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Isabel Allende: 1942—: Novelist

Worked As Advice Columnist

Gradually Allende began to gravitate toward a writing career. She held a variety of positions with magazines and publishing houses in Santiago between 1967 and 1974, one of them as an advice columnist with a magazine called Paula, and also worked as a television interview host and as a movie newsreel editor. Allende's life was turned upside down, however, by national events; Chilean president Salvador Allende, who was her uncle and godfather, was overthrown and assassinated in a 1973 coup backed by the United States, which objected to the Allende government's socialist reforms. After the coup, Allende said in a Publishers Weekly interview quoted in Contemporary Authors, "I realized that everything was possible—that violence was a dimension that was always around you."

Allende and her family fled Chile for Venezuela, where she wrote for the newspaper El Nacional. But less work came her way than in her native country, and she found herself with a lot of time on her hands for thought. She used it to take stock of her own life and of the history of her own culture. One of the fruits of her reflections was a long and ultimately unmailed letter she wrote to her ailing grandfather in Chile, surveying the long and complicated history of her own family. That letter, fictionalized and heavily elaborated, grew into Allende's first novel, The House of the Spirits (La casa de los espíritus).

At a Glance . . .

Born August 2, 1942, in Lima, Peru; raised in Chile; daughter of Tomàs Allende, a Chilean diplomat, and Francisca Llona Barros Allende; married Miguel Frias, an engineer, 1962 (divorced, 1987); married William Gordon, a lawyer, 1988; children: Paula (deceased), Nicolas. Education: Graduated from a private high school in Santiago, Chile.

Career: Secretary, United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, Santiago, Chile, 1959-65; worked as journalist and advice columnist, Paula and Mampato magazines, Santiago, 1967-74; television interviewer, Santiago, 1970-75; writer for movie newsreels, 1973-75; journalist, El Nacional, Caracas, Venezuela, 1975-84; published debut novel, The House of the Spirits, 1982 (English trans. 1985); guest lecturer and writing instructor at various U.S. institutions, 1980s and 1990s.

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

Like Colombian author Gabriel García Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, to which it has often been compared, The House of the Spirits is a complex family saga that spans several generations. Its main characters are a traditional patriarch, Esteban Trueba, who becomes estranged from his wife, Clara, and later from his activist daughter, Alba. The book includes so-called magical realist devices—supernatural or unexplainable events, such as salt and pepper shakers that move around a dining room table of their own accord. As the novel moves toward the present, though, South America's recent political history comes to the fore and the storytelling becomes more conventionally realistic. Alba, who is revealed as the story's narrator, is seized by the military after a right-wing coup.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: (Hugo) Alvar (Henrik) Aalto (1898–1976) Biography to Miguel Angel Asturias (1899–1974) BiographyIsabel Allende: 1942—: Novelist Biography - Worked As Advice Columnist, Based Novel On Pinochet Dictatorship, Novels Link United States And Latin America