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Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende

The author of several novels and a short fiction collection, as well as plays and stories for children, Isabel Allende (born 1942) has received international acclaim for her writing.

Allende earned the Quality Paperback Book Club New Voice Award nomination for her debut novel, La casa de los espíritus (1982; The House of the Spirits) —which became a best seller in Spain and West Germany in the 1980s and a 1994 movie—and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize nomination for De amor y de sombra (1984; Of Love and Shadows). In 1988 Allende's third novel, Eva Luna, was voted One of the Year's Best Books by Library Journal.

Many of Allende's books are noted for their feminine perspective, dramatic qualities of romance and struggle, and the magic realism genre often found in Latin American literature. Her female characters survive hardships—imprisonment, starvation, the loss of loved ones—but never lose their spirit or ability to love others. Of Allende's House of Spirits, which has been compared to that of the Nobel prize-winning author Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, Lori Carlson observed in Review: "There is a lot of love in The House of the Spirits. The love-making of powerful men and naive women, worn-out married couples and anxious rebels might even conjure up the reader's personal experience. But there is another kind of love in this book with which the reader cannot identify. It is a kind that requires forgiving the person whose torturous hand has shoved your face into a bucket of excrement. A spiritual force that can overcome a world sutured with evil, to beget art. Isabel Allende … tells in this, her first novel, a vibrant story of struggle and survival dedicated to her mother, grandmother, and 'other extraordinary' women in a country unnamed. Given the descriptions of events and people in the book … Chile quickly comes to mind."

Allende was born on August 2, 1942, in Lima, Peru. Her parents, Tomás, a Chilean diplomat, and Francisca (Llona Barros) Allende divorced when she was three, and she traveled with her mother to Santiago, Chile, where she was raised in her grandparents' home. Allende graduated from a private high school at the age of 16; three years later in 1962, she married her first husband, Miguel Frías, an engineer. Allende also went to work for the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization in Santiago, where she was a secretary for several years. Later, she became a journalist, editor, and advice columnist for Paula magazine. In addition, she worked as a television interviewer and on movie newsreels.

Fled Chile

When her uncle, Chilean president Salvador Allende, was assassinated in 1973 as part of a right-wing military coup against his socialist government, Allende's life changed profoundly. Initially, she did not think that the new regime would endure, but later she came to realize that it was too dangerous to stay in Chile. As a result, Allende, her husband, and their two children fled to Venezuela. Although she had established a successful career as a journalist in Chile, Allende nevertheless had a difficult time finding work in journalism in Venezuela.

During her life in exile, Allende was inspired to write The House of the Spirits. The novel was adapted for the screen by the Danish writer and director Bille August and released in the United States in 1994. Based on Allende's memories of her family and the political upheaval in her native country, the book chronicles the personal and political conflicts in the lives of successive generations of a family in an anonymous Latin American country. These events are principally communicated through the memories of the novel's three central characters: Esteban and Clara, the patriarch and matriarch of the Trueba family, and Alba, their leftist granddaughter who falls into the hands of torturers during a military coup.

The House of Spirits was followed by Of Love and Shadows, which concerns the switching at birth of two infant girls. One of the babies grows up to become the focus of a journalist's investigation, and the revelation of her assassination compels the reporter and photographer to go into exile. The Detroit Free Press described Of Love and Shadows as "a frightening, powerful work," in which Allende "proves her continued capacity for generating excellent fiction," while the Toronto Globe and Mail commented that "Allende has some difficulty in getting her novel started because she has to weave two stories separately, and seems to be relying initially too much on her skills as a journalist."

On a lecture tour to San Jose, California, to promote the publication of Of Love and Shadows in the United States, Allende met William Gordon, a lawyer, who was an admirer of her work and with whom she fell in love. Having been divorced from her first husband for about a year, she married Gordon in 1988, and has lived with him in their suburban home in Marin, California, ever since.

