Isabel Allende Biography

Isabel Allende Biography

Isabel Allende’s writing is magical. Not only a powerful force in Latin American literature, Allende is also closely associated with the style of magic realism. In magic realist works, real life is seamlessly intermingled with myth, fantasy, and poetry. Allende’s writing is further known for its adoption and expansion of the female perspective. In Allende’s works, women characters are thoughtful, spiritual, and complex. Her most successful novel, The House of the Spirits, integrates a familial story with a larger political parable about the state of Latin America in the late twentieth century. In works such as City of the Beasts and Paula, Allende also achieves a unique balance of the political and the personal.

Facts and Trivia

  • Allende’s father’s cousin was the president of Chile in the early 1970s. Following his ousting, Allende and her family fled to Venezuela for asylum.
  • Reportedly, Allende gave up her career in journalism and broadcasting at the urging of famed poet Pablo Neruda, who was struck by her innate creativity.
  • In 2003, Allende became a citizen of the United States.
  • Both the novels The House of the Spirits and Paula began as letters to members of Allende’s family. She later developed them into full-length books.
  • Allende’s The House of the Spirits was adapted into a 1993 film that was critically and commercially panned. Moviegoers had trouble believing Jeremy Irons and Winona Ryder—despite their A-list status—were Latinos.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Isabel Allende (ahl-YEHN-dee) begins every new book on January 8, a practice she continues for good luck ever since the success of her first book, The House of the Spirits. On January 8, 1981, while exiled in Venezuela, Allende was feeling guilty for not being with her dying grandfather. She had promised to be with him during his last days, but the military regime prevented her from returning to Chile. The letter she wrote that day eventually became The House of the Spirits, which launched Allende’s career as a novelist; by the mid-1990’s, she had become the most widely read Latin American woman writer.

Born to Chilean diplomat Tomás Allende and his wife Francisca Llona Barros, who separated after a few years of marriage, Isabel Allende and her two brothers lived in their maternal grandparents’ home in Santiago, where their mother offset her economic dependence on her parents by working in a bank and stitching at home.

During her childhood, the grandparents’ library became a favorite spot. Allende enjoyed access to their large collection as well as the intellectual freedom to read books well beyond her age. Her formative years were marked by her grandparents, whom she first portrayed as Clara del Valle and Esteban Trueba in The House of the Spirits.

Allende left her grandparents’ home to live abroad with her mother and stepfather, a Chilean diplomat who had helped the family after Tomás Allende abandoned them in Peru. Tomás Allende disassociated himself completely from his wife and children, but his cousin, Salvador Allende, who in 1970 became president of Chile, maintained close ties with the family. As an adolescent, Isabel Allende found intellectual stimuli not so much in libraries but in the cultures of the various countries where her stepfather worked.

Soon after returning to Chile at age fifteen, Allende met her future husband, Miguel Frías. Eventually, the couple married, and Allende supported the home with her journalism while Frías finished his engineering degree. Later, Allende balanced her duties as a homemaker, a journalist, and a mother of two children, Paula and Nicolás. Although she admits that objectivity never came easy and her journalistic writing often reflected her own perspective, training in journalism did provide the important skill of seizing and holding the reader’s interest, essential also in fiction.

Allende’s novels are rooted in personal experience. “The desire to write...

(The entire section is 1026 words.)

Isabel Allende Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Though Chilean by nationality, Isabel Angelica Allende was born in Lima, Peru, on August 2, 1942. The niece of the former Chilean president Salvador Allende, who died in September 1973, during the military coup d’état engineered by Augusto Pinochet, Allende attended a private high school in Santiago, Chile, from which she graduated in 1959. She worked as a secretary at the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization until 1965. She married Miguel Frías in 1962, had a daughter, Paula, and a son, Miguel. In Santiago, she worked as a journalist, editor, and advice columnist for Paula magazine from 1967 to 1974 and as an interviewer for a television station from 1970 to 1975. She was also an administrator for Colegio Marroco, in Caracas, from 1979 to 1982. Isabel divorced her husband in 1987 and married William Gordon in 1988. Her daughter died in 1993, and this event formed the basis of the novel named after her.

