:
In January 8, 1981, I was living in Venezuela and I received a phone call that my beloved grandfather was dying. I began a letter for him that later became my first novel, The House of The Spirits. It was such a lucky book from the very beginning, that I kept that lucky date to start.
Allende's book Paula (1995) is a memoir of her childhood in Santiago, and her years in exile. It was written in the form of a letter to her daughter Paula, who lay in a coma in the hospital in Spain. Paula suffered from a blood disease porphyria and during a crisis she fell into a coma then vegetative state due to a medication error while the hospital she was in was on strike. She was severely brain damaged and her mother took her to California where she died a year later in 1992.
Allende's novels have been translated into more than 30 languages and sold more than 51 million copies. Her 2008 book, The Sum of Our Days, is a memoir. It focuses on her life with her family, which includes her grown son, Nicolás; second husband, William Gordon; and several grandchildren. A novel set in New Orleans, Island Beneath the Sea, was published in 2010. In 2011 came El cuaderno de Maya (Maya's Notebook), in which the setting alternates between Berkeley, California, and Chiloé in Chile, as well as Las Vegas, Nevada.
She is the founder of the Isabel Allende Foundation. She has been called a "literary legend" by Latino Leaders magazine, which named Allende as third most influential Latino leader in the world in their 2007 article. Allende's novels have been translated into 30 languages and sold more than 51 million copies.
"Afterword," Tales of Zorro, edited by Richard Dean Starr, Moonstone Books, (2008)
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