Became Powerful Storyteller

Allende's next book, Eva Luna, focuses on the relationship between Eva—an illegitimate scriptwriter and story-teller—and Rolfe Carlé—an Austrian émigré filmmaker haunted by his father's Nazi past. The novel received positive reviews; for example, Abigail E. Lee in the Times Literary Supplement wrote, "Fears that Isabel Allende might be a 'one-book' writer … ought to be quashed by Eva Luna…. Allende moves between the personal and the political, between realism and fantasy, weaving two exotic coming-of-age stories—Eva Luna's and Rolfe Carlé's—into the turbulent coming of age of her unnamed South American country." Further, Alan Ryan of the Washington Post Book World asserted that Eva Luna is "a remarkable novel, one in which a cascade of stories tumbles out before the reader, stories vivid and passionate and human enough to engage, in their own right, all the reader's attention and sympathy."

Allende followed up this novel with Cuentos de Eva Luna (1991; The Stories of Eva Luna), in which the heroine of Eva Luna relates several stories to her lover Carlé. According to Alan Ryan in USA Today, "These stories transport us to a complex world of sensual pleasures, vivid dreams and breathless longings. It is a world in which passions are fierce, motives are profound and deeds have inexorable consequences." Anne Whitehouse of The Baltimore Sun noted that "Ms. Allende possesses the ability to penetrate the hearts of Eva's characters in a few brief sentences. …. These are profound, transcendent stories, which hold the mirror up to nature and in their strangeness reveal us to ourselves."

The Eva Luna stories were followed by El plan infinito (1993; The Infinite Plan) which, in a stylistic departure for Allende, features a male hero in a North American setting. Gregory Reeves is the son of a traveling preacher and prophet who settles in the Hispanic barrio of Los Angeles after becoming ill. As the only Anglo boy in the district, Reeves is tormented by local gang members. Eventually, he finds his way out of the barrio, does a tour of duty in Vietnam, and goes on to study law at Berkeley. The Infinite Plan received less praise than Allende's previous books; Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times described the novel as a "Bildungsroman-cum-family saga that owes more to Judith Krantz than to Gabriel García Márquez," concluding that it is "disappointing and mechanical." Still, as novelist Jane Smiley pointed out in her Boston Globe review, "Not many [émigré authors] have even attempted writing a novel from the point of view of a native of the new country."

Allende's latest work, Paula (1995), is a heartrending account of the circumstances surrounding the lengthy illness and death of her daughter in 1991. Commenting on the deeply emotive effect of Paula, the reviewer for Publishers Weekly declared that "[only] a writer of Allende's passion and skill could share her tragedy with her readers and leave them exhilarated and grateful." In September of 1996, Allende was honored at the Hispanic Heritage Awards for her contributions to the Hispanic American community.

Further Reading

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Yearbook 1985, Vol. 39, Detroit, Gale, 1986, pp. 27-36.

Hart, Patricia, Narrative Magic in the Fiction of Isabel Allende, Rutherford, NJ, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1989.

Hispanic Writers: A Selection of Sketches from Contemporary Authors, edited by Bryan Ryan, Detroit, Gale, 1991, pp. 15-18.

Baltimore Sun, March 3, 1991.

Boston Globe, May 16, 1993, pp. B39, B42.

Chicago Tribune Bookworld, May 19, 1985, pp. 37-38.

Christian Science Monitor, June 7, 1985; May 27, 1987.

Cosmopolitan, January 1991.

Dallas Morning News, February 1991, pp. 6J, 8J.

Detroit Free Press, June 7, 1987.

Detroit News, June 14, 1987.

Globe and Mail (Toronto), June 24, 1985; June 27, 1987.

London Review of Books, August 1, 1985, pp. 26-27.

Los Angeles Times, February 10, 1988; December 28, 1990, p. E5.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 16, 1985; May 31, 1987.

Mother Jones, December 1988, pp. 42-46.

