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Isabel Allende (1942-) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights

Surname is pronounced "Ah-yen-day"; born 1942, in Lima, Peru; Scott (stepson). Education: Educated privately.


Agent—Carmen Balcells, Diagonal 580, Barcelona 21, Spain.


United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, Santiago, Chile, secretary, 1959-65; Paula magazine, Santiago, journalist, editor, and advice columnist, 1967-74; Mampato magazine, Santiago, journalist, 1969-74; television interviewer for Canal 13/Canal 7 (television station), 1970-75; worked on movie newsreels, 1973-78; El Nacional, Caracas, Venezuela, journalist, 1974-75, columnist, 1976-83; Colegio Marroco, Caracas, administrator, 1979-82; writer. Guest teacher at Montclair State College, 1985, and University of Virginia, 1988; Gildersleeve Lecturer, Barnard College, 1988; teacher of creative writing, University of California, Berkeley, 1989.

Honors Awards

Panorama Literario Award (Chile), 1983; Grand Prix d'Evasion (France), 1984; Author of the Year and Book of the Year awards (Germany), 1984; Point de Mire (Belgium), 1985; Colima award for best novel (Mexico), 1985; Author of the Year award (Germany), 1986; Quality Paperback Book Club New Voice Award nomination, 1986, for The House of the Spirits; Los Angeles Times Book Prize nomination, 1987, for Of Love and Shadows; XV Premio Internazionale (Italy), and Mulheres best foreign novel award (Portugal), both 1987; Library Journal Best Books of 1988 designation, American Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation, 1989, Freedom to Write Pen Club Award, 1991, and XLI Bancarella Literature Award (Italy), and Brandeis University Major Book Collection Award, both 1993, all for The Stories of Eva Luna; named Hans Christian Andersen goodwill ambassador, 2004.



La Ciudad de las bestias, Rayo (New York, NY), 2002, translation by Margaret Sayers Peden published as City of the Beasts (young adult), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.

El Reino del dragón de oro, Montena Mondadori (Barcelona, Spain), translation by Margaret Sayers Peden published as Kingdom of the Golden Dragon, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.

El Bosque de los Pigmeos, Rayo (New York, NY), 2004, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden as Forest of the Pygmies, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.


Civilice a su troglodita: Los impertinentes de Isabel Allende (humor), Editorial Lord Cochran (Santiago, Chile), 1974.

La Casa de los espíritus, Plaza y Janés (Barcelona, Spain), 1982, HarperLibros (New York, NY), 1985, translation by Magda Bogin published as The House of the Spirits, Knopf (New York, NY), 1985.

La Gorda de porcelana (juvenile; title means "The Fat Porcelain Lady"), Alfaguara (Madrid, Spain), 1984.

De amor y de sombra, Plaza y Janés (Barcelona, Spain), 1984, HarperLibros (New York, NY), 1995, translation by Margaret Sayers Peden published as Of Love and Shadows, Knopf (New York, NY), 1987.

Eva Luna, translation by Margaret Sayers Peden published under same title, Knopf (New York, NY), 1988, HarperLibros (New York, NY), 1995.

Cuentos de Eva Luna, Plaza y Janés (Barcelona, Spain), 1990, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995, translation by Margaret Sayers Peden published as The Stories of Eva Luna, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1991.

El Plan infinito, Editorial Sudamericana (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1991, translation by Margaret Sayers Peden published as The Infinite Plan, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.

Paula (autobiography), Plaza y Janés (Barcelona, Spain), 1994, translation by Margaret Sayers Peden, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.

Isabel Allende

(With others) Salidas de madre, Planeta (Santiago, Chile), 1996.

Afrodita: Recetas, cuentos y otros afrodisiacos, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997, translation by Margaret Sayers Peden published as Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses, HarperFlamingo (New York, NY), 1998.

Hija de la fortuna (novel), Plaza y Janés (Barcelona, Spain), 1999, translation by Margaret Sayers Peden published as Daughter of Fortune, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.

(And author of foreword) Conversations with Isabel Allende, edited by John Rodden, translations from the Spanish by Virginia Invernizzi and from the German and Dutch by John Rodden, University of Texas (Austin, TX), 1999, revised edition, 2004.

