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Isabel Allende

For other uses, see Isabel Allende (disambiguation).

Isabel Allende
File:Isabel Allende - 001.jpg
Allende in Barcelona, 2008
Born Isabel Allende Llona
(1942-08-02) 2 August 1942 (age 73)
Lima, Peru
Occupation Author, journalist
Language Spanish
Nationality Chilean
Citizenship Chilean-American
Notable awards National Prize for Literature
Presidential Medal of Freedom
Spouse Miguel Frías (1962–87)
Willie Gordon (1988–present)

Paula (1963–1992)

Nicolás (1966- )

Isabel Allende (Spanish: [isaˈβel aˈʝende]; born 2 August 1942) is a Chilean-American writer.[1][2] Allende, whose works sometimes contain aspects of the "magic realist" tradition, is famous for novels such as The House of the Spirits (La casa de los espíritus, 1982) and City of the Beasts (La ciudad de las bestias, 2002), which have been commercially successful. Allende has been called "the world's most widely read Spanish-language author".[3] In 2004, Allende was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters,[4] and in 2010, she received Chile's National Literature Prize.[5] President Barack Obama awarded her the 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom.[6]

Allende's novels are often based upon her personal experience and pay homage to the lives of women, while weaving together elements of myth and realism. She has lectured and toured many American colleges to teach literature. Fluent in English as a second language, Allende was granted American citizenship in 1993, having lived in California with her American husband since 1989.


Allende was born Isabel Allende Llona in Lima, Peru, the daughter of Francisca Llona Barros 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.[7][8][9] Many sources cite Allende as being Salvador Allende's niece (without specifying that the relationship is that Tomas and Salvador are cousins);[10] the confusion stems from Allende herself often referring to Salvador as her "'uncle" (tío) in her private life and public interviews.[11] This is because in Spanish a "first cousin once removed" is translated as "second degree uncle" (tío en segundo grado).

In 1945, after Tomás had disappeared,[7] Isabel's mother relocated with her three children to Santiago, Chile, where they lived until 1953.[12][13] 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.[13]

While living in Chile, Allende finished her secondary studies and met engineering student Miguel Frías whom she married in 1962.[13] Reportedly, "Allende married early, into an Anglophile family and a kind of double life: at home she was the obedient wife and mother of two; in public she became, after a spell translating Barbara Cartland, a moderately well-known TV personality, a dramatist and a journalist on a feminist magazine."[7]

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.[11] 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.[14]

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.[7][15] In Venezuela she was a columnist for El Nacional, a main newspaper. In 1978, she began a temporary separation from Miguel Frías. She lived in Spain for two months, then returned to her marriage.[16]

Current life

During a visit to California in 1988, Allende met her second husband, attorney Willie Gordon. In 1994, she was awarded the Gabriela Mistral Order of Merit, the first woman to receive this honor. 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."[7]

In 2006, she was one of the eight flag bearers at the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.[17] She presented the talk Tells Tales of Passion at TED 2007.[17] In 2008, Allende received the honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters from San Francisco State University for her "distinguished contributions as a literary artist and humanitarian."[18] In 2014, Allende received the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters from Harvard University for her contributions to literature.


Allende started the Isabel Allende Foundation on 9 December 1996 to pay homage to her daughter, Paula Frías Allende who experienced a coma after complications of the disease porphyria led to her hospitalization.[19] Paula was 28 years old when she died in 1992.[20] The foundation is "dedicated to supporting programs that promote and preserve the fundamental rights of women and children to be empowered and protected."[21] '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.'

Literary career

File:Girl Power at TED conference 2007 by jurvetson.jpg
Isabel Allende (in red, 3rd L to R), 2007, at TED in California, flanked (L to R) by Susan Cohen, Lakshmi Pratury and Tracy Chapman.

Beginning in 1967, Allende was on the editorial staff for Paula magazine, and from 1969 to 1974 for the children's magazine Mampato, where she later was the editor.[22] She published two children's stories, La Abuela Panchita (Grandmother Panchita) and Lauchas y Lauchones, as well as a collection of articles, Civilice a Su Troglodita. She also worked in Chilean television production for channels 7 (humorous programs) and 13 from 1970 to 1974.[22] As a journalist, she once sought an interview with Pablo Neruda, a notable Chilean poet. While Neruda accepted the interview, he told her that she had too much imagination to be a journalist and should be a novelist instead.[11] He also advised her to compile her satirical columns in book form.[23] She did so, and this became her first published book. In 1973, Allende's play El Embajador played in Santiago, a few months before she was forced to flee the country due to the coup.