Nation, July 20/27, 1985, pp. 52-54; March 11, 1991, pp. 314-16.

New Statesman, July 5, 1985, p. 29.

Newsweek, May 13, 1985, p. 82.

New York, April 11, 1994, p. 56+.

New York Newsday, July 23, 1993.

New York Review of Books, July 18, 1985, pp. 20-23.

New York Times, May 2, 1985; May 9, 1985, p. 23; May 20, 1987; February 4, 1988; June 25, 1993.

New York Times Book Review, May 12, 1985, pp. 1, 22-23; July 12, 1987; October 23, 1988; January 20, 1991.

Observer, June 7, 1985, p. 21.

People, June 10, 1985, p. 145; June 1, 1987.

Philadelphia Inquirer, March 3, 1991.

Publishers Weekly, March 1, 1985, p. 70; May 17, 1985; March 20, 1995.

Review, January-June, 1985, pp. 77-78.

Spectator, August 3, 1985.

Time, May 20, 1985, p. 79.

Times (London), July 4, 1985; July 9, 1987; March 22, 1989; March 23, 1989.

Times Literary Supplement, July 5, 1985; July 10, 1987; April 7-13, 1989.

Tribune Books (Chicago), October 9, 1988.

U.S. News and World Report, November 21, 1988.

USA Today, June 7, 1985, p. 4D; March 1, 1991.

Village Voice. June 4, 1985, p. 51; June 7, 1985.

Voice Literary Supplement, December, 1988.

Washington Post Book World, May 12, 1985, pp. 3-4; May 24, 1987; October 9, 1988. □

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"Isabel Allende." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 11 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Allende, Isabel

Isabel Allende

Born: August 2, 1942
Lima, Peru

Chilean novelist, journalist, and dramatist

The author of several novels and a collection of short fiction, as well as plays and stories for children, Chilean author Isabel Allende has received international praise for her writing. Many of her books are noted for their feminine point of view and dramatic qualities of romance and struggle. Her first novel, The House of the Spirits, was made into a film in 1994.

Early years in Chile

Isabel Allende was born on August 2, 1942, in Lima, Peru. Her parents, Tomás (a Chilean government representative) and Francisca (Llona Barros) Allende divorced when she was three. After the divorce Isabel traveled with her mother to Santiago, Chile, where she was raised in her grandparents' home. Her grandmother's interest in fortune telling and astrology (the study of the influence of the stars on human behavior), as well as the stories she told, made a lasting impression on Allende. The house was filled with books, and she was allowed to read whatever she wanted.

Allende graduated from a private high school at the age of sixteen. Three years later, in 1962, she married her first husband, Miguel Frías, an engineer. Allende also went to work for the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization in Santiago, where she was a secretary for several years. Later she became a journalist, editor, and advice columnist for Paula magazine. In addition she worked as a television interviewer and newscaster.

Exile in Venezuela

When her uncle, Chilean president Salvador Allende (19081973), was assassinated in 1973 as part of a military takeover of the government, Isabel Allende's life changed greatly. At first she did not think that the new government would last, but later she came to realize that it was too dangerous to stay in Chile. As a result she, her husband, and their two children fled to Venezuela. Although she had established a successful career as a journalist in Chile, she had a difficult time finding similar work in Venezuela.

During her life in exile Allende was inspired to write her debut novel, The House of the Spirits (1982), which became a best seller in Spain and West Germany. Based on Allende's memories of her family and the political change in her native country, the book describes the personal and political conflicts in the lives of several generations of a family in a Latin American country. These events are communicated through the memories of the novel's three main characters: Esteban and Clara, the father and mother of the Trueba family, and Alba, their granddaughter who falls into the hands of torturers during a military takeover. The House of the Spirits earned the Quality Paperback Book Club New Voice Award nomination. The novel was adapted by the Danish writer and director Bille August and was released as a film in the United States in 1994.