Retrato en sepia, Plaza y Janés (Barcelona, Spain), 2000, translation by Margaret Sayers Peden published as Portrait in Sepia, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.

Mi país inventado, Areté (Barcelona, Spain), 2003, translation by Margaret Sayers Peden published as My Invented Country: A Nostalgic Journey through Chile, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.

Zorro, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.

Author of several plays and stories for children. Contributor to Los Libros tienen sis propios espíritus, edited by Marcello Coddou, Universidad Veracruzana, 1986; Paths of Resistance: The Art and Craft of the Political Novel, edited by William Zinsser, Houghton Mifflin, 1989; and El Amor: Grandes escritores latinoamericanos, Ediciones Instituto Movilizador, 1991.


The House of the Spirits was adapted for film by Bille August, starring Meryl Streep, Jeremy Irons, Antonio Banderas, and Vanessa Redgrave, 1993. City of the Beasts was adapted as an audiobook, read by Blair Brown, Harper Audio, 2002. Kingdom of the Golden Dragon was adapted for audio, read by Brown, Harper Audio, 2004.


Isabel Allende is a Chilean-born novelist whose experiences as a journalist and the niece of assassinated socialist Chilean President Salvador Allende, have made politics an integral part of her life. Salvador Allende's murder in 1973 as part of a military coup had a profound effect on the novelist; "I think I have divided my life [into] before that day and after that day," she told Publishers Weekly interviewer Amanda Smith. "In that moment, I realized that everything was possible—that violence was a dimension that was always around you." The world view that was shaped by this experience forms an integral part of Allende's novels for adults, which include The House of the Spirits, Eva Luna, and Daughter of Fortune.

In the mid-1990s, at the urging of her grandchildren, Allende turned to a young-adult audience and wrote the first book in the "Alexander Cold" series, about an eighteen year old who joins his travel-writer grandmother on a series of globe-hopping trips that reveal the beauty and danger of the world's most magical regions. She has also penned the historical novel Zorro, a "lively retelling" of the popular legend that, according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, "reads as effortlessly as the [Mexican-American] hero himself might slice his trademark 'Z'"

After the fall of her uncle's democratic government in Chile, Allende and her family fled to Venezuela. Although she had been a noted journalist in Chile, she found it difficult to get a job and did not write for several years. However, after receiving word from her aged grandfather, who had remained in Chile, she put pen to paper and composed a letter to him. "My grandfather thought people died only when you forgot them," the author explained to Harriet Shapiro in People. "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, as the old man died shortly thereafter, but the act of writing a letter to him sparked memories of her family and her country and inspired her first novel, The House of the Spirits.

Following three generations of the Trueba family and their domestic and political conflicts, The House of the Spirits was published in its original Spanish in 1982. Called "a novel of peace and reconciliation" by New York Times Book Review contributor Alexander Coleman, the novel introduces family patriarch Esteban Trueba, a strict conservative who exploits his workers and allows his uncompromising beliefs to distance him from his wife and children, even in the face of tremendous events. Allende's use of fantastic elements and characters led critics to classify The House of the Spirits as an example of "magic realism," a style popularized by Nobel Prize-winning novelist Gabriel García Márquez in One Hundred Years of Solitude. "Allende has her own distinctive voice, however," noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer; "while her prose lacks the incandescent brilliance of the master's, it has a whimsical charm, besides being clearer, more accessible and more explicit about the contemporary situation in South America." Washington Post Book World critic Jonathan Yardley also noted comparisons to Márquez, but concluding that Allende "is most certainly a novelist in her own right and, for a first novelist, a startlingly skillful, confident one."