Isabel Allende Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Isabel Allende was born in Lima, Peru, and moved to Chile when she was three years old; she comes from a major Chilean political family and identifies herself as a Chilean. Her childhood was spent with her maternal grandparents in Santiago, Chile, following the divorce of her parents. She represents her grandparents as Esteban and Clara Trueba in her best-known novel, The House of the Spirits. Educated partly in England and Europe, Allende returned to Chile in her early twenties to become a journalist and to involve herself in feminism and political causes. She spent the years 1964 through 1974 writing articles and editing journals; she also worked on television shows and film documentaries. Her early experiences before the 1973 military coup in Chile, which changed her life, included editing Paula magazine and conducting interviews for television stations.

Allende was married to engineer Miguel Frias in 1962 and was divorced from him in 1987; her two children, Paula and Nicholas, were born of this union. Her daughter Paula’s illness and death, the major tragedy of Allende’s adult life, are recounted in the memoir Paula. In 1988 Allende married William Gordon.

The daughter of a cousin of Chilean president Salvador Allende, Isabel Allende has always been preoccupied with Chilean history and politics, particularly the events leading to Salvador’s death during a military coup in 1973 that overthrew his socialist government and led to military commander Augusto Pinochet Ugarte’s dictatorship. Chile’s internal problems have always been a major factor in her works. Allende at first attempted to help the forces attempting to overthrow the new regime, but she was forced to escape with her family to Venezuela in 1974. Following her exile, she lived in various parts of the world and taught in a number of institutions, including in the United States at the University of Virginia, Barnard College, and the University of California at Berkeley. In 2003 she was granted U.S. citizenship and moved to California. She has written about California, too, especially about the points at which its history and myth intersect with those of Spain—her popular 2005 novel Zorro is set in both countries.

Isabel Allende Biography

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

The daughter of a Chilean diplomat, Isabel Allende was born in Lima, Peru. Following her parents’ divorce, she lived first with her grandparents in Santiago and later with her mother and stepfather in Europe and the Middle East. She returned to Chile as a young woman and began her career as a television and newsreel journalist and as a writer for a feminist journal.

In 1973, Allende found herself at the center of Chile’s turbulent political life when her uncle and godfather, the country’s Marxist president Salvador Allende, was assassinated during a military coup. In the months that followed, Allende worked to oppose the new dictatorship headed by General Pinochet until fears for her safety led Allende to move to Venezuela with her husband and two children.

Allende’s first novel, The House of the Spirits, was published to international acclaim. It is a family saga set against a backdrop of political upheaval in an unnamed South American country. Her second book, Of Love and Shadows, followed two years later and also drew on her country’s troubled history. Both works placed Allende firmly within the Latin American tradition of novels that take a strong stand in their fictionalized portrayals of political events. Allende’s third novel, Eva Luna, traces the extraordinary life of its title character and the Austrian journalist who becomes her lover. All three novels are examples of the literary style known as Magical Realism, in which strange, supernatural occurrences are intermingled with everyday events. Allende’s work, however, brings a distinctly feminist perspective to a literary style that is predominantly male.

Following her divorce from her husband of twenty years, Allende moved to the United States in the 1980’s, where she remarried and settled in California. Her next novel, The Infinite Plan, draws on her American experience in its story of a man’s life from his childhood in the barrios of Los Angeles to his adult search for meaning and happiness. In 1995, Allende published one of her most personal works, Paula, a chronicle of her daughter’s death following a long illness. Allende examines her experience as a woman and a mother in her portrayal of love, pain, and loss.

Allende’s position as a woman working within the traditions of Latin American literature has led her to create strikingly original stories and characters, and she remains a consistently intriguing and rewarding writer.

