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Isabel Allende in conversation with Don George
Sunday, April 5, 2020
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Isabel Allende—novelist, feminist, and philanthropist—is one of the most widely-read authors in the world, having sold more than 74 million books.
In addition to her work as a writer, Allende devotes much of her time to human rights causes. In 1996, following the death of her daughter Paula, she established a charitable foundation in her honor, which has awarded grants to more than 100 nonprofits worldwide, delivering life-changing care to hundreds of thousands of women and girls. More than 8 million have watched her TED Talks on leading a passionate life.
“The longer I live, the more uninformed I feel. Only the young have an explanation for everything.”
– City of the Beasts
Isabel’s life was forever changed when General Augusto Pinochet led a military coup in 1973, toppling Salvador Allende’s government. During an attack on the presidential palace Salvador Allende was shot and killed. (After decades of controversy surrounding the cause of his death, an autopsy confirmed in 2011 that it was a suicide.) Isabel became active in aiding victims of the repression and brutality of Pinochet’s regime, but realizing it was dangerous to stay in Chile, she fled the country with her husband and two children in 1975 and lived in exile in Venezuela for 13 years.
In 1981, Isabel began writing a letter to her grandfather, who was dying in Chile. The letter became the basis for her first novel, The House of the Spirits (1985), which became a worldwide bestseller and launched her literary career. The novel tells the story of two families living in Chile from the 1920s until the 1973 military coup, weaving together elements of magical realism and political testimony. Some of her works include Of Love and Shadows (1987), Eva Luna (1987), Two Words (1989), The Infinite Plan (1991), Daughter of Fortune (1999), Portrait in Sepia (2000), Zorro (2005), Ines of My Soul (2006), Island Beneath the Sea (2010), Maya’s Notebook (2011), Ripper (2014) and The Japanese Lover (2015).
At the urging of her three grandchildren, Isabel wrote her first book for young adults, City of the Beasts, which was published in 2002. It was the first book in a trilogy for young readers, which also included Kingdom of the Golden Dragon (2003) and Forest of the Pygmies (2005).
She calls her writing style “realistic literature, rooted in her remarkable upbringing and the mystical people and events that fueled her imagination,” according to her website, She also explains that her work is “equally informed by her feminist convictions, her commitment to social justice, and the harsh political realities that shaped her destiny.”
In addition to fiction, Isabel has mined her own life to write deeply personal memoirs, including Paula (1994) about the life and loss of her daughter to a rare disease; Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses (1998), her ode to food and sex; My Invented Country: A Nostalgic Journey Through Chile (2003) about her early life and the inspirations of her personal history; and The Sum of Our Days: A Memoir (2008) about her life following the death of her daughter.
Visit the Book Passage website to have any of Isabel’s books delivered right to your door.
You’re sure to enjoy these Book Passage favorites:
A Long Petal of the Sea: A Novel
Largo pétalo de mar
The House of the Spirits: A Novel
In the Midst of Winter: A Novel
Don and I were delighted that so many people registered to watch our video conversation. We enjoyed being “together” with each other and with all of you.
I hope you are finding time to read.
Here are a few books that I’ve been reading lately. I hope you’ll enjoy them too.
- Apeirogon: A Novel by Colum McCann
- Rebel Cinderella: From Rags to Riches to Radical, the Epic Journey of Rose Pastor Stokes by Adam Hochschild
- The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea
- The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
- Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
- The Water Dancer: A Novel by Ta-Nehisi Coates