The House of Spirits was followed by Of Love and Shadows, which concerns the switching at birth of two infant girls. One of the babies grows up to become the focus of a journalist's investigation, and the revelation of the woman's assassination compels the reporter and her photographer to go into exile. The novel received a Los Angeles Times Book Prize nomination.

While on a lecture tour in San Jose, California, to promote the publication of Of Love and Shadows in the United States, Allende met William Gordon, a lawyer, who was an admirer of her work and with whom she fell in love. Having been divorced from her first husband for about a year, she married Gordon in 1988 and has lived with him in Marin, California, ever since.

Became powerful storyteller

As she became more popular, Allende decided to devote all of her time to writing and quit her job as a school administrator. Her next book, Eva Luna (1988), focused on the relationship between Eva, an illegitimate (born to unmarried parents) writer and storyteller, and Rolfe Carlé, an Austrian film-maker haunted by the knowledge of his father's criminal past. The novel received positive reviews and was voted One of the Year's Best Books by Library Journal. Allende followed up this novel with The Stories of Eva Luna (1991), in which Eva relates several stories to her lover Carlé.

The Eva Luna stories were followed by The Infinite Plan (1993) that, unlike her other books, features a male hero in a North American setting. Gregory Reeves is the son of a traveling preacher who settles in the Hispanic section of Los Angeles after becoming ill. Local gang members torment Reeves, as he is the only Caucasian (white) boy in the district. Eventually he finds his way out of the neighborhood, serves in the army, and goes on to study law. The Infinite Plan received less praise than Allende's previous books. Still, as novelist Jane Smiley pointed out in her Boston Globe review, "Not many [authors from foreign countries] have even attempted writing a novel from the point of view of a native of the new country."

Allende's next work, Paula (1995), was a heartbreaking account of the circumstances surrounding the long illness and death of her daughter in 1991. Published in 1999 Daughter of Fortune is the story of Eliza Sommers, a girl who breaks with nineteenth-century Chilean tradition to follow her lover to California. In September 1996 Allende was honored at the Hispanic Heritage Awards for her contributions to the Hispanic American community. In 1998 she received the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize for excellence in the arts. Another novel, Portrait in Sepia, was published in 2001.

For More Information

Bloom, Harold, ed. Isabel Allende. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2002.

Correas de Zapata, Celia. Isabel Allende: Life and Spirits. Houston: Arte Público Press, 2002.

Levine, Linda Gould. Isabel Allende. New York: Twayne Publishers, 2002.

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Allende, Isabel

Isabel Allende, 1942–, Chilean novelist. Since the 1973 coup that deposed her cousin, President Salvador Allende Gossens, Isabel Allende, who is among the most notable contemporary Chilean writers, has lived abroad, for many years in California. Her fiction is distinguished by its fusion of traditional realism with both the fantastic and with political (including feminist) concerns. Her first and best-known novel, The House of Spirits (1982, tr. 1985), which reflects the influence of Gabriel García Márquez and the technique of magic realism (her work has been called "magical feminism" by some critics), tells the story of a Chilean family over three generations. Allende's fiction also includes Of Love and Shadows (1984, tr. 1987); Eva Luna (1987, tr. 1988); The Infinite Plan (1991, tr. 1993), her first work set in the United States; Daughter of Fortune (1998, tr. 1999); Portrait in Sepia (2001); Inés of My Soul (2006), the fictionalized life of a 16th-century conquistadora; and Island beneath the Sea (2010), a tale of the 18th-century Haitian slave revolution.

See her memoirs, Paula (1994, tr. 1995), Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses (1997, tr. 1998), and My Invented Country (2003); J. Rodden, ed., Conversations with Isabel Allende (1999, repr. 2004); studies by W. Zinsser (1989), P. Hart (1989), S. R. Rojas and E. Aguirre, ed. (1991), R. G. Feal and Y. E. Miller, ed. (2002), L. G. Levine (2002), H. Bloom, ed. (2003), and K. C. Cox (2003).

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