Isabel Allende

Chilean writer

Isabel Allende (born August 2, 1942) is a Chilean writer.

Isabel Allende in 2008


  • Because she lived under the big umbrella of my grandfather and she didn't have any education - she had three kids, had been abandoned by her husband, had no money - it was a horrible life. The only way she could get attention from her father or anybody else was by being sick. She didn't do it consciously. As a child I felt impotent and guilty because I felt that I couldn't help her in any way.
  • Thank God – because what are you going to write about if you don’t struggle as a child? I don’t think that you become creative because you have struggled, no, but creative people are fuelled by anger and passion, and haunted by demons and memories.
  • It would have been much better if I had started [writing novels] at 19. But I couldn't. I had to support a family, I wasn't ready. And I think I needed to lose my country to start writing, because The House of the Spirits is an attempt to recreate the country I had lost, the family I had lost.
  • I imagined the structure of the novel like a braid. My job was to blend three strands evenly and neatly. Each piece of the braid represented one of the stories. The characters were very different but they had something in common: they were emotionally wounded by events of their past.
  • I never try to give a message in my fiction. When I see that an author is trying to preach to me in a novel, I feel insulted. If I find a message, it should come between the lines; I will discover it if it resonates with me. The ideas, feelings and experiences of the author appear unavoidably in the writing.


  • I can only write fiction in Spanish, because it is for me a very organic process that I can only do in my native language.
  • The first lie of fiction is that the author gives some order to the chaos of life: chronological order, or whatever order the author chooses. As a writer, you select some part of a whole. You decide that those things are important and the rest is not. And you write about those things from your perspective. Life is not that way. Everything happens simultaneously, in a chaotic way, and you don't make choices. You are not the boss; life is the boss. So when you accept as a writer that fiction is lying, then you become free. You can do anything. Then you start walking in circles. The larger the circle, the more truth you can get. The wider the horizon—the more you walk, the more you linger over everything—the better chance you have of finding particles of truth.
  • Everybody has a story and all stories are interesting if they are told in the right tone.
  • I spend ten, twelve hours a day alone in a room writing. I don't talk to anybody. I don't answer the telephone. I'm just a medium or an instrument of something that is happening beyond me, voices that talk through me. I'm creating a world that is fiction but that doesn't belong to me. I'm not God; I'm just an instrument. And in that long, very patient daily exercise of writing I have discovered a lot about myself and about life. I have learned. I'm not conscious of what I'm writing. It’s a strange process—as if by this lying-in-fiction you discover little things that are true about yourself, about life, about people, about how the world works.
  • People are complex and complicated—they seldom show all the aspects of their personalities. Characters should be that way too.
  • To me a short story is like an arrow; it has to have the right direction from the beginning and you have to know exactly where you're aiming.
  • a novel is patient and daily work, like embroidering a tapestry of many colors. You go slowly, you have a pattern in mind. But all of a sudden you turn it and realize that it’s something else.
  • Happy endings usually don't work for me. I like open endings. I trust the reader’s imagination.
  • I belong to the first generation of Latin American writers brought up reading other Latin American writers. Before my time the work of Latin American writers was not well distributed, even on our continent. In Chile it was very hard to read other writers from Latin America. My greatest influences have been all the great writers of the Latin American Boom in literature: García Márquez, Vargas Llosa, Cortázar, Borges, Paz, Rulfo, Amado, etc. Many Russian novelists influenced me as well: Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Nabokov, Gogol, and Bulgarov. The English writers who had a big influence on me during my adolescence were Sir Walter Scott, Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Charles Dickens, Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, and Virginia Woolf. I loved mysteries and read all of Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle. Also some American authors who were very popular in Spanish, like Mark Twain, Jack London, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and