In Allende's time in Venezuela, she was a freelance journalist for El Nacional in Caracas from 1976 to 1983 and an administrator of the Marrocco School in Caracas from 1979 to 1983.[22]

When Allende, in Caracas in 1981, received a phone call 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 intent of this work was to exorcise the ghosts of the Pinochet dictatorship. 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 was translated into a score of languages. The book was a great success; Allende was compared to Gabriel García Márquez as an author of the style known as magical realism.[7][24]

Allende's books have since become known for their vivid storytelling. Although Allende is often considered to use the literary style of magical realism, her works often display elements of post-Boom literature, and as such her style cannot be described as purely adhering to magical realism. Allende also holds to a very methodical literary routine.[25] She writes using a computer, working Monday through Saturday, 9:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M. "I always start on 8 January", Allende stated; "a tradition she began in 1981 with a letter she wrote to her dying grandfather that would become the groundwork for her first novel, The House of the Spirits."[26]

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, 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.[27] But months passed at Paula's bedside before Allende learned that a hospital mishap 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, is a best seller in the United States, Latin America and Europe.

Allende's novels have been translated from Spanish into over 30 languages and sold more than 56 million copies.[28][29] There are three movies based on her novels currently in production — Aphrodite, Eva Luna and Gift for a Sweetheart.[21] 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.[28] 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.

Literary criticism

Allende has won numerous awards in Chile and around the world, (see below), and recently was called a "literary legend" by Latino Leaders Magazine, which in its 2007 article named Allende as the third most influential Latino leader in the world.[21]

Despite commercial success, her literature has drawn some negative criticism. In her novel "Yo-Yo Boing", Giannina Braschi declared that "Isabel Allende is killing García Márquez a little more each day the same way Michael Jackson's sisters are killing Michael Jackson."[30] In an article published in Entre paréntesis, Roberto Bolaño called Allende's literature anemic, compared it to "a person on his deathbed", and later called her "a writing machine, not a writer".[31][32] Literary critic Harold Bloom adds his opinion that Allende only "reflects a determinate period, and that afterwards everybody will have forgotten her".[32][33] Novelist Gonzalo Contreras says that "she commits a grave error, to confuse commercial success with literary quality".[34]

Allende said to El Clarín that she recognizes that she has not always received good criticism from Chile, stating that Chilean intellectuals "detest" her. However, she disagrees with these assessments, and has been quoted saying:
The fact people think that when you sell a lot of books you are not a serious writer is a great insult to the readership. I get a little angry when people try to say such a thing. There was a review of my last book in one American paper by a professor of Latin American studies and he attacked me personally for the sole reason that I sold a lot of books. That is unforgivable.[35]

Amongst her more positive reviews, it has been said[by whom?] "Allende's impact on Latin American and world literature cannot be overestimated."[21] The Los Angeles Times has called Allende "a genius,"[21] and she has received many international awards, including the prestigious Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize,[21] granted to writers "who have contributed to the beauty of the world."[21]


External video
16px Isabel Allende: Tales of passion, 18:00, TED Talks (2007)
16px Isabel Allende, "Maya's Notebook" on YouTube, 56:00, talk begins at 4:10, UC Berkeley Events (2013)
16px Isabel Allende: A Literary Life on YouTube, 23:30, National Geographic (2013)
  • Novel of the Year (Chile, 1983)
  • Panorama Literario (Chile, 1983)
  • Author of the Year (Germany, 1984)
  • Book of the Year (Germany, 1984)
  • Grand Prix d'Evasion (France, 1984)
  • Grand Prix de la Radio Télévision Belge (Point de Mire, 1985)
  • Best Novel (Mexico, 1985)
  • Colima Literary Prize (Mexico, 1986)
  • Quality Paperback Book Club New Voice (United States; 1986 nominee)
  • Author of the Year (Germany, 1986)
  • XV Premio Internazionale I Migliori Dell'Anno (Italy, 1987)
  • Premio Mulheres a la Mejor Novela Extranjera (Portugal, 1987)
  • Los Angeles Times Book Prize nominee (United States, 1987)
  • Library Journal's Best Book (United States, 1988)
  • Before Columbus Foundation Award (United States, 1989)
  • Orden al Mérito Docente y Cultural Gabriela Mistral (Chile, 1990)
  • XLI Bancarella Literary Prize (Italy, 1993)
  • Independent Foreign Fiction Award (England, June–July 1993)
  • Brandeis University Major Book Collection Award (United States, 1993)




