Isabel Allende

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Isabel Allende 1942–

Chilean novelist, short story writer, memoirist, humorist, and children's fiction writer.

The following entry provides criticism on Allende's works through 1995. For further information on her life and works, see CLC, Volumes 39 and 57.

A Latin-American author largely known for her fiction, Allende often blends elements of realism and fantasy in her works to examine the tumultuous social and political heritage of South America. She frequently draws upon her own experiences as well as those of her family to record the violence and repression that characterizes much of Latin-American history. Despite her recurring use of moral and political themes, Allende maintains that she does not intend to create political fiction. "I write about the things I care about," she has stated; "poverty, inequality, and social problems are part of politics, and that's what I write about…. I just can't write in an ivory tower, distant from what's happening in the real world and from the reality of my continent. So the politics just steps in, in spite of myself."

Biographical Information

Allende was born in Lima, Peru, where her father served as a diplomatic representative of Chile. Although Allende's contact with her father ceased following her parents' divorce, she remained close to his family—particularly Salvador Allende, her uncle and godfather, who served as president of Chile from 1970 to 1973. As a child in Santiago, Chile, Allende lived with her maternal grandparents, who would later serve as models for Esteban and Clara Trueba, the patriarch and matriarch of the family whose history Allende chronicled in her first and best-known novel, La casa de los espiritus (1982; The House of the Spirits). After spending her adolescence in Bolivia, Europe, and the Middle East with her mother and diplomat stepfather, Allende settled in Chile and became a journalist, working on television programs and newsreels, as well as writing for a radical feminist magazine. Her life changed abruptly in 1973 when a military coup, led by General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, resulted in the assassination of Salvador Allende and the overthrow of his socialist government. Although she remained in Chile for several months following the takeover, Allende's efforts to assist the opposition of the new regime ultimately jeopardized her safety, and in 1974 she escaped with her family to Caracas, Venezuela. She has since relocated to the United States fol-lowing a divorce from her husband of twenty-five years and a second marriage to a California lawyer.

Major Works

Allende's literary career began when she started to write a letter to her dying grandfather, a nearly one-hundred-year-old man who had remained in Chile. "My grandfather thought people died only when you forgot them," the author has explained. "I wanted to prove to him that I had forgotten nothing, that his spirit was going to live with us forever." Allende never sent the letter to her grandfather, who soon died, but her memories of her family and her country were the genesis of The House of the Spirits. This work, set in an unnamed South American country recognizable as Chile, spans six decades and tells the story of three generations of a family shaken by domestic and political conflicts. Allende's 1984 novel, De amor y de sombra (Of Love and Shadows), also takes place in a country where citizens are repressed by the policies of a military regime. The novel concerns two lovers intent on exposing the fate of the desaparecidos, people who were "disappeared" by the dictatorship's secret police. Allende's third novel, Eva Luna (1987), relates the passage of the narrator Eva from an illiterate orphan to a successful television scriptwriter. The story of Eva's maturation alternates with that of Rolf Carlé, an Austrian emigré who becomes a photojournalist; when the two meet and fall in love, their separate stories merge into one. Eva Luna celebrates the storytelling abilities of the narrator, and in Cuentos de Eva Luna

(The entire section is 59,466 words.)