The undefeated - Bits with Isabel Allende

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.

Allende was born in Peru, where her father Tomás had been posted as a diplomat; yet following his disappearance, when she was three, her mother had to return to Chile. "I remember my childhood as a horrible time," she says, but "my mother says that nothing so horrible ever happened to me as the things that I remember". When her grandmother - the inspiration for Clara in The House of the Spirits (1985), Allende's favourite character in all her books - died, her grandfather wore black and painted the furniture black. Her mother, now 86, always seemed to be ill. "Because she lived under the big umbrella of my grandfather and she didn't have any education - she had three kids, had been abandoned by her husband, had no money - it was a horrible life. The only way she could get attention from her father or anybody else was by being sick. She didn't do it consciously. As a child I felt impotent and guilty because I felt that I couldn't help her in any way."
Isabel determined that she would not be a weak woman ("at five I was already a feminist and nobody used the word in Chile yet"). Her new novel is a straightforward feminist excavation of the life of Inés Suárez, who, although largely written out of Chilean history books, helped Pedro de Valdivia (plus a handful of conquistadors and 1,000-odd subjugated Indians) to conquer Chile for Spain in the 16th century. Allende is at her best when staying closest to her own experience. Inés of My Soul (2007) is baldly told, bland except for some unbelievable details, which turn out to be true: Inés was a water diviner, which saved the soldiers' lives on the gruelling crossing from Peru; and she did end a battle by decapitating at least one - maybe seven - Mapuche hostages (the record is unclear).
She was nearly 40 when she wrote the fantastically embroidered autobiography of her family that became The House of the Spirits. "It would have been much better if I had started [writing novels] at 19. But I couldn't. I had to support a family, I wasn't ready. And I think I needed to lose my country to start writing, because The House of the Spirits is an attempt to recreate the country I had lost, the family I had lost." Ilan Stavans, a professor of Latin American and Latino culture at Amherst College in Massachusetts and author of The Hispanic Condition, has written that the book "symbolised the end of the old-boys club in Latin American letters. This intensely experimental club sought, [through] Julio Cortázar and José Lezama Lima, among others, to renovate literature: to show that the novel as a genre no longer belonged solely to Europe, where it appeared exhausted after Kafka, Proust and Joyce, but that it was alive and well in the Americas." Yet by the time Allende arrived, popular appetite was "for sheer entertainment. Allende is the ultimate transmogrifier of literature into a middlebrow commodity."

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez The Captain's Verses by Pablo Neruda The Arabian Nights, painting by Marc Chagall Gracias a la Vida, a song by Violeta Parra


Post a Comment

Copyright 2006| Templates by GeckoandFly modified and converted to Blogger XNL by Blogcrowds and tuned by Bloom * Creative Network.
No part of the content of the blog may be reproduced without notice and the mention of its source and the associated link. Thank you.