Isabel Allende (born 2 August 1942) is a Chilean writer, describing her books as stories of passion and passionate lives. “Her voice blends sweeping narrative with touches of magical realism; and her stories are romantic, in the very best sense of the word.” She is also very funny, as the TED talk we have for an observation demonstrates. Isabel once worked in Chilean television production for channel 7, which transmits humorous programs.
Allende's novels have been translated from Spanish into over 30 languages and sold more than 56 million copies. There are three movies based on her novels currently in production — Aphrodite, Eva Luna and Gift for a Sweetheart.
Born into a Chilean family with political ties, she went into exile in the United States in the 1970s. Fluent in English as a second language, Allende was granted American citizenship in 1993, having lived in California with her American husband since 1989.
Isabel is best known for her books, although she has written plays and numerous articles.
Her books include The House of the Spirits (La casa de los espíritus, 1982), City of the Beasts (La ciudad de las bestias, 2002), Eva Luna and The Stories of Eva Luna.
She has also written about her vision of her lost Chile, in My Invented Country.
Her book Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses memorably linked two sections of the bookstore that don't see much crossover: Erotica and Cookbooks.
Her 2008 book, The Sum of Our Days is a memoir. It focuses on her recent life with her immediate family, which includes her grown son, Nicolás; second husband, William Gordon; and several grandchildren.
A novel set in New Orleans was published in 2010, Island Beneath the Sea. In 2011 came El cuaderno de Maya ("Maya's Notebook"), a novel in which the setting alternates between Berkeley, California, and Chiloé in Chile.
She has also written for children - an adventure trilogy for young readers— City of the Beasts, Kingdom of the Golden Dragon and Forest of the Pygmies – and from 1969 to 1974, she worked for the children's magazine Mampato, where she later was the editor. During this time, she published two children's stories, La Abuela Panchita (Grandmother Panchita) and Lauchas y Lauchones.
The House of the spirits is one of her best known books and evolved from a phone call that Isabel received, in Caracas in 1981, to tell her that her 99-year-old grandfather was near death. She sat down to write him a letter and thereby "keep him alive, at least in spirit." She started writing him a letter that later evolved into a book manuscript,- The House of the Spirits (1982). The book was rejected by numerous Latin American publishers, but finally the novel was published in Spain. The book soon ran into more than two dozen editions in Spanish, and has been translated into a score of languages.
Allende's book Paula (1995) is a memoir of her childhood in Santiago, Chile and the following years she spent in exile. It is written as an anguished letter to her daughter, Paula Frías Allende, who suffered from porphyria—a metabolic disorder that is rarely fatal. In 1991, an error in medication resulted in severe brain damage and left Paula in a persistent vegetative state. But months passed at Paula's bedside before Allende learned that the hospital error had caused irreversible brain damage. Allende had her moved to a hospital in California where she died on 6 December 1992. The book, as much a celebration of Allende's turbulent life as the chronicle of Paula's death, became a best seller.
Allende started the Isabel Allende Foundation on 9 December 1996 to pay homage to her daughter. Paula was 28 years old when she died in 1992, and the foundation is "dedicated to supporting programs that promote and preserve the fundamental rights of women and children to be empowered and protected."
The Isabel Allende Foundation is a non profit organisation based in the San Francisco Bay Area and Chile. Allende believes that empowering women is the only true route to social and economic justice.
'In 1995, I created the Isabel Allende foundation to support the empowerment of women and girls worldwide. For over 20 years, I have lectured internationally about women's rights and the empowerment of women; Latin American and world politics; Chile; writing and the creative process; spirituality; and my own work.'
Allende was born Isabel Allende Llona in Lima, Peru, the daughter of Francisca Llona Bars and Tomás Allende, who was at the time a second secretary at the Chilean embassy.
Her father was a first cousin of Salvador Allende, President of Chile from 1970 to 1973; thus the former head of state is her first cousin once removed.
In 1945, after Tomás had disappeared, Isabel's mother relocated with her three children to Santiago, Chile, where they lived until 1953. Between 1953 and 1958, Allende's mother married Ramón Huidobro and moved often.
Huidobro was a diplomat appointed to Bolivia and Beirut. In Bolivia, Allende attended an 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. In her youth, she read widely, particularly the works of William Shakespeare.
In 1970, Salvador Allende appointed Huidobro as ambassador to Argentina.
While living in Chile, Allende finished her secondary studies and met engineering student Miguel Frías whom she married in 1962. From 1959 to 1965, Allende worked with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Santiago, Chile, then 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. 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.”
Allende and Frías's 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 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. In Venezuela she was a columnist for El Nacional, a main newspaper. In 1978, she began a temporary separation from Miguel Frías.
During a visit to California in 1988, Allende met her second husband, attorney Willie Gordon.
Allende 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 and his family live in the house she and her second husband, San Francisco lawyer and novelist William C. Gordon, vacated."
“Allende can spin a funny, sensual yarn, but she can also use her narrative skills to remind us that parallel to our placid and comfortable existence is another, invisible universe, one where poverty, misery and torture are all too real.” — Patricia Hart, The Nation
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