Isabel Allende

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Date: Nov. 28, 2018
Document Type: Biography
Length: 7,018 words

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"Sidelights"

When President Salvador Allende of Chile was assassinated in 1973 as part of a military coup against his socialist government, it had a profound effect on his niece, the novelist Isabel Allende. "I think I have divided my life [into] before that day and after that day," Allende told Publishers Weekly interviewer Amanda Smith. "In that moment, I realized that everything was possible--that violence was a dimension that was always around you." At first, Allende and her family did not believe that a dictatorship could last in Chile; they soon found it too dangerous to remain in the country, however, and fled to Venezuela. Although she had been a noted journalist in Chile, Allende found it difficult to get a job in Venezuela and did not write for several years; but after receiving word from her grandfather, a nearly one-hundred-year-old man who had remained in Chile, she began to write again in a letter to him. "My grandfather thought people died only when you forgot them," the author explained to Harriet Shapiro in People. "I wanted to prove to him that I had forgotten nothing, that his spirit was going to live with us forever." Allende never sent the letter to her grandfather, who soon died, but her memories of her family and her country became the genesis of The House of the Spirits, her first novel. "When you lose everything, everything that is dear to you ... memory becomes more important," Allende commented to Mother Jones writer Douglas Foster. With The House of the Spirits, the author added: "[I achieved] the recovery of those memories that were being blown by the wind, by the wind of exile."

Following three generations of the Trueba family and their domestic and political conflicts, The House of the Spirits "is a novel of peace and reconciliation, in spite of the fact that it tells of bloody, tragic events," claimed New York Times Book Review contributor Alexander Coleman. "The author has accomplished this not only by plumbing her memory for the familial and political textures of the continent, but also by turning practically every major Latin American novel on its head," the critic continued. The patriarch of the family, Esteban Trueba, is a strict, conservative man who exploits his workers and allows his uncompromising beliefs to distance him from his wife and children, even in the face of tremendous events.

Allende's grand scope and use of fantastic elements and characters have led many critics to place The House of the Spirits in the tradition of the Latin American novel of magical realism, and they compare it specifically to Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. "Allende has her own distinctive voice, however," noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer; "while her prose lacks the incandescent brilliance of the master's, it has a whimsical charm, besides being clearer, more accessible and more explicit about the contemporary situation in South America." In contrast, Village Voice contributor Enrique Fernandez believed that "only the dullest...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1000001581