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Isabel Allende

Born August 2, 1942 (1942-08-02) (age 67)
Lima, Peru
Occupation Writer
Nationality Chilean
Literary movement magical realism
Notable work(s) The House of the Spirits
Spouse(s) William Gordon
Official website

Isabel Allende Llona (born 2 August 1942) is a Chilean[1][2] writer. Allende, whose works sometimes contain aspects of the "magic realist" tradition, is one of the best-known women writers in Latin America. She is largely famous for novels such as The House of the Spirits (La casa de los espíritus) (1982) and City of the Beasts (La ciudad de las bestias) (2002), which have been commercially very successful. Allende has been described as "the world’s most widely read Spanish-language author."[3]

Her novels often focus on the experiences of women, are sometimes based in part on her own experiences, and weave myth and realism together. She has lectured and toured widely, and has taught literature at many American colleges. Having adopted American citizenship in 2003, she currently resides in California along with her husband. Isabel Allende is of Basque[4], Spanish and Portuguese[5] descent.



Isabel Allende was born in Lima, Peru, the daughter of Francisca Llona Barros and her husband, diplomat Tomás Allende; the Chilean ambassador to Peru. Her father, Tomás Allende, was a first cousin of Salvador Allende, President of Chile from 1970 to 1973; so Salvador is her first cousin once removed.[6][7][8] It is important to note that while many sources also cite Allende as being Salvador Allende's niece (without specifying that the relationship is that Tomas and Salvador are cousins),[9] the confusion stems from Allende herself often referring to Salvador as her "'uncle' in her private life and public interviews."[10], because in Spanish a "first cousin once removed" is literally translated as "uncle to the second degree".

In 1945, after Tomás's "disappearance,"[6] Isabel's mother relocated with their three children to Santiago, Chile, where they lived until 1953.[11][12]

Between 1953 and 1958, Allende's mother married Ramón Huidobro and moved a lot. Huidobro was a diplomat appointed to Bolivia and Beirut. In Bolivia, Allende attended a North American private school; and in Beirut, Lebanon she attended an English private school. The family returned to Chile in 1958. Allende was also briefly home-schooled. The young Isabel also read widely, particularly the works of William Shakespeare. In 1970 Salvador Allende appointed Huidobro as ambassador to Argentina.[12]

While in Chile, Allende finished her secondary studies and met engineering student Miguel Frías whom she married in 1962.[12] Reportedly, "Allende married early, into an Anglophile family and a kind of double life: at home she was the obedient wife and mother of two; in public she became, after a spell translating Barbara Cartland, a moderately well-known TV personality, a dramatist and a journalist on a feminist magazine."[6]

From 1959 to 1965, Allende worked with the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization in Santiago, then later in Brussels, Belgium, and elsewhere in Europe. For a brief while in Chile, she also had a job translating romance novels from English to Spanish.[10] However, she was fired for making unauthorized changes to the dialogue of the heroines to make them sound more intelligent as well as altering the Cinderella endings to let the heroines find more independence and do good in the world.[citation needed]

Allende and Frías' daughter Paula was born in 1963. In 1966, Allende again returned to Chile and her son Nicolás was born there that year.

Reportedly, "the CIA-backed military coup in [September of] 1973 (that brought Augusto Pinochet to power) changed everything" for Allende because "her name meant she was caught up in finding safe passage for those on the wanted lists" (helping until her mother and stepfather, a diplomat in Argentina, narrowly escaped assassination). When she herself was added to the list and began receiving death threats, she fled to Venezuela, where she stayed for 13 years.[6][13] In Venezuela she was a columnist for El Nacional, a main newspaper. In 1978 she began a temporary separation from Miguel Frías. She lived in Spain for two months, then returned to her marriage.[14]


Current Life

During a visit to California in 1988, Allende met her second husband, attorney Willie Gordon. In 1994 she was awarded the Gabriela Mistral Order of Merit, the first woman to receive this honor. In 2003, Allende obtained United States citizenship and currently lives in San Rafael, California. Most of her family lives near her with her son living "with his second wife and her grandchildren just down the hill; her son-in-law and his family live in the house she and her second husband, San Francisco lawyer and novelist William Gordon, vacated."[6]