  • Paula (1994) Paula
  • Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses (1998) Afrodita
  • My Invented Country: A Memoir (2003) Mi país inventado
  • The Sum of Our Days: A Memoir (2008) La suma de los días

Other contributions

See also


  1. ^ "Isabel Allende: "Big Think Interview with Isabel Allende" June 16, 2010"". Big Think. Retrieved 24 November 2014. 
  2. ^ Isabel Allende: "¡Escribo bien! Por lo menos admítanme eso" [Emol], 17 December 2009
    Vengo a Chile por lo menos tres veces al año, me comunico con Chile todos los días a través de Skype con mi mamá, estoy enterada de lo que pasa y cuando me preguntan 'qué eres' digo automáticamente 'chilena'. Vivo en América, pero me siento profundamente chilena en la manera de vivir, de ser: soy mandona, metete, dominante, intrusa, hospitalaria, tribal. (Isabel Allende)
  3. ^ Isabel Allende Named to Council of Cervantes Institute. Latin American Herald Tribune. 23 October 2009
  4. ^ "American Academy of Arts and Letters – Current Members". Retrieved 2012-12-21. 
  5. ^ "Isabel Allende gana el Premio Nacional de Literatura tras intenso lobby | Cultura". La Tercera. 1990-01-01. Retrieved 2012-12-21. 
  6. ^ "President Obama Announces the Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipients". The White House. 10 November 2014. Retrieved 11 November 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f Review: The undefeated: A life in writing: 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. Aida Edemariam. The Guardian (London) – Final Edition. GUARDIAN REVIEW PAGES; Pg. 11. 28 April 2007 Isabel Allende website
  8. ^ Shirley Christian, Santiago Journal; Allende's Widow Meditates Anew on a Day in '73, The New York Times. Section A; Page 4, Column 3; Foreign Atlas. 5 June 1990
  9. ^ Veronica Ross, Sewing didn't cut it for Inés, Guelph Mercury (Ontario, Canada). BOOKS; Pg. C5. 3 March 2007
  10. ^ International: Chilean government rejects state funeral for Pinochet as thousands queue to pay respects: Body to be cremated amid fears of attacks on tomb: Capital quiet after victory parade turns into a riot. Jonathan Franklin, Santiago. The Guardian (London). GUARDIAN INTERNATIONAL PAGES; Pg. 14. 12 December 2006
  11. ^ a b c Isabel Allende: A Critical Companion. Karen Castellucci Cox; Greenwood Press, 2003. 184 pgs. p. 2-4.
  12. ^ Mirta Ojito, A Writer's Heartbeats Answer Two Calls. 28 July 2003. The New York Times The article notes that Allende has been told that her father left them and that due to Chile's anti-divorce laws, it was impossible for Allende's mother to divorce Tomás. Her mother, 83 when the article was published, and her stepfather, 87 at the time, have lived together for 57 years, but they are still not recognized in Chile as married.
  13. ^ a b c Isabel Allende website
  14. ^ Alexandra Alter, Isabel Allende on Superstition and Memory. The Wall Street Journal, p. W4, 23 April 2010. "...she often changed the dialogue and endings to make the heroines seem smarter."
  15. ^ A Writer's Heartbeats Answer Two Calls. The New York Times. 28 July 2003 The New York Times article notes that she left Chile in 1975.
  16. ^ Isabel Allende website
  17. ^ a b Isabel Allende. "TEDtalks: Isabel Allende Tells Tales of Passion". Retrieved 24 November 2014. 
  18. ^ San Francisco State University 2008 Commencement Program
  19. ^ "After Paula: An Interview with Isabel Allende". Retrieved 24 November 2014. 
  20. ^ "Isabel Allende Foundation". Retrieved 24 November 2014. 
