Isabel Allende

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(Feminism in Literature)

Respected as one of the foremost writers of contemporary Latin-American literature, Allende documents the tumultuous social, political, and gender-based issues particular to South America. She frequently draws upon her own experiences as well as those of family members to examine the violence and repression historically experienced by South Americans. Allende often blends graphic realism with elements of magic realism, illuminating injustices perpetrated against women and to address women's struggles to obtain equality. Widely translated, Allende's fiction has received international popular and critical acclaim, particularly among feminist scholars.


Allende was born in Lima, Peru, where her father served as a Chilean diplomat. Although Allende's contact with her father ceased following her parents' divorce, she remained close to his side of the family—particularly with Salvador Allende, her uncle and godfather, who was president of Chile from 1970 until 1973. In 1973 Salvador Allende was murdered during August Pinochet's right-wing military coup. As a young girl, Allende lived with her maternal grandparents in Santiago, Chile. Her grandparents would later serve as models for Esteban and Clara Trueba, whose family history Allende chronicles in her first novel, La casa de los espíritus (1982; The House of the Spirits). After spending her adolescence in Bolivia, Europe, and the Middle East with her mother and stepfather, Allende became a television journalist as well as a writer for Paula, a radical feminist magazine. In 1973, when Pinochet seized power, Allende went into exile with her husband and children in Caracas, Venezuela. She had difficulty finding work in Venezuela, but eventually began writing satirical essays for the newspaper El nacional. In the mid-to late-1980s, she held teaching positions at the University of Virginia, Montclair College, and the University of California, Berkeley. She divorced her husband in 1987 and began a lecture tour in the United States. There she met William Gordon, an attorney from California. The two married in 1988 and settled north of San Francisco. In late 1991, while preparing for the publication of her fourth novel, El plan infinito (1991; The Infinite Plan) Allende was notified that her daughter Paula had suddenly developed medical complications due to porphyria, a genetic disorder. Paula lingered in a coma for a year, during which Allende rarely left her bedside, until she succumbed to the illness and died in 1992. Allende later documented this period in her memoir Paula (1994).


The House of the Spirits began as a letter written while in exile to Allende's dying grandfather in Chile. She recorded her remembrances of her grandfather to reassure him that although he was dying, he would continue on in her memory. The House of the Spirits is set in an unnamed South American country that is recognizable as Allende's home country, Chile. The plot recounts the experiences of four generations of the del Valle-Trueba family, set against the backdrop of Chilean politics from the turn of the century through the military coup of 1973. Although the characters struggle with new political regimes, the larger battle concerns the female protagonist's efforts to gain independence and control of her life in a patriarchal society. De amor y de sombra (1984; Of Love and Shadows) focuses on journalist Irene Beltrán and photographer Francisco Leal, who uncover evidence of atrocities committed by military personnel and risk great personal harm in their pursuit of justice. They are eventually exiled but have fallen in love and leave their homeland together. Set in a country that resembles Venezuela, Eva Luna (1987) relates the story of an illegitimate young girl, Eva, whose mother dies when Eva is only six years old. The narrative focuses on Eva's survival throughout her difficult childhood and adolescence, and progresses to her discovery of success and fulfillment as a television scriptwriter....

(The entire section is 19,086 words.)