On this day in 1942, Chilean-American author and journalist Isabel Allende was born. Allende, who is best known for novels The House of Spirits and City of the Beasts, is often considered the world’s most widely read Spanish-language author and one of the most successful woman novelists from Latin America.
Born in Peru to Chilean parents, Allende returned to Chile to complete high school, married first husband Miguel Frias, gave birth to a daughter named Paula, and worked with the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization. Back in Chile after time spent abroad, Allende established herself as a journalist, writing for several magazines, television shows, documentaries, even plays. But just as her writing career was gaining steam, Allende’s paternal uncle, Chilean President Salvador Allende, committed suicide when his administration was overtaken in a military coup in 1973, and Allende, was forced to flee Chile for Caracas, Venezuela. “I was the last [of my family] to leave,” she once famously said, “I stayed until I couldn’t stand it anymore.”
In exile in Venezuela, Allende wrote for the newspaper El Nacional for nearly a decade. Exile also helped Allende find literature. “Without the military coup I would have remained in Chile, I would still be a journalist and probably a happy one,” she once said of her career. “In exile literature gave me a voice, it rescued my memories from the curse of oblivion, it enabled me to create a universe of my own.” Her career as a novelist began when Allende learned her 99-year-old grandfather was dying in Chile and she would be unable to return to his side. She began writing him a letter instead, which eventually became the manuscript for her 1982 novelistic debut, The House of Spirits. The book was a hit, quickly becoming an instant classic in countries around the world.
As her career advanced however, Allende’s marriage with Frias ended with divorce and she remarried American William Gordon and settled in Northern California. More tragedy followed when Allende’s daughter Paula died from complications from a rare genetic condition, inspiring the novelist to write a work of nonfiction, Paula, in 1994.
Allende went on to publish more than a dozen books, including Of Love and Shadows, Eva Luna, Daughter of Fortune, Portrait in Sepia and Zorro. Allende’s novels are often based on her own personal experience and are known for their “magic realism,” a method in which the bestselling author weaves elements of both myth and realism. Her works have been translated into more than 30 different languages, sold more than 56 million copies, and have been adapted into films, operas, and ballets. The bestselling author has won a panoply of awards, including the Chilean National Prize for Literature in 2010 and the Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award in 2011. She is widely considered among the most successful and widely-read Latin American novelists in history.
Credit: © epa european pressphoto agency b.v. / Alamy
Caption: Isabel Allende at a conference in 2012.