Allende's adult novels have continued to explore the intersection between violence and family history. Of Love and Shadows begins with the switching of two identically named newborn infants, one of which grows up to become the focus of a journalist's investigation as romance and a danger-fraught search for the truth intertwine. Gene H. Bell-Villada, reviewing the novel for the New York Times Book Review, noted that "Allende skillfully evokes both the terrors of daily life under military rule and the subtler form of resistance in the hidden corners and 'shadows' of her title," while Christian Science Monitor reviewer Marjorie Agosin declared the book to be "a love story of two young people sharing the fate of their historical circumstances, meeting the challenge of discovering the truth, and determined to live their life fully, accepting their world of love and shadows." The Tales of Eva Luna focuses on an orphaned young woman who, as a scriptwriter, finds her world colliding with that of an Austrian filmmaker haunted by traumatic memories of World War II. Eva Luna is "filled with a multitude of characters and tales," recounted Washington Post Book World contributor Alan Ryan. A "cascade of stories tumbles out before the reader, stories vivid and passionate and human enough to engage, in their own right, all the reader's attention and sympathy."

Two of Allende's more recent novels share characters with her first novel, The House of the Spirits. Daughter of Fortune takes place during the California gold rush of the mid-1800s, and focuses on Eliza Somers, who spends several years disguised as a boy. Cecilia Novella remarked in Amerícas that in the novel Allende "provides us with a masterly description of that part of North America that was to become California at the height of the gold rush, painting a vivid picture of boisterous activity, chaos, avarice, unrelieved drudgery, and the broad range of lifestyles, habits and dissolute ways of those drawn there by the gleaming precious metal." A sequel of sorts, Portrait in Sepia finds Aurora del Valle filled with questions about the mysterious beginnings of her life. At age five she was sent to live with her grandmother, Paulina, a wealthy woman who provided Aurora with material comforts but refused to answer questions about the past. The girl's confusion lingers until adulthood, when she becomes a talented photographer. After Paulina's death, Aurora explores her own and her family's past, examining her memories as well as those of relatives. According to Teresa R. Arrington in World Literature Today, "The three novels represent a transnational saga that shows us how major historical events across the world can affect the lives of several generations of an extended Chilean family." In Book, Beth Kephart observed, "Allende's imagination is a spectacle unto itself—she infects her readers with her own colossal dreams."

City of the Beasts is the first of several novels that Allende has written for a younger audience. As she told Booklist interviewer Hazel Rochman, "The idea of writing for young adults wasn't mine; it was something that my three grandchildren had been asking me to do for a long time." Alexander Cold, the main character in the novel series, is modeled after Allende's grandson, Alejandro Frias, while another character, Nadia Santos, was inspired by her two granddaughters, Andrea and Nicole. In City of the Beasts fifteen-year-old Alexander is sent to stay with his grandmother, Kate Cold, in the Amazon while his mother receives chemotherapy in Texas. Kate, an adventurous travel writer for International Geography, is researching the Yeti, a mysterious creature living in the Amazon jungle. Kate and Alexander join a group of adventurers that includes a self-centered anthropologist, a government doctor, and the jungle guide Cesar Santos, who brings with him his daughter, Nadia. Soon, Alexander and Nadia soon find themselves facing a battle with a supernatural evil, but with aid from a local shaman and the invisible People of the Mist, they tap into their inner totemic powers (Alexander's is a jaguar and Nadia's is an eagle) and prevail. A Publishers Weekly reviewer praised Allende's coming-of-age story as an adventure tale that "moves at a rapid pace, laced with surprises and ironic twists," while in Booklist Hazel Rochman wrote that City of the Beasts "blends magical realism with grim history and contemporary politics in a way that shakes up all the usual definitions of savagery and civilization."

Like City of the Beasts, Kingdom of the Golden Dragon and Forest of the Pygmies also feature Alexander, Nadia, and Alexander's grandmother Kate. They also feature a similar formula: an "environmentalist theme, a pinch of the grotesque, and a larger dose of magic," according to a Publishers Weekly contributor. In Kingdom of the Golden Dragon the teens—now aged sixteen—travel with Kate to the Himalayas where they hope to track down a rare statue, the Golden Dragon, which is rumored be the key to foretelling the future of the remote mountain kingdom. In this forbidding—and forbidden—land the group discovers a corporate plot to steal the statue that involves kidnaping and murder. Joined by a Buddhist monk and a band of Yeti, Alex and Nadia soon find themselves enmeshed in another battle against evil in a novel that a Publishers Weekly contributor praised for its "complex heroes, suspenseful tests of courage" that confront Alex and his friends, and the "mystic aura" Allende creates to "add depth and excitement" to her tale. The author "combines empathetic young characters; exciting adventures; and an intelligent, sympathetic look at cultures, customs, and creatures of a remote … area," added Susan L. Rogers in School Library Journal, noting that Kingdom of the Golden Dragon stands on its own as a fast-paced teen adventure.

