Isabel Allende

Learn about the life and work of the famous Chilean writer.

Isabel Allende is one of Latin America's most celebrated literary figures. The niece of the slain Chilean President Salvador Allende, she writes with the heart of a true romantic but also with an acute sensitivity to social and political conditions. She brings dramatic qualities of romance and struggle, and artfully weaves the famous “magic realism” genre that is often found in Latin American literature into her writings.

Born Isabel Allende Llona in 1942 in Lima (Peru), she was raised in Chile, traveled extensively throughout her youth, and finally made her permanent home in California. Of her forced exile from Chile following the 1973 coup d’etat that resulted in the assassination of her uncle, she says, "I felt that my life had been cut into pieces and that I had to start over again." She got her new start as a struggling journalist exiled in Venezuela and began writing the novel that thrust her onto the literary scene: the magic realist hit The House of the Spirits (1982). This novel is a dazzling saga of three generations of the Trueba family, whose lives are interwoven with the country's troubled history. The novel was so successful at its launching that it was made into a movie in 1994 starring Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Winona Ryder, Vanessa Redgrave, Jeremy Irons, and Antonio Banderas.

Allende is considered the first successful woman novelist of Latin America who actually makes a living as a writer; she is a part of the Latin American “feminist literary awakening.” History, culture, and her own familial legends have influenced and inspired the way she writes about her experiences. Historically, Latin American social institutions and the political realm have been in conflict with the superimposed image of women being only “nurturing and passive.” Allende’s feminine perspective in her writen works, however, deal with politics, history, and social institutions in a way that is anything but passive.

Although she is a bilingual speaker (English and Spanish), she only writes in her native Spanish language. Her books have been translated into more than 30 languages and have been adapted into plays, operas, and ballets. She was also inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2004 and has taught several literature courses in various universities. Her books Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses (1997) and Paula (1994) and are memoirs about her own childhood (in the form of a cookbook) and the heartbreaking account of the lengthy illness and death of her daughter Paula in 1991.

This award-winning Chilean-American author credits part of her storytelling ability to her journalistic experience: "Journalism has helped me to understand that a book is just a stack of pages bunched together until somebody picks it up and reads it. It's important to me that the reader pick up the book and immediately be grabbed by the story, that the reader does not have to struggle through 60 pages before getting involved."

When asked how many of her books have been bestsellers, she says: "All of them, and they've been long sellers. All of them are still in print. I've been extremely lucky. I never expected this to happen. Never."

Some of her bestsellers are:

  • La casa de los espíritus (1982; The House of the Spirits)
  • De amor y de sombra (1984; Of Love and Shadows)
  • Cuentos de Eva Luna (1991; Stories of Eva Luna)
  • El plan infinito (1993; The Infinite Plan)
  • Hija de la fortuna (1999; Daughter of Fortune)
  • Retrato en sepia (2000; Portrait in Sepia)
  • La ciudad de las bestias (2002; City of the Beasts)
  • Mi pais inventado (2003; My Invented Country)
  • El reino del dragon de oro (2004; Kingdom of the Golden Dragon)
  • El bosque de los pigmeos (2004; Forest of the Pygmies)
  • Inés del alma mía (2006; Inés of My Soul)
  • La suma de los dias (2008; The Sum of Our Days, A Memoir)