Isabel Allende Biography

At a Glance

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...

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(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...

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(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 entire section is 352 words.)