Chile's Troubadour

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Editor: Jeffrey W. Hunter
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 9,173 words

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[(interview date 1987) The following interview was originally published in Spanish in 1987 and translated into English by Magdalena García Pinto and Trudy Balch. In the exchange, Allende reflects on such topics as how being in exile has influenced her writing, her thoughts on "feminine" versus "masculine" styles of writing, how poet Pablo Neruda inspired her, her desire to convey the "truth" about Chile to her readers, her views on the feminist movement, and her associations with other Latin American writers.]

[García Pinto]: Where does your personal chronology begin, Isabel Allende?

[Allende]: I was born in Lima (because my parents were diplomats), but by nationality I'm Chilean. I was so young when my parents separated that I have no memory of my father, and when it came time for me to identify his body in the morgue, twenty-five years later, I couldn't do it because I'd never seen him. I grew up in my grandparents' house--a somber place--huge, drafty, marvelous. I grew up surrounded by eccentric adults. I wasn't what we could call a happy child, but I did have my mother's unconditional love, and vast intellectual freedom. I learned to read when I was very young, and books were my companions throughout my childhood. There were so many in that house that you couldn't count them, organize them, or keep them clean. And I had access to them all, so I can't say which ones influenced me the most. My head is full of written words, authors, stories, characters, everything all mixed up together.

What kind of relationship do you have with your family now, particularly with your mother?

My mother was the most important person in my childhood, and she has been the most important person in my life. She's my friend, my sister, my companion. We laugh at the same things; we cry together; we tell each other secrets and share the fun of writing novels. She made a very strong impression on me. Her love has always nourished me, and I'm sure I wouldn't be who I am now without having had such an extraordinary relationship with her.

Was your grandmother very special to you?

Yes. My grandmother also occupies a special place. She was the guardian angel of my childhood and still watches over me, even though she died thirty-five years ago. She was adorable, a refined spirit, a complete stranger to anything vulgar; she was delightful, with a wonderful sense of humor and a love of truth and justice that turned her into a hurricane when it came time to defend those principles. She died when I was very young, but she stayed with me. She never abandoned me. She is Clara del Valle in La casa de los espíritus [The House of the Spirits].

Are there certain childhood memories that have stayed with you and have colored your life in some special way?

One of my most vivid memories is of my grandparents' cellar, where I used to read by...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100088047