In 2006, she was one of the eight flag bearers at the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. In 2008, Allende received the honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters from San Francisco State University for her "distinguished contributions as a literary artist and humanitarian."[15] She is also the founder of the Isabel Allende Foundation, which is "dedicated to supporting programs that promote and preserve the fundamental rights of women and children to be empowered and protected."[16]

Literary career

Isabel Allende (in red), 2007, California

Beginning in 1967, Allende was on the editorial staff for Paula magazine, and from 1969 to 1974 for the children's magazine Mampato, where she later was the Editor.[17] She published two children's stories, La Abuela Panchita (Grandmother Panchita) and Lauchas y Lauchones, as well as a collection of articles, Civilice a Su Troglodita. She also worked in Chilean television production for channels 7 (humorous programs) and 13 from 1970 to 1974.[17] As a journalist, she once sought an interview with Pablo Neruda, a notable Chilean poet. While Neruda accepted the interview, he told her that she had too much imagination to be a journalist and should be a novelist instead.[10] He also advised her to compile her satirical columns in book form.[citation needed] She did so, and this became her first published book. In 1973, Allende's play El Embajador played in Santiago, a few months before she was forced to flee the country due to the coup.

In Allende's time in Venezuela, she was a freelance journalist for El Nacional in Caracas from 1976 to 1983 and an administrator of the Marrocco School in Caracas from 1979 to 1983.[17]

In 1981, when Allende learned that her grandfather, aged 99, was on his deathbed, she started writing him a letter that later evolved into a book manuscript, The House of the Spirits (1982); the intent of this work was to exorcise the ghosts of the Pinochet dictatorship. The book was a great success; Allende was compared to Gabriel García Márquez as an author of the style known as magical realism.[6]

Allende's books have since become known for their vivid storytelling. Although Allende is often lumped together with the literary style of magical realism, her works often display elements of post-Boom literature, and as such her style cannot be described as purely adhering to magical realism. Isabel also holds to a very methodical, some would say menacing, literary routine.[18] She writes using a computer, working Monday through Saturday, 9:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M. "I always start on January 8," Allende stated; "a tradition she began in 1981 with a letter she wrote to her dying grandfather that would become the groundwork for her first novel, The House of the Spirits."[19] Allende is also quoted as saying:

In January 8, 1981, I was living in Venezuela and I received a phone call that my beloved grandfather was dying. I began a letter for him that later became my first novel, The House of the Spirits. It was such a lucky book from the very beginning, that I kept that lucky date to start.[20]

Allende's book Paula (1995) is a memoir of her childhood in Santiago and the following years she spent in exile. It is written in the form of a letter to her daughter Paula, who was being treated at a hospital in Spain following a porphyria-induced coma. In 1991, an error in medication resulted in severe brain damage and left Paula in a persistent vegetative state. Isabelle had her moved to a hospital in California where she passed away on December 6, 1992.

Allende's novels have been translated into 30 languages and sold more than 51 million copies.[21] There are three movies based on her novels currently in production — Aphrodite, Eva Luna and Gift for a Sweetheart.[16] Her latest book is a memoir, The Sum of Our Days. It was published in 2008 and focuses on her recent life with her immediate family, which includes her grown son, Nicolás; second husband, William Gordon; and several grandchildren.[21]

Literary criticism

Despite or perhaps because of her commercial success and "being compared to Gabriel García Márquez,"[6] Isabel Allende has been the subject of negative criticism from other authors and literary critics — among them Roberto Bolaño and Gabriel García Márquez. In an article published in Entre paréntesis, Bolaño writes that Allende's literature is anemic and compares it to a person on their deathbed.[22] Bolaño has been one of the harshest critics, saying that it is to give her credit to call her a writer and that she is rather a "writing machine".[23] Literary critic Harold Bloom concurs with Bolaño that Allende is a bad writer, and adds that she only reflects a determinate period and that afterwards everybody will have forgotten her.[23][24] Of Bolaño, Allende said to El Clarín that she is honoured to be represented by him as a Chilean, although she remembered Bolaño regarded her as trash.[25] In the same interview, Allende recognises that she has rarely had good criticism in Chile and that Chilean intellectuals "detest" her. Novelist Gonzalo Contreras says that "she commits a grave error, to confuse the commercial success with literary quality".[26] Allende disagrees with this assessment of her, noting in an interview that "the fact people think that when you sell a lot of books you are not a serious writer is a great insult to the readership. . . . [To attack me] personally for the sole reason that I sold a lot of books . . . is unforgivable."[27]

