In 2022 it will be 40 years of Isabel Allende His first novel was published. The ‘House of Ghosts’ was an immediate success. Her books have been translated into more than 40 languages and more than 70 million copies of her novels have been sold. His latest novel ‘Violeta’ has recently been published in Dutch. To celebrate the anniversary, the Wereldbibliotheek publishing house also published a special edition of the bestsellers ‘The House of Ghosts’, ‘Paula’ and ‘Eva Luna’. In this interview published on the website of the brilliant Spanish magazine ESPANJE! It can be read, the most popular writer in the Spanish-speaking world talks about her writing and her life.
‘Violeta’ is the story of an almost 100-year-old woman who was born in a pandemic and died in another. From San Francisco, Isabel Allende spoke to the press about this new adventure, but also about love, feminism, politics and cancel culture, which is also advancing in the United States and Latin America. The Chilean-born bestselling author is now almost 80 years old, but she is still full of life. “I got married at 77 and if I live long enough maybe I’ll get married again,” she laughed during the Zoom press conference with more than a hundred Spanish-speaking journalists. BUY HERE the book.
Living between two pandemics
In ‘Violeta’, a novel that begins with the Spanish flu that occurred in 1918 and ends with the coronavirus crisis, describes one hundred years in the life of a Latin American woman. The story is partly set in Chilean Patagonia. “I was born on a stormy Friday in 1920, the year of the plague,” says the first line of the novel. The idea for the book came after the death of Allende’s mother at the age of 98. Francisca, Isabel’s mother, was born in 1920, during the Spanish flu, and died a year before the corona pandemic was declared.
But Francisca is not Violeta. Allende: ‘My mother gave me inspiration. She died shortly before Covid-19 and everyone around me was telling me to write her story. But although my mother was an extraordinary woman, she did not have an extraordinary life because she had never made a living on her own. She always lived submissive: first to her father, then to her husband, and finally it was me who paid the bills. She did not have that economic freedom that she always wanted for herself. Violeta is a character similar to my mother, beautiful, interesting, ironic, daring and with a great vision, but unlike her, she is an independent woman. There is no feminism without economic independence… What about me? No doubt anecdotes that happened to me. But it’s also about my late daughter Paula.
the love moves the world
The novel character Violeta is a woman who was born into a conservative and wealthy Chilean family. Her life changed radically when the Great Depression threw her out on the streets. Some of the great events of history will mark her life: the fight for women’s rights, the rise and fall of tyrants and, of course, two pandemics. Allende: ‘The novel shows that love moves the world. But not only love, but also power, ambition and greed. And sometimes love can correct a little, but never completely. All my novels deal with human relationships. Of course, the facts matter, and the when and where. But I prefer to talk about human relationships and emotions. And the most powerful of them is love. What in my own life propelled me to the greatest atrocities and deeds is love. And now that I’m old, people tell me, well, love doesn’t matter so much now. But I tell you, love always matters. I got married at 77 and if I live long enough I can get married again. In Violeta there are different loves. The first is that of the youth of that time: that of the man you think you will marry forever, to be a mother and start a family. she can’t. And she falls in love with an extremely seductive and dangerous man. I know that love. And then, at the end of her life, there is a relaxing and happy love. That happened to me: at the age of 77 I married a man with whom I have nothing in common… And then the pandemic hit us and we locked ourselves in a little house on an eternal honeymoon. Luckily it went well…
Writing is like walking with a candle.
“I started the novel a few weeks before the pandemic hit. Only later did the idea occur to me to place the novel between these two pandemics. I found that circle almost poetic. So the pandemic has helped me give it some structure. On January 8, I always sit in front of the computer and start something that I don’t know what it will turn into. And then characters appear or I have to look for them. Starting a book is like walking through dark places with a candle and little by little you illuminate the corners and there the characters and the story come out. In those 40 years I have learned to have faith, not to put history in a straitjacket’.
Exile is always part of your novels. If you had not left Chile after Pinochet’s coup and the death of your uncle, President Salvador Allende, would you have written them?
‘I do not think so. I became a writer because I couldn’t continue being a journalist in Chile. I loved being a journalist, I was happy. I loved that profession, I loved that I could knock on any door and they opened it for me, that they answered the most impertinent question. That ended when I left Chile and a long period of silence followed. Until I accidentally wrote The House of Ghosts. That was the novel that opened the way for me. That gave me a voice as a writer and changed my life.
Your uncle’s granddaughter, Chilean President Salvador Allende, is now a minister in Chile…
‘Not just a minister, but a defense minister. She is a young woman, raised in Cuba, in a very special position… Let’s not forget the past of the armed forces in Chile. I am satisfied with the ministers appointed by Gabriel Boric: 14 women and 10 men. It really is a solid effort for gender equality. And everyone is so young too. A new generation is coming to power.’
In these 40 years society has changed, how has your way of writing about women changed?
‘I am very aware of what is happening to women because I have a foundation and we work with the most vulnerable women. So I am always in contact with women and their problems. I have always been a feminist. And I’m glad there’s now a wave of young women who are doing extraordinary things. I write about it because it interests me.
Is the world worse now than it used to be?
‘Well, no. No past time was better, that’s just a kind of illusion we have. I write historical novels that go back to 1541 and I can say that there is no past in which more people received education and medical care and fewer people died of hunger or incurable diseases than now. The world moves forward, but slowly and in a straight line. Much progress is being made and for every terrible thing that happens there are other good things to counter.
From book to biopic: secrets revealed
Allende is the author of nearly 30 books, of which some 70 million copies have been sold, translated into more than 40 languages. Since the publication of his first novel, The House of the Spirits, Allende has devoted more than four decades of his life to literature. He has received more than 60 international awards. His popularity is so great that he even became the main character in the biopic Isabel, an Amazon Prime miniseries spanning the first 50 years of his life. “I am very flattered that they are investing in something about my life. Most loved it, but those closest to me, like my husband and son, think they overemphasized my bad side. But I don’t keep secrets. I also think you’re vulnerable because of the secrets you keep, not the secrets you tell.’
Do not cancel the culture but the true history.
Cancellation culture is also discussed during the interview in response to a question about the past of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who allegedly raped a woman. “Perhaps it would be wise for history not only to tell the story of the victor, who is usually a white man, but also to give a voice to the vanquished, to the poor, to women, to people of color. The past cannot and should not be eliminated, but the image of that past must be rethought, ”he says in reference to the controversy in Chile because part of Pablo Neruda’s memoirs shows that he raped a woman. Now Chilean feminists want to cancel Pablo Neruda, the most important poet Chile has produced and one of the greatest in the history of poetry. On one side is the failed man and on the other his work. Let’s take a good look at his private life, but let’s not cancel everything. Because otherwise there will be no one left. You just have to revise the story so that it is told as it should be told.’
Three bestsellers and the latest book
To celebrate her 40th anniversary as a writer, the Uitgeverij Wereldbibliotheek publishes a beautiful and affordable reprint of three Isabel Allende bestsellers. You can order them below only her new novel as Violeta.
In a letter to someone she loves very much, Violeta writes about poverty and prosperity, loss and joy, and about the great loves of her life and the devastating heartbreak that followed. Important events in history have defined her turbulent life: the fight for women’s rights, the rise and fall of tyrants, and ultimately not one, but two pandemics. With Violeta, Isabel Allende once again presents us with an inspiring epic story, told with a sense of humor and enormous passion. BUY HERE the book (NEW in 2022)
The house with the ghosts
Alba is the daughter of a forbidden love, with which her mother embarrassed the Trueba family. Alba goes in search of her past and discovers three exceptional women. Ella records the life story of ella’s passionate mother Blanca de ella, ella’s clairvoyant grandmother Clara de ella, and Clara’s beautiful sister Rosa de Schone. With this passionate love novel, Isabel Allende reached an audience of millions of people around the world in one go. The House of Ghosts was made into a movie starring Antonio Banderas and Winona Ryder. BUY HERE the book (now only 15 euros)
In a style as powerful and colorful as the South American landscape of rainforests, rugged mountains, and deserts, Isabel Allende tells the stunning story of Eva Luna’s strange and fantastical life. She transports the reader to an exotic world where reality and imagination merge seamlessly. BUY HERE the book (now only 15 euros)
With candor, Isabel Allende writes in this moving book about the loss of her adult daughter. She tells how she spends endless nights at her sickbed and Paula tells her own life story during those nights. Despite the tragedy, the book is full of humor. Happy and less happy anecdotes of the Chilean writer’s turbulent life alternate in this captivating book. BUY HERE the book (now only 15 euros)
SPAIN! The travel and culture magazine is the Dutch-language magazine about Spain and the Spanish-speaking world that appears four times a year in the Netherlands and Belgium. SPAIN! is a high-quality journalistic magazine with inspiring travel reports, beautiful interviews, fascinating columns, delicious recipes and hundreds of tips for lovers of Spain. Read more information on the website espanje.nl