Isabel Allende

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Isabel Allende has published a number of novels, including La casa de los espíritus (1982; The House of the Spirits, 1985), which established her reputation, De amor y de sombra (1984), Eva Luna (1987), El plan infinito (1991), and Hija de la fortuna (1999). She has also published an account of her daughter’s death in Paula (1994), as well as a collection of children’s stories entitled La gorda de Porcelana (1984), and a collection of humorous pieces poking fun at machismo, originally published in the magazine Paula, entitled Civilice a su troglodita (1974).

Achievements

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Isabel Allende has been the recipient of numerous prestigious literary prizes, including the Panorama Literario Novel of the Year (1983), Author of the Year in Germany (1984 and 1986), and the Grand Prix d’Évasion in France (1984), as well as the Colima prize for best novel in Mexico (1985). A 1993 film version of La casa de los espíritus, directed by Bille August, was a box-office success.

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Isabel Allende (ah-YEHN-day) was a journalist before she turned to fiction, and she has published widely in many forms. In addition to news and feature articles, Allende has written fiction for children, including La gorda de porcelana (1984) and her internationally popular trilogy Ciudad de las bestias (2002; City of the Beasts, 2002), El reino del dragón de oro (2003; Kingdom of the Golden Dragon, 2004), and El bosque de los Pigmeos (2004; Forest of the Pygmies, 2005). Her humor pieces include the essay collection Civilice a su troglodita: Los impertinentes de Isabel Allende (1974), and Cuentos de Eva Luna (1990; The Stories of Eva Luna, 1991) is a collection of her short stories. Allende has also written many essays, television scripts, and film documentaries. Her book-length memoir of her daughter’s illness and death, Paula (1994; English translation, 1995), includes excursions into her own life, and in 2007 she published a second memoir, La suma de los días (The Sum of our Days, 2008). Her book Afrodita: Cuentos, recetas, y otros afrodisiacos (1997; Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses, 1998) is unclassifiable by genre, being a mingling of erotic recipes, stories, old wives’ tales, and advice about food and sex. Some of Allende’s work blurs the boundaries between novel and creative nonfiction. The real people and events of her own and her country’s past figure largely in her fiction writing, and “magical” elements, such as telepathy and clairvoyance, sometimes appear in her nonfiction.

Achievements

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Isabel Allende’s books have been translated into more than twenty-seven languages and have been best sellers in Europe, Latin America, and Australia as well as the United States. A few of the dozens of awards and honors Allende has won include Chile’s Best Novel of the Year award in 1983 for The House of the Spirits, France’s Grand Prix d’Evasion in 1984, Mexico’s Best Novel Award in 1985 for Of Love and Shadows, a German Author of the Year prize in 1986, and an American Critics’ Choice Award in 1996. Her work has been celebrated by major honors in more than a dozen countries, the range of awards reflecting her mixed popular and scholarly audience. She has also been awarded numerous honorary degrees from institutions including Bates College, Dominican College, New York State University, Florida Atlantic University, Columbia College Chicago, Lawrence University, Mills College, and Illinois Wesleyan University. Her version of Magical Realism has greatly influenced a new generation of experimental writers.

Discussion Topics

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Some characters in Isabel Allende’s books value money and power over human dignity. What happens to these characters? Why?

Define Magical Realism. Discuss examples of Magical Realism in any Allende novel.

Define irony. Using any Allende novel, discuss practical examples of this literary technique.

How does love change the characters in Allende’s fiction? What does the...

(This entire section contains 212 words.)

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pursuit of love make them do? What are the benefits and drawbacks of love in Allende’s books?

What causes political unrest in Allende’s novels? Are the causes and effects of political problems in her stories similar to the causes and effects of political strife in reality?

Allende has expressed her value of the Hebrew saying, “The story is truer than true.” What does this mean? Does it have anything to do with justice, human potential, and the unseen and often unnoticed power of love?

Can we learn anything about reality from a fictional tale? How so?

What do women have to do to overcome oppression in Allende’s books?

How does the oppression of women negatively affect men in Allende’s novels? It seems that there is often a “boomerang” effect.

Most families in Allende’s books have hurtful secrets. How does burying truth and shirking responsibility damage a family’s offspring?

Bibliography

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Allende, Isabel. Conversations with Isabel Allende. Edited by John Rodden. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1999. Collection of interviews with the author sheds some light on her life and work.

