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Isabel Allende

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

Life and works of Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende is one of the most popular authors in Latin America and the niece of the former president of Chile, Salvador Allende. She puts her heart into a truly romantic writing that is also very concerned with political and social causes. Her style combines dramatic features with romance and resistance. Very often, Isabel’s texts are characterized by the magic realism of Latin American literature.

A best seller’s biography

Isabel Allende Llona was born in 1942 in Lima, Peru. She grew up in Chile and traveled often when she was young. After the coup d’état in 1973, which caused the death of her uncle, she was forced into exile. Finally, she ended up settling down in California.

While she worked as an exiled journalist in Venezuela, three decades ago, she began to write the novel that launched her into the literary scene. This book was a magic realism boom: La casa de los Espíritus (The House of The Spirits). The novel constitutes a brilliant saga about three Trueba generations, whose lives get twisted with the problematic Chilean history.

The success of the novel was so overwhelming, that they shot a film based in the same story. In 1994, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Winona Ryder, Vanessa Redgrave, Jeremy Irons and Antonio Banderas star in the eponymous movie.

A pioneer in Latin American literature

Allende is considered to be the first successful female writer in Latin America. She managed to make a life out of her texts at a tough time for women and is part of the literary feminist awakening in Latin America.

The history and culture of Chile, in addition to her own vital experience, have shaped the way Isabel writes. Historically, the female subordination has been part of the Latin American institutions. Women’s public image has been for decades one of affliction and passivity. However, Allende makes women play their part in politics, history and institutions, placing them away from these stereotypes.

A model for literature in Spanish

Even though Isabel is bilingual in English and Spanish, she writes only in Spanish, her mother tongue. Her books have been translated to more than 30 languages and adapted for theater, cinema, opera and ballet.

The writer entered the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2004 and she has been teaching literature courses in several universities around the world. Her novels Paula (1994) and Aphrodite (1997) are among the best rated of her career. They portray the memories of her own childhood in a recipe book, and the story of her broken heart after the long illness and death of her daughter.

The accuracy of a journalist

As Isabel Allende herself has admitted, she owes a big part of her literary success to her journalism background. Her occupation made her understand that a book is just a pile of pages until readers take it and make it their own. For the writer, it is important that they see themselves immediately caught up in the story, and that they do not invest 60 pages on getting trapped by the narrative.

Isabel Allende and the critics

Despite her overwhelming sales success, a few critics have always been tough with Isabel Allende. Some experts in literature consider that her stories promote outdated stereotypes, and that they do not contribute much to the art of letters, in general. However, many others enjoy her fiction and find in her writing a satisfying entertainment source.

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)