Spanish Language Blog

Chilean Writer: Isabel Allende Posted by on Apr 23, 2008 in Spanish Culture

Ever heard of Isabel Allende? She´s my favorite author in Spanish. Isabel was born in the early 40´s and was the daughter of Francisca Barros and Tomás Allende, who was Chilean ambassador to Peru. For political reasons, she lived in Bolivia and Lebanon until 1958, when she moved back to Chile to finish her secondary education. In 1962 she married her first husband, Miguel Frías and besides being a mother she also became a well-known TV personality, a dramatist and a journalist on a feminist magazine.
Because of her relation to Salvador Allende (he was her uncle), she received death threats after the military coup in 1973, and decided to live in Venezuela, where she stayed for 13 years. During a visit to the US in the late 80´s she met her second husband, attorney Willie Gordon.
Isabel writes in the “magic realism” tradition and this was what caught me from the very start. Take it from me, once you start reading one of her books, you won´t be able to put it down and if your Spanish is fluent enough you´ll be simply blown away! The first ones I read were “Eva Luna”, “The Stories of Eva Luna”, “The Daughter of Fortune” and “Portrait in Sepia”. They´re independent readings but when you read them you´ll see recurring characters in all of them.
The House of the Spirits, written by Isabel Allende, was released in 1983
and became a movie in 1992, with a star-clad cast including Meryl Streep,
Jeremy Irons, Wynona Rider and Antonio Banderas, among others. The novel starts
and ends with the same sentence: “Barrabás llegó a la familia por la vía
maritima”. It is a compilation of Esteban Trueba´s writings, his wife´s Clara´s
journal entries and also his granddaughter´s Alba´s notes. As the book is a
compilation of different authors´ writings, the point of view changes without
previous notice.

It is said that when Isabel Allende got a letter
saying that her ninety-year-old grandfather was about to die, she started
writing a letter that later became the manuscript of the book. The House of the
is a love-or-hate book because some readers didn´t like the graphical
descriptions in the book and others found the magic realism aspects of the books
(like the ghosts) hard to believe.

The story of the books unravels during almost a
century, telling the lives of Esteban and Clara, their daughter Blanca and
Pedro Tercero García and Alba and Miguel, both victims of the Chilean military
dictatorship (1973-1989). Throughout the novel the characters live in the
middle of the social and political ambiance of that time, having as a
background the magical elements introduced by the author. A latent dichotomy
starts to appear, having Trueba´s becoming a very rich man, but also the
workers realizing that they are the main backbone in the working society and
not mere slaves ruled by wealthy patrones like Trueba himself.

Magic realism is an artistic and literary genre
from the middle of the 20th century. It was first used by the German
art critic Franz Roth to describe a painting that showed an altered reality,
but it was used later by Arturo Uslar, from Venezuela, to describe the work of
some Latin American writers. It developed itself very strongly in the 60s and
70s in Latin America as a show of discrepancy
of that time: the technology culture and the superstitious and traditional
roots. It also had a lot to do with the politics at the time, as a criticism to
the dictatorial situation.

Gabriel Garcia Márquez wrote one of the most
representative works in this style: A Hundred Years of Solitude (Cien Años de
). Márquez said once: “My most important problem was destroying the
lines of demarcation that separates what seems real from what seems fantastic.”

Some other authors who wrote in the Magic
Realism style include Alejo Carpentier, Jorge Luis Borges, Jacques Stephen
Alexis, Juan Rulfo and Carlos Fuentes.

So, hit the bookstore and get yourself one of Allende´s books, either in Spanish or English, you won´t regret it.

See you next time!


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