  21. ^ a b c d e f g The list 101 top leaders of the Latino community in the U.S; Cover story. Allen, Kerri; Miller, Corina; Socorro, Dalia; Stewart, Graeme. Latino Leaders Pg. 24(27) Vol. 8 No. 4 ISSN: 1529-3998. 1 June 2007
  22. ^ a b c Life at a glance. The Guardian (London). Guardian Saturday Pages; Pg. 6. 5 February 2000
  23. ^ Wall Street Journal p. W4, 23 April 2010: " . . interviewed Pablo Neruda, the poet told her that she'd make a better novelist than a reporter. "I think he saw that I was a liar. As a journalist I could not be objective. I would make up stories . . . At the time I was hurt because he said I was the worst journalist.""
  24. ^ Levine, Linda Gould (2002). Isabel Allende. New York: Twane Publishers. pp. 114–133. 
  25. ^ LATIN AMERICA'S SCHEHERAZADE; Drawing on dreams, myths, and memories, Chilean novelist Isabel Allende weaves fantastical tales in which reality and the absurd intersect. Fernando González. The Boston Globe MAGAZINE; Pg. 14. 25 April 1993
  26. ^ Allende, heroine 'Ines' are kindred spirits. Javier Erik Olvera. Inside Bay Area (California). BAY AREA LIVING; Home and Garden. 25 November 2006.
  27. ^ Hornblower, Margot. "Grief and rebirth.". Time; 7/10/1995, Vol. 146 Issue 2, p65, 1p,. Retrieved 10 October 2012. 
  28. ^ a b This old "House" opened a lot of doors for author Allende; Theater preview. Misha Berson. The Seattle Times ROP ZONE; Ticket; Pg. H44. 1 June 2007
  29. ^ Wall Street Journal p. W4, 23 April 2010
  30. ^ Joanne Leedom-Ackerman
  31. ^ Bolaño, Roberto. Entre paréntesis, page 102: Es decir la literatura de Allende es mala, pero está viva, es anémica, como muchos latinoamericanos, pero está viva. No va a vivir mucho tiempo, como muchos enfermos, pero ahora está viva.
  32. ^ a b Los éxitos y las críticas Clarín. 9 February 2003
    Isabel Allende es una muy mala escritora y sólo refleja un período determinado. Después todos se olvidarán de ella. (Harold Bloom)
    Me parece una mala escritora, simple y llanamente, y llamarla escritora es darle cancha. Ni siquiera creo que Isabel Allende sea una escritora, es una escribidora. (Roberto Bolaño)
  33. ^ Isabel Allende (Bloom's Modern Critical Views) ISBN 0-7910-7039-5 ISBN 978-0-7910-7039-0
  34. ^ Isabel Allende critica duramente a escritores chilenos y desata polémica, La Tercera. 9 February 2003
    Ella incurre en un gravísimo error, confundir éxito de ventas con calidad literaria. (Gonzalo Contreras)
  35. ^ Lawrence Donegan. "This much I know: Isabel Allende, writer, 65, San Francisco. This article appeared on p. 10 of the Comment & features section of the Observer on Sunday 13 July 2008. It was published on at 00.07 BST on Sunday 13 July 2008". the Guardian. Retrieved 24 November 2014. 
  36. ^ "Hispanic Heritage Awards for Literature". Hispanic Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 11 January 2011. 
  37. ^ "Isabel Allende Wins the Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award". Hispanically Speaking News. 28 June 2011. Retrieved 16 August 2012. 
  38. ^ Trine Fisker (28 June 2011). "Allende får H.C. Andersen-pris". Nyhederne (in Danish). Retrieved 21 December 2012. 
  39. ^ "Obama awards Presidential Medal of Freedom to 18". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 24 November 2014. 


  • Main, Mary. Isabel Allende, Award-Winning Latin American Author. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow Pub., 2005. – ISBN 0-7660-2488-1
  • Bautista Gutierrez, Gloria and Norma Corrales-Martin. Pinceladas Literarias Hispanoamericanas. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2004.

External links

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