Alternatively, it has been noted that "Allende's impact not only on Latin American literature but also on world literature cannot be overestimated."[16] The Los Angeles Times has called Isabel Allende "a genius,"[16] and she has received many international awards, including the prestigious Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize[16], granted to writers "who have contributed to the beauty of the world."[16] She has recently been called a "literary legend" by Latino Leaders Magazine, which in their 2007 article named Allende as the third most influential Latino leader in the world.[16]


Allende has won a number of awards, including:

  • France’s Grand Prix d’Evasion[3]
  • the Gabriela Mistral Prize in Chile[3]
  • the Italian Bancarella Prize[3]
  • the Chevalier des Artes et des Lettres distinction in France[3]


Isabel Allende at the Miami Book Fair International of 1990
  • The House of the Spirits (1982) La casa de los espíritus
  • The Porcelain Fat Lady (1984) La gorda de porcelana
  • Of Love and Shadows (1985) De amor y de sombra
  • Eva Luna (1987)
  • The Stories of Eva Luna (1989) Cuentos de Eva Luna
  • The Infinite Plan (1991) El plan infinito
  • Paula (1995)
  • Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses (1998) Afrodita
  • Daughter of Fortune (1999) Hija de la fortuna
  • Portrait in Sepia (2000) Retrato en sepia
  • City of the Beasts (2002) La ciudad de las bestias
  • My Invented Country: A Memoir (2003) Mi país inventado
  • Kingdom of the Golden Dragon (2004) El reino del Dragón del Oro
  • Zorro (2005) El Zorro
  • Forest of the Pygmies (2005) El Bosque de los Pigmeos
  • Ines of My Soul (2006) Inés del Alma Mía
  • The Sum of Our Days: A Memoir (2008) La Suma de los Días (literally "La Suma de Nuestros Días")
  • "Island Under the Sea" (2009) "La Isla bajo el mar"