Allende, Isabel. My Invented Country: A Nostalgic Journey Through Chile. New York: HarperCollins, 2003. Memoir presents Allende’s reflections on the land of her youth, the people she knew, and history. This work illuminates the author’s semiautobiographical novels.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Isabel Allende. New York: Chelsea House, 2002. Collection of essays on Allende’s work includes an informative editor’s introduction as well as analyses by other major scholars.

Correas Zapata, Celia. Isabel Allende: Life and Spirits. Translated by Margaret Sayers Peden. Houston: Arte Público Press, 2002. First biographical discussion of Allende in book form, written by an admiring but scholarly friend of the novelist, provides an intimate glimpse into Allende’s life.

Cox, Karen Castellucci. Isabel Allende: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2003. Presents down-to-earth analysis of Allende’s novels through Portrait in Sepia. Includes a biographical sketch.

De Carvalho, Susan. “The Male Narrative Perspective in the Fiction of Isabel Allende.” Journal of Hispanic Research 2, no. 2 (Spring, 1994): 269-278. Shows that “Walimai” is different from the other short stories in Los cuentos de Eva Luna in that it is written in the first person and from a male perspective. Argues that the first-person, male perspective in this story represents the ideal narrative voice.

García Pinto, Magdalena, ed. Women Writers of Latin America: Intimate Histories. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991. Contains an excellent interview with Allende that provides a great deal of insight into the way she views her writing. Allende mentions that she sees herself as a troubadour going from village to village, person to person, talking about her country.

Gough, Elizabeth. “Vision and Revision: Voyeurism in the Works of Isabel Allende.” Journal of Modern Literature 27, no. 4 (2004): 93-120. Offers an insightful and readable analysis of photography, spying, and hidden observation as themes in Allende’s work.

Hart, Patricia. Narrative Magic in the Fiction of Isabel Allende. Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1989. A good overview of Allende’s fiction up to 1987; it has a chapter on Magical Realism and a clearly-written, helpful section on the novel Eva Luna, which is useful background for the analysis of the short stories. Argues that Allende parodies rather than imitates García Márquez.

Hart, Stephen M. White Ink: Essays on Twentieth-Century Feminine Fiction in Spain and Latin America. London: Tamesis, 1993. Sets Allende’s work within the context of women’s writing in the twentieth century in Latin America. Examines the ways in which Allende fuses the space of the personal with that of the political in her fiction and shows that, in her work, falling in love with another human being is often aligned with falling in love with a political cause.

Levine, Linda Gould. Isabel Allende. New York: Twayne, 2002. Good introductory work presents analysis of Allende’s works. Includes bibliographical references and index.

Marketta, Laurila. “Isabel Allende and the Discourse of Exile.” In International Women’s Writing, New Landscapes of Identity, edited by Anne E. Brown and Marjanne E. Gooze. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995. This book is helpful, both for Marketta’s analysis of Allende’s use of the language of exile and for other Allende materials in the collection.

Rodden, John. Conversations with Isabel Allende. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1999. This series of interviews provides new autobiographical material in addition to answering most questions general readers may have about Allende’s work.

Rojas, Sonia Riquelme, and Edna Aguirre Rehbein, eds. Critical Approaches to Isabel Allende’s Novels. New York: Peter Lang, 1991. Collection of essays provides in-depth discussion of Allende’s first three novels.

Roof, Maria. “Maryse Conde and Isabel Allende: Family Saga Novels.” World Literature Today 70, no. 2 (Spring, 1996): 410-416. Looks at The House of the Spirits and another novel in the context of the generational novel.

Roof, Maria. “W. E. B. Du Bois, Isabel Allende, and the Empowerment of Third World Women.” CLA Journal 39, no. 4 (June, 1996): 401-416. A good source for readers interested in the feminist elements in Allende.

Swanson, Philip. The New Novel in Latin America: Politics and Popular Culture After the Boom. New York: Manchester University Press, 1995. Chapter 9 contains a discussion of the use of popular culture in Allende’s fiction, showing that the people and popular culture are seen to challenge official culture and patriarchy in her work. Also has a good introduction that sets Allende’s work in the context of the works of other post-Latin American boom novelists.

Williams, Raymond L. The Postmodern Novel in Latin America: Poltics, Culture, and the Crisis of Truth. New York: St Martin’s Press, 1996. One of Allende’s most vigorous critics, who argues that Allende’s fiction simply imitates García Márquez’s and that it is not postmodern in any real sense.

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