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Isabel Allende’s Life and Literary Works Essay (Biography)

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Updated: Jun 2nd, 2022

Isabel Allende is a famous female contemporary writer of Chilean origin. She was born on August 2, 1942 in Lima and lived there for 4 years with her parents – mother Francisca Llona and father Tomas Allende. Isabel’s father was not only the Chilean Ambassador to Peru, but also a cousin of Salvadore Allende, the future president of Chile. Isabel’s parents divorced soon after they returned to Chile in 1946.

Francisca Llona married Ramon Huidobro and went abroad to live with him and Isabel. Isabel spent the next 16 years abroad, first in Bolivia and then in Lebanon. The outbreak of civil war in Lebanon in 1958 resulted in her being dispatched to live with her mother’s parents in Chile. Isabel’s material grandfather Augustin Cuevas took great interest in her upbringing, taking her along during his extensive travels throughout Chile. His influence and her travel experiences spawned a deep love and knowledge about her country in Isabel Allende (Wallace R., Clancy E. & Pachner, E.).

Isabel married a Chilean engineer named Miguel Frias in 1962 (Lewis). The couple had two children – Paula in 1963 and Nicholas in 1966. Her marriage was not particularly happy with Isabel complaining about Miguel’s tendency to treat her like a geisha (Wallace et al.), meaning that he treated her like a sex object with no appreciation for her mental abilities. In one of her famous quotes during her later life, she derisively hinted at this attitude in males: “The G-spot is [between] the ears.

He who looks for it below is wasting his time”(Lewis). Heeding her grandfather’s advice “the one that pays the bills, rules the house,” Isabel decided to take up a job immediately after marriage. Between 1962 and 1970 she served as a journalist for two magazines {‘Paula,’ a magazine for women and ‘Mampato,’ a magazine for children}, television shows and film documentaries (Wallace et al.).

President of Chile

Salvador Allende was elected President of Chile in 1970 while Ramon Huidobro was selected as one of the country’s ambassadors. During the next 3 years Isabel organized 2 talk show television programs and became involved in Chilean women and general feminism issues. Her life changed dramatically in September 1973 when Salvador Allende was assassinated and his government overthrown in a military coup orchestrated by General Augusto Pinochet.

Isabel and her family fled abroad, staying for a short time in Lebanon and then moving to Venezuela where they spent 13 years. Isabel initially worked as a journalist for several newspapers and magazines in Caracas. When she received news that her grandfather in Chile was on his death bed, she composed a letter to him. This letter sparked off her literary career and became the foundation of her first book “La Casa de los Espiritos” {“House of Spirits”} which was published in 1982 and went on to win the best novel award in Chile, Switzerland and Germany (Wallace et al.).

Divorce and new life

Isabel divorced Miguel Frias in 1987. She married an American lawyer named Willie Gordon (Lewis) in 1982 and settled in San Francisco with him. She went on to write many novels from her base in America. When democratic rule was restored in Chile in 1990 under new president Patricio Aylwin, Isabel gladly visited her country to receive the Gabriela Mistral award, an honor that is bestowed on “one who has contributed to the beauty of the world.” Isabel underwent a tragic experience when daughter Paula contracted the dreaded disease porphyria and succumbed to it in 1992 after a long drawn battle, prompting her grieving mother to write a moving novel “Paula” in her memory (Wallace et al.).

Literary works

Isabel Allende’s major literary works include “”House of Spirits” that heavily reflects on her life as an exile (Lewis); “Of Love and Shadows” that deals with politics and love in Chile (Wallace et al.); “Luna” that is full of strange, sensuous and erotic incidents in the life of a young woman (Amazon.com); “Paula” about the long term coma and ultimate death of Isabel’s own daughter (Lewis); “Aphrodite” that is a combination of cookery and eroticism about aphrodisiac food; “Daughter of Fortune” about a Chilean orphan who goes with her lover to California during the 1849 Gold Rush; “Portrait in Sepia” a story steeped in love, tragedy and family secrets; “City of the Beasts” a about a 15 year old boy who accompanies his grandmother to South America in her quest for a mythical 9-foot ‘Beast’; “Forest of the Pygmies” about a teenage boy and girl on a safari trip to Kenya where they try to break the shackles of terror imposed by a military man on Bantu and Pygmy tribes there; and Zorro a vividly characteristic and high-speed retelling of the famous Zorro legend (Amazon.com).

Isabel Allende writes in Spanish, weaving frequently bitter realistic political fiction and surrealism together in the tradition of magic realism. She treats politics, history and social institution in a fashion that is all but passion (White). Her literary works are characterized by a distinct passion and folk tale eloquence with which she shares Chile with the rest of the world using her God-given gift to put forward feelings of pain, anger and love (Wallace et al.)

She explains this in one of her quotes: “How can one not speak about war, poverty and inequality when people from suffer from these afflictions don’t have the voice to speak?” (Lewis). Isabel admits that the constant theme in all her novels is the estranged principal protagonist who is in exile away from the shelter of the establishment, hovering on the brink and excluded from the big umbrella of the establishment (Wallace et al.).

She does not hesitate to use female protagonists in many novels, combining together tales of myth and realism around them. She explains the concept of exiles in Latin America well in one of her quotes: “We live in an area where masses of people come and go across a hostile planet, desolate and violent; refugees, emigrants, exiles and deportees. We are a tragic continent.” She also uses eroticism liberally in her novels, explaining about this in one of her quotes: “Erotica is using a feather, while pornography is using the whole chicken” (Lewis). Due to her habit of espousing feminine causes, Isabel is looked upon as an important contributor to feminist literary awakening in Latin America (White).

Isabel Allende’s novels have gained fame throughout the world. Through translation, her books have become famous in the U.S.A as well (White). To this day, she continues to write novels from her base in San Francisco, underlining her reputation as one of the most consummate of all novelists, practically exemplifying of one of her quotes: “Write what should not be forgotten” (Lewis).

References

Lewis, Jone Johnson. “Isabel Allende.” About, Inc. 2008. Web.

Lewis, Lone Johnson. “Isabel Allende Quotes.” About, Inc. 2008. Web.

“Literature & Fiction: Allende, Isabel.” Amazon.com. 2008. Web.

Wallace Rachel, Clancy Eileen & Pachner Erich. “Isabel Allende b. 1942”. Regents of the University of Minnesota. 2006. Web.

White, Helena. “Isabel Allende.” Emory University. 1997. Web.

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