Isabel Allende Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Isabel Allende (ahl-YEHN-dee), daughter of Francisca Llona Barros and Tomás Allende and niece of former Chilean president Salvador Allende Gossens, was born in Lima, Peru, where her father was serving as a diplomat. When she was three years old, her parents divorced and her mother took her home to Santiago, Chile.

She spent her childhood in the home of her maternal grandparents Isabela and Augustín Llona. Along with her mother, who encouraged her storytelling, they greatly influenced her understanding of people and love of writing. Her grandmother, a spiritualist, believed the supernatural was an integral part of everyday living, and she routinely held séances and used tarot cards. Her grandfather, a conservative landowner, was a moody and domineering man. It was this couple and their home from which she drew material for her first novel, La casa de los espíritus (1982; The House of the Spirits, 1985). The household also included an uncle who filled the house with books, and as a child she read widely in the literatures of many countries. Though her contacts with her father ceased, she remained close to his family, especially to his brother Salvador Allende Gossens, a doctor and socialist politician.

Allende attended private schools in Santiago, and following her mother’s remarriage to another diplomat she lived abroad. When she was fifteen, she returned home. A year later she left school to take a job as a secretary for the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization in Chile. Her work involved contacts with journalists, and it was not long before she began her journalism career.

For more than ten years, Allende’s life and career proceeded smoothly. In 1963, she married an engineer, Miguel Frias, and they had two children: Paula and Nicolas. From 1967 through 1974 she served as writer and editor for the feminist magazine Paula. During this time she met the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who told her that her real talent lay in storytelling. From 1970 through 1975 she worked for television channels 7 and 13 in Santiago, where she acquired popularity by conducting interviews and hosting a comedy program. In the early 1970’s, she also gained recognition for her involvement in making documentaries and for writing plays and stories for children. Her uncle, meanwhile, continued his political career, and in 1970, Salvador Allende Gossens became the first freely elected socialist president in Latin America.

Her life abruptly changed on September 11, 1973, when General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte led a military coup that led to the death of her uncle and overthrew his socialist government. “I think I have divided my life [into] before that day and after that day,” Allende told Publishers Weekly interviewer Amanda Smith in 1985. “In that moment, I realized that everything was possible—that violence was a dimension that was always...

(The entire section is 1195 words.)

Isabel Allende Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Isabel Allende has commented that when people lose their homeland and become detached from their past, memories become more important. Those memories of Chilean and Hispanic people and places are Allende’s subjects. Her themes, the search for love and self-knowledge, are universal. Using rich plots interwoven with a kaleidoscope of characters, she examines the tumultuous social and political heritage of Latin America. Her Magical Realism produces a blend of the real and the supernatural that adds a fuller landscape to the worlds she creates. These qualities have made her one of the best-known writers of Latin America.

(The entire section is 98 words.)

Isabel Allende Biography

(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

Allende (pronounced "Ah-yen-day") was born August 2, 1942, in Lima, Peru, the daughter of Chilean diplomat Tomás Allende and his wife,...

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Isabel Allende Biography

(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

Isabel Angelica Allende was born on August 2, 1942, in Lima, Peru, to parents Tomas, a Chilean diplomat, and Francisca (Llona Barros)...

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Isabel Allende Biography

(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

Allende was born on August 2, 1942, in Lima, Peru, the first child of affluent Chilean parents: her parents were Tomas, a diplomat and the...

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Isabel Allende Biography

(Novels for Students)

In 1973, author Isabel Allende fled Chile with her husband and their two children after her uncle, Salvador Allende, then president of Chile,...

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Isabel Allende Biography

(Short Stories for Students)

Although she has traveled around the world, and has lived in the United States for more than a decade, Isabel Allende considers Latin America...

(The entire section is 469 words.)

Isabel Allende Biography

(Short Stories for Students)

Allende was born on August 2, 1942, in Lima, Peru. Tomás Allende, Allende’s father, was a Chilean diplomat. Allende’s uncle and...

(The entire section is 351 words.)