Other contributions


  1. ^ Isabel Allende: "¡Escribo bien! Por lo menos admítanme eso" [Emol], December 17, 2009.
    Vengo a Chile por lo menos tres veces al año, me comunico con Chile todos los días a través de Skype con mi mamá, estoy enterada de lo que pasa y cuando me preguntan 'qué eres' digo automáticamente 'chilena'. Vivo en América, pero me siento profundamente chilena en la manera de vivir, de ser: soy mandona, metete, dominante, intrusa, hospitalaria, tribal. (Isabel Allende)
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c d e Isabel Allende Named to Council of Cervantes Institute. Latin American Herald Tribune. Oct 23, 2009.
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Review: The undefeated: A life in writing: Often compared to Gabriel García Márquez, Isabel Allende is more interested in telling stories about her own life, her difficult upbringing, marriage and her daughter's death. Aida Edemariam. The Guardian (London) - Final Edition. GUARDIAN REVIEW PAGES; Pg. 11. April 28, 2007.[1]
  7. ^ Santiago Journal; Allende's Widow Meditates Anew on a Day in '73. SHIRLEY CHRISTIAN. The New York Times. Section A; Page 4, Column 3; Foreign Desk. June 5, 1990.
  8. ^ Sewing didn't cut it for Inés. VERONICA ROSS. Guelph Mercury (Ontario, Canada). BOOKS; Pg. C5. March 3, 2007.
  9. ^ International: Chilean government rejects state funeral for Pinochet as thousands queue to pay respects: Body to be cremated amid fears of attacks on tomb: Capital quiet after victory parade turns into a riot. Jonathan Franklin, Santiago. The Guardian (London). GUARDIAN INTERNATIONAL PAGES; Pg. 14. December 12, 2006.
  10. ^ a b c Isabel Allende: A Critical Companion. Karen Castellucci Cox; Greenwood Press, 2003. 184 pgs. p. 2-4.[2]
  11. ^ A Writer's Heartbeats Answer Two Calls. MIRTA OJITO. Monday, July 28, 2003. The New York Times The article notes that Allende has been told that her father left them and that due to Chile's anti-divorce laws, it was impossible for Allende's mother to divorce Tomás. Her mother, 83 when the article was published, and her stepfather, 87 at the time, have lived together for 57 years, but they are still not recognized in Chile as married.
  12. ^ a b c
  13. ^ A Writer's Heartbeats Answer Two Calls. The New York Times. July 28, 2003. The New York Times article notes that she left Chile in 1975.
  14. ^
  15. ^ [San Francisco State University 2008 Commencement Program]
  16. ^ a b c d e f g The list 101 top leaders of the Latino community in the U.S; Cover story. Allen, Kerri; Miller, Corina; Socorro, Dalia; Stewart, Graeme. Latino Leaders Pg. 24(27) Vol. 8 No. 4 ISSN: 1529-3998. June 1, 2007.
  17. ^ a b c Life at a glance. The Guardian (London). Guardian Saturday Pages; Pg. 6. February 5, 2000.
  18. ^ LATIN AMERICA'S SCHEHERAZADE; Drawing on dreams, myths, and memories, Chilean novelist Isabel Allende weaves fantastical tales in which reality and the absurd intersect. Fernando Gonzalez. The Boston Globe MAGAZINE; Pg. 14. April 25, 1993.
  19. ^ Allende, heroine 'Ines' are kindred spirits. Javier Erik Olvera. Inside Bay Area (California). BAY AREA LIVING; Home and Garden. November 25, 2006.
  20. ^ Isabel Allende
  21. ^ a b This old "House" opened a lot of doors for author Allende; Theater preview. Misha Berson. The Seattle Times ROP ZONE; Ticket; Pg. H44. June 1, 2007.
  22. ^ Bolaño, Roberto. Entre paréntesis, page 102: Es decir la literatura de Allende es mala, pero está viva, es anémica, como muchos latinoamericanos, pero está viva. No va a vivir mucho tiempo, como muchos enfermos, pero ahora está viva.
  23. ^ a b Los éxitos y las críticas El Clarin, February 9, 2003.
    Isabel Allende es una muy mala escritora y sólo refleja un período determinado. Después todos se olvidarán de ella. (Harold Bloom)
    Me parece una mala escritora, simple y llanamente, y llamarla escritora es darle cancha. Ni siquiera creo que Isabel Allende sea una escritora, es una escribidora. (Roberto Bolaño)
  24. ^ Isabel Allende (Bloom's Modern Critical Views) ISBN 0791070395 ISBN 978-0791070390
  25. ^ Isabel Allende : “Chile es un país bélico por naturaleza” (Spanish), El Clarín de Chile, September 20, 2009.
    Para nosotros como chilenos es un honor que Bolaño nos represente. Sin embargo, hay que recordar que Bolaño consideraba que yo era una basura pero eso no le quita ninguna merito. (Isabel Allende)
    La verdad es que en Chile nunca o muy rara vez he tenido una buena crítica. Y pese a que tengo innumerables lectores y hasta se piratean mis libros pero el mundo pequeño de los literatos de Chile me detestan. (Isabel Allende)
  26. ^ Isabel Allende critica duramente a escritores chilenos y desata polémica, La Tercera. February 9, 2003.
    Ella incurre en un gravísimo error, confundir éxito de ventas con calidad literaria. (Gonzalo Contreras)
  27. ^ This much I know: Isabel Allende, writer, 65, San Francisco. This article appeared on p. 10 of the Comment & features section of the Observer on Sunday 13 July 2008. It was published on at 00.07 BST on Sunday 13 July 2008.


  • Isabel Allende, Award-Winning Latin American Author by Mary Main (2005) - ISBN 0-7660-2488-1
  • Bautista Gutierrez, Gloria and Corrales-Martin, Norma; Pinceledas Literarias Latinoamericanas, John Wiley and Sons, 2004

See also

External links


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