In Forest of the Pygmies, the final volume of the "Alexander Cold" trilogy, Alexander is now eighteen, and on his way to Africa where he, Nadia, and Kate join an elephant-led safari. After a Catholic missionary asks for help locating some friends lost in the jungle swamps, a world of corruption is revealed: poachers deplete the wildlife while a savage ex-military tyrant who wears a necklace made from human fingers attempts to enslave both Bantu and Pygmy tribes. Into the fray come Alex and his friends, rallying the diminutive Africans and drawing on animal totems and other magic in their battle for freedom. While noting that the teens' ability to transform into their totems might confuse readers new to Allende's series, Eva Mitnick wrote in School Library Journal that Forest of the Pygmies is "a fine adventure tale" featuring the author's characteristic "lyrical" language.

In My Invented Country: A Nostalgic Journey through Chile Allende examines, in fictional form, her own history as it fits within her family story and the larger history of Chile as well as that of her adopted country, the United States. In Booklist, Donna Seaman maintained that "Allende's conjuring of her 'invented,' or imaginatively remembered, country is riveting in its frankness and compassion, and her account of why and how she became a writer is profoundly moving." In this, as in all her works, Allende examines the facts of cultural and political history and transforms those facts into something more through story and memory. While writing remains the focus of her public life, Allende's ultimate goal is more personal. As she told San Francisco Chronicle interviewer Heather Knight, "I'd like to be remembered by my grandchildren as a grandma who gave them unconditional love, stories, and laughter."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Bloom, Harold, editor, Isabel Allende, Chelsea House (Philadelphia, PA), 2003.

Contemporary Hispanic Biography, Volume 1, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2003.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 39, 1986, Volume 57, 1990, Volume 97, 1997.

Feal, Rosemary G., and Yvette E. Miller, editors, Isabel Allende Today: An Anthology of Essays, Latin American Literary Review Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 2002.

Hart, Patricia, Narrative Magic in the Fiction of Isabel Allende, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press (Teaneck, NJ), 1989.

Levine, Linda Gould, Isabel Allende, Twayne Publishers (New York, NY), 2002.

Lindsay, Claire, Locating Latin American Women Writers: Cristina Peri Rossi, Rosario Ferré, Albalucía, and Isabel Allende, Peter Lang (New York, NY), 2003.

Postlewate, Marisa Herrera, How and Why I Write: Redefining Women's Writing and Experience, Peter Lang (New York, NY), 2004.

Ramblado-Minero, Maria de la Cinta, Isabal Allende's Writing of the Self: Trespassing the Boundaries of Fiction and Autobiography, E. Mellen Press (Lewiston, NY), 2003.

Rojas, Sonia Riquelme, and Edna Aguirre Rehbein, editors, Critical Approaches to Isabel Allende's Novels, P. Lang (New York, NY), 1991.

Zapata, Celia Correas, Isabel Allende: Life and Spirits, translation by Margaret Sayers Peden, Arte Público Press (Houston, TX), 2002.


Amerícas, November-December, 1995, p. 36; September, 1999, Cecilia Novella, review of Daughter of Fortune, p. 61; October, 2001, Barbara Mujica, review of Portrait in Sepia, p. 63.

Architectural Digest, April, 1995, p. 32.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, December 2, 2000, Greg Changnon, review of Portrait in Sepia, p. C4.

Book, November-December, 2001, Beth Kephart, review of Portrait in Sepia, p. 60.

Booklist, February 1, 1998, p. 875; August, 1999, Brad Hooper, review of Daughter of Fortune, p. 1984; September 1, 2001, Brad Hooper, review of Portrait in Sepia, p. 3; November 15, 2002, Hazel Rochman, review of City of the Beasts, p. 590, and interview with Allende, p. 591; April 1, 2003, Donna Seaman, review of My Invented Country: A Nostalgic Journey through Chile, p. 1354; February 15, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of Kingdom of the Golden Dragon, p. 1050; March 15, 2005, Hazel Rochman, review of Forest of the Pygmies, p. 1284.

