1 May, 2000
Isabel Allende - A Life Of Extremes
Novelist Isabel Allende talks
to Agenda about her ability to adapt in order to survive.
Like her characters Allende speaks from the heart. She is a
passionate woman who has recreated herself many times and, in
the process, has led an extraordinary life.
fleeing Chile in the early 1970s, Isabel Allende has, in her
own words, 'reinvented myself several times.' She uses
her writing as a means of expressing herself and has written
about subjects as diverse as food, sex and state sponsored
she still loves her homeland of Chile, she knew that she had
to leave it. She explains,
that time, the situation was unbearable. I felt very threatened
and I felt that the circle of repression was closing around
her enforced exile in Venezuela, Allende begain to write.
During that time she has learnt to draw on her personal experiences,
both past and present, and claims that had she not been forced
to leave Chile she may never have written.
her youth Allende led the typical nomadic life of a diplomat's
child and soon realised that 'roots are not in landscape
or a country, or a people, they are inside you.'
in Lima, Peru during World War II, her father worked for the
Chilean embassy. When he absconded in 1945, Allende was just
three years old and her family had no idea where he had gone
to. Now believing that he was bisexual and was probably involved
in a scandal, Allende didn't see him again until many years
later when he collapsed and died in the street and she was
called to identify the body. Her mother later remarried, again
to a diplomat, and the family went where his work took him.
the age of 19 Allende married an Anglo-Chilean engineer, their
marriage lasted 25 years despite her claims that she married
him not for love, but because he was the only man to have
asked her. In
interview she has claimed that she did everything for her
husband and served him, 'like a geisha'.
her uncharacteristic subserviance, they led a seemingly happy
and fulfilled existence in Santiago, Chile. Allende worked
as a presenter of her own television show whilst raising her
two children Nicolas and Paula.
Fleeing The Coup
In September 1973, President Salvador Allende, her father's
cousin, and Chile's first Marxist leader, died during a military
coup. General Pinochet came to power and Allende's world began
to change, she explains:
fled to Venezuela. She never thought her exile would be forever,
but military rule in Chile lasted for 17 years. When Pinochet
was finally arrested, Allende was still in exile. Her feelings
during the time of Pinochets arrest are clear:
'A weight was lifted from the Chilean society and in that
time a space was created for the truth to be known. For the
first time we discussed what had happened which was an amazing
achievement. From then on everything else that happened was
her time away from Chile was enforced she recognises that
without it, she may never have become a writer. In a recent
interview she claimed that writing helped her to break 'the
chain of hatred in my soul'.
1988, Allende met and quickly fell in love with her
second husband. She currently resides in San Francisco
where she has once again adapted to a change in culture.
She attributes her ability to blend in with different
people to having an open mind. She explains:
'I have travelled all over the world and one thing
that amazes me is that I can communicate with people.
My story may be different but emotionally we are all
the same. I tend to see the similarities in people and
not the differences.'
As A Life-Line
work as a journalist gave her the skills to create characters
and develop stories - standing her in good stead as
a novelist, but not necessarily as an impartial journalist.
In interview she claimed,
'I was a lousy journalist. I could never be objective.
Sometimes I invented the whole story. When I met the
great poet Pablo Neruda, he said "you are the worst
journalist in this country. You lie all of the time.
Why don't you switch to literature".'
then the written word has helped Allende through some
difficult times and she has often used storytelling
as a way of exorcising her soul.
Neruda said "you are the worst journalist in this
country. You lie all of the time. Why don't you
switch to literature".'
first novel The House Of Spirits (1982) began
life as a letter to her grandparents and drew on her
memories of childhood. Later, following the death of
her daughter, she wrote Paula (1999). In this
instance writing became more than therapy:
always thought that when she died that my life wouldn't
have any sense anymore and I had been saving sleeping
pills for this purpose. When she did die, I realised
that I had to write what had happened and for a year
I wrote a memoir called Paula and that saved me… it
is not a sad book. I realised that in choosing the adjectives
you can decide the tone of the paragraph, the tone of
the event and eventually the tone of your own life.
So if you change the way you tell your own story you
can change the colour and create a life in technicolour.'
August 8 1942, Lima, Peru.
Chile, Bolivia, Lebanon.
Married: 1962-87 Miguel
Frias (one son, one daughter);
1988 William Gordon.
1973 Exile in Caracas, Venezuela;
1987 emigrated to California, USA.
1967-74 Journalist, Paula Magazine, Santiago;
1969-74 Mampato Magazine; 1970-74 Channel 7;
1976-83 Freelance, El Nacional, Caracas;
1979-83 Administrator, Marrocco School, Caracas.