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Cover of IN THE HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS by Isabel Allende
Arts and Culture:
Isabel Allende
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Isabel Allende was born in Lima, Peru, in 1942 and raised in Chile, Bolivia, Europe, and the Middle East, as her family followed her stepfather's diplomatic career. She 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.

Isolated from her family, and in particular from her beloved grandfather who was close to death, Allende began to write a long letter in which she reassured him that he would always be kept alive in her memories. That letter grew into the HOUSE OF SPIRITS, a novel which chronicled four generations of a Chilean family against the backdrop of Chile's brutal history. The book became an international bestseller. In her newest book, MY INVENTED COUNTRY, Allende returns to the subject of the country she left so many decades ago. It is an exercise in memory and imagination, written she says "So that you can fall in love with Chile."

You can read more about Allende's life and views by reading her conversation with Bill Moyers and by visiting the GUARDIAN Online's Allende Web page. You can listen to her interview with the BBC World Service. Allende also has her own Web site which features a wonderful photo album of her family, excerpts from her lectures on literature and history, and a Q&A about her life and writing process. You can also find out more about the coup that drove Allende out of Chile, and the United States' relationship with that country from the "September 11, 1973: The Day Democracy Died in Chile" by the BBC.

(The excerpts below come from original and current reviews of Allende's books, interviews with Allende, and publisher's information.)



Isabel Allende was nearly 40 when she wrote her first novel. It began as a letter to her 100-year-old grandfather. THE TIMES OF LONDON said Allende had "the rare ability to blend fantasy and legend with political fact and a well-plotted narrative to produce an enchanted world unlike anything else in contemporary fiction." 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."

"This book gave me an insight of what was happening in Chile during the 20th century, and how the people that lived through it were able to make it, and also because it showed me that the people we love are never gone from our lives, even if their physical selves are no longer with us." --a fan review



In her second novel Allende continued to document politically-troubled Latin America, this time through the eyes of young lovers, and journalists, who stumble upon a mass grave in an unnamed country.

"Rivera remembered the first execution as clearly as if he were seeing it today. It had happened five years ago, a few days after the military takeover." -- from OF LOVE AND SHADOWS



With EVA LUNA, Allende created one of her most popular characters.

"This book can be read on several levels. It could be the soap opera that Eva Luna is writing; some passages are kitsch in the style of the Latin American soaps that saturate the radio and television. It could be her autobiography. It could also be the story that she is inventing about her own life. At one point she says: 'I write as I would like the world to be.' And the ending is ambivalent; is it invented or is it real?" --THE GUARDIAN, April 5, 1989



Eva Luna returns with more fables to tell.

"You think in words; for you, language is an inexhaustible thread you weave as if life were created as you tell it. I think in the frozen images of a photograph. Not an image on a plate, but one traced by a fine pen, a small and perfect memory with the soft volumes and warm colors of a Renaissance painting, like an intention captured on grainy paper or cloth." --from THE STORIES OF EVA LUNA



"THE INFINITE PLAN is a mesmerizing, poignant saga of one man's search for love and his struggle to come to terms with a childhood of poverty and neglect. Gregory Reeves is the son of an artist and self-styled preacher who wanders through the American West with his family in a caravan during the 1940s, preaching a divine vision he has received of the meaning of life and the nature of the universe: The Infinite Plan." -- original cover text from THE INFINITE PLAN


Like IN THE HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS, PAULA began as a letter. This time Allende was writing to her 28-year-old daughter who had fallen into an irreversible coma.

"I always thought that when she died that my life wouldn't have any sense anymore and I had been saving sleeping pills for this purpose. When she did die, I realized that I had to write what had happened and for a year I wrote a memoir called PAULA and that saved me." -- Isabel Allende from an interview with the BBC regarding PAULA.



In APHRODITE: A MEMOIR OF THE SENSES, Allende combines biography with cookbook, complete with recipes.

"The ribaldry of the book, like its fanciful gormandising, is a joke; at its most serious, Aphrodite is a literary exercise, testing the power of words to evoke or perhaps replace sensations. The angels who inhabit Allende's previous books here turn into alluring aromas, mystifying the air. Flavours and smells, Allende comments, are 'spirits with their own lives', ghosts which ventilate 'a window of memory'." -- Peter Conrad, THE OBSERVER, Sunday May 17, 1998



"Eliza Sommers, the protagonist among Allende's rich cast of characters, is raised in the English colony of Valparaiso, Chile. An orphan, she is abandoned on the doorstep of the British Import and Export Company and adopted by its owners, Miss Rose and her brothers, Jeremy and Captain John Sommers. Ensconced in this new family, Eliza inhabits a comfortable world of piano lessons, starched petticoats and social clubs." THE NEW YORK TIMES, October 24, 1999


Allende continues the saga of the family introduced in DAUGHTER OF FORTUNE. This time she tells the story of Aurora del Valle who is raised amid great wealth in Chile by her shrewd, commanding grandmother. But her nights are tormented by a nightmare set in San Francisco’s Chinatown.


Allende's first books for younger readers tell the story of Nadia Santos, a girl born and raised in the Amazon rainforest. She and her American friend Alexander go on a quest to find a legendary forest beast and to make contact with a fabled tribe.

Allende tells how she fell in love with the Amazon in's Wanderlust.



Allende returns to the story of her family and her homeland, Chile.

Read an excerpt of this new imagined memoir. Review from THE NEW YORK TIMES.

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