Chicago Tribune, May 19, 1985.

Christian Science Monitor, June 7, 1985; May 27, 1987.

Detroit Free Press, June 7, 1987.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), June 24, 1985; June 27, 1987.

Guardian, November 13, 1999, Alex Clark, review of Daughter of Fortune, p. 10; November 30, 2002, Carol Birch, review of City of the Beasts, p. 33.

Horn Book, January-February, 2003, Christine M. Heppermann, review of City of the Beasts, p. 65.

Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2002, review of City of the Beasts, p. 1462; April 1, 2003, review of My Invented Country, p. 514; April 1, 2004, review of Kingdom of the Golden Dragon, p. 323; April 15, 2005, review of Forest of the Pygmies, p. 467.

Kliatt, May, 2005, Paula Rohrlick, review of Forest of the Pygmies, p. 6.

Library Journal, August, 1999, Barbara Hoffert, review of Daughter of Fortune, p. 134; October 15, 2001, Barbara Hoffert, review of Portrait in Sepia, p. 105; June 1, 2003, Sheila Kasperek, review of My Invented Country, p. 118; October 15, 2003, Gloria Maxwell, review of My Invented Country, p. 115; March 1, 2005, Misha Stone, review of Zorro, p. 74.

Los Angeles Times, February 10, 1988. Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 16, 1985; May 31, 1987.

Mother Jones, December, 1988.

Ms., May-June, 1995, p. 75.

Nation, July 20-27, 1985.

New Leader, November-December, 2001, Philip Graham, review of Portrait in Sepia, p. 38.

New Statesman, July 5, 1985.

Newsweek, May 13, 1985.

New York Review of Books, July 18, 1985.

New York Times, May 2, 1985; May 20, 1987; February 4, 1988.

New York Times Book Review, May 12, 1985; July 12, 1987; October 23, 1988; May 21, 1995, p. 11.

People, June 10, 1985; June 1, 1987; June 5, 1995, p. 34; April 20, 1998, p. 47.

Publishers Weekly, March 1, 1985; May 17, 1985; January 19, 1998, p. 360; August 23, 1999, review of Daughter of Fortune p. 41; July 16, 2001, review of Portrait in Sepia, p. 1142; June 24, 2002, review of City of the Beasts, p. 58; April 28, 2003, review of My Invented Country, p. 57; June 30, 2003, review of City of the Beasts; March 15, 2004, review of Kingdom of the Golden Dragon, p. 75; February 28, 2005, review of Zorro, p. 39.

Review of Contemporary Fiction, summer, 2000, Sophia A. McClennan, review of Daughter of Fortune, p. 184.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 28, 2001, Jan Garden Castro, review of Portrait in Sepia, p. G11.

San Francisco Chronicle, October 19, 2001, Heather Knight, review of City of the Beasts, p. 1.

School Library Journal, December, 2002, "Isabelle Allende on Her Magical Adventures" (interview), p. 58; April, 2004, Susan L. Rogers, review of Kingdom of the Golden Dragon, p. 148; June, 2005, Eva Mitnick, review of Forest of the Pygmies, p. 147.

Sunday Telegraph (London, England), October 14, 2001, Jenny McCartney, review of Portrait in Sepia.

Time, May 20, 1985.

Times (London, England), July 4, 1985; July 9, 1987; March 22, 1989; March 23, 1989.

Times Literary Supplement, July 5, 1985; July 10, 1987; April 7-13, 1989.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), October 9, 1988.

U.S. News and World Report, November 21, 1988.

Village Voice, June 7, 1985.

Voice Literary Supplement, December, 1988.

Wall Street Journal, March 20, 1998.

Washington Post Book World, May 12, 1985; May 24, 1987; October 9, 1988; July 24, 2005, Elizabeth Ward, review of Forest of the Pygmies, p. 11.

World Literature Today, winter, 2002, Teresa R. Arrington, review of Portrait in Sepia, p. 115.

World Press Review, April, 1995, p. 47.


Isabel Allende Web site, http://www.isabelallende.com(July 20, 2005).*

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