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Isabel Allende

21st May 2022

Isabel Allende was born on August 2, 1942, in Lima, Peru, to Tomás and Francisca Allende. She is the goddaughter of Salvador Allende, the first socialist president of Chile who was her father’s cousin. Her father, a diplomat, deserted the family when Allende was just two. She, her siblings and mother then moved in with her grandfather in Chile. Allende remembers herself as a rebellious child during those years living with her grandfather. ‘We lived in an affluent house – with no money,’ she said in an interview with The Telegraph. ‘My grandfather would pay for what was necessary but my mother did not even have the cash to buy us an ice cream. I wanted to be like my grandfather because my mother had a terrible life and he had all the privileges and the power and the freedom and the car – I think that was the moment I started to rebel against all male authority: the police, the church, everything.’

Her mother remarried to Ramón Huidobro, also a diplomat, and the family moved often as his posts changed.  Allende said she was determined to work as a young woman and started her writing career as a journalist. She became a prominent journalist working in television and for magazines in the 1960s and 1970s.

Allende’s life was forever changed when General Augusto Pinochet led a military coup in 1973, toppling Salvador Allende’s government. During an attack on the presidential palace Salvador Allende was shot and killed. Isabel Allende became active in aiding victims of the repression and brutality of Pinochet’s regime, but realising it was dangerous to stay in Chile, she fled the country with her husband and two children in 1975 and lived in exile in Venezuela for 13 years.

In 1981, Allende began writing a letter to her grandfather, who was dying in Chile. The letter became the basis for her first novel, The House of the Spirits (1985), which became a worldwide bestseller and launched her literary career. The novel tells the story of two families living in Chile from the 1920s until the 1973 military coup, weaving together elements of magical realism and political testimony. Some of her works include Of Love and Shadows (1987), Eva Luna (1987), Two Words (1989), The Infinite Plan (1991), Daughter of Fortune (1999), Portrait in Sepia (2000), Zorro (2005), Ines of My Soul (2006), Island Beneath the Sea (2010), Maya’s Notebook (2011), Ripper (2014) and The Japanese Lover (2015).

The author calls her writing style ‘realistic literature, rooted in her remarkable upbringing and the mystical people and events that fueled her imagination,’ according to her website. She also explains that her work is ‘equally informed by her feminist convictions, her commitment to social justice, and the harsh political realities that shaped her destiny.’

In addition to fiction, Allende has mined her own life to write deeply personal memoirs, including Paula (1994) about the life and loss of her daughter to a rare disease; Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses (1998), her ode to food and sex; My Invented Country: A Nostalgic Journey Through Chile (2003) about her early life and the inspirations of her personal history; and The Sum of Our Days: A Memoir (2008) about her life following the death of her daughter.

During the course of her career, Allende has received numerous awards for her work including the Chilean National Prize for Literature (2010) and the Library of Congress Creative Achievement Award for Fiction (2010). In 2014, President Barack Obama presented Allende with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Allende married her first husband, Miguel Frías, in 1962. They had two children, Paula (born in 1963) and Nicolás (born in 1966). After her divorce from Frías in 1987, Allende met and married her second husband, Willie Gordon, a lawyer and writer, in 1988, but after 27 years together, they too divorced in 2015.

During their marriage, the couple endured the heartbreaking death of two of Gordon’s children from a previous relationship, as well as the passing of Allende’s daughter Paula, who died from complications of a rare disease, porphyria, in 1992 at the age of 28. Allende established the Isabel Allende Foundation in Paula’s honour. The foundation strives for economic and social justice for women.

Allende has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1987, and became a U.S. citizen in 1993. She says on her website that remains connected to her adopted home and her birthplace living ‘with one foot in California and the other in Chile.’

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