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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
Get ready to join Isabel in conversation, Sunday, April 5.
In the meantime, we invite you to take a moment now to help shape this upcoming conversation:
Check out the list of questions submitted by other registered attendees, and then vote to support any of the ones that match your own interests.
Feel free to add your own question. Then spread the word to make sure others have the chance to help move your question to the top of the shared list.
How does a writer become a serious novelist?
You are an incredibly resilient writer who has lived through so much crisis, upheaval, and trauma. What advice do you have for creators in times like these?
Your first novels were in the magical realism style, while your current novel is in the traditional novel style. Speak about your evolution as a writer please.
What book has changed your life? (Apart from yours, of course!)
There is a lot of talk today about cultural appropriation. Who gets to write what. What are you feelings about this?
Given the CIA’s role in the end of the Allende Presidency and the installation of Pinochet, how did you reconcile and come to embrace the U.S. as your home?
You, as a novelist, have the luxury of time and space (pages) to build your story-line and characters. As a poet, I cannot. Each word is a precious commodity that needs to multitask. Have you a breadcrumb to throw my way?
Are you still starting a new book on that special date in January each year? And, how do new books and their stories bubble up to you?
As a high school teacher, what questions would you use to guide your students to the most spiritual and intellectually englightening moments in House of Spirits, et al?
Do you think this administration may see this current crisis as an opportunity to capitalize by implementing “shock doctrine” tactics?
What do you think the solution is for the influx of Hispanics at the boarder with Mexico and allocation of resources by the current administration. Also the methods and practices for processing those detained.
Silly question…was the retirement community in the Japanese Lover loosely based on the Redwoods in Mill Valley?
No questions at this time. Thank you.
WANT TO HEAR YOUR FEELINGS ON WHAT’S GOING ON IN THE WORLD TODAY
Isabel, gracias por narrar la vida humana tan insondable, monótona, sencilla, extraordinaria. Gracias por abrir tu corazón y tú alma, por compartirnos de tu familia y tus intimidades, que para personas como yo, nos resultan tan propias después de leerte tanto. Gracias infinitas.
Please read a segment from your body of work that has particular relevance to living with today’s pandemic.
Is The House of the Spirits still in development at Hulu?
It seems to me that Victor and Roser would have been perfectly happy sheltering at their country home at the end of “Long Petal of the Sea” after all that they had been through, spending their days puttering in the garden and cooking up some wonderful meals. But maybe it’s just because I’m a country girl. You’ve lived in urban and rural settings. Where would you rather be quarantined?
Good morning, I am bilingual (Spanish-English) and have many, many people who do not speak English and would love these interviews. Is there a chance to have it subtitled in other languages (being selfish in Spanish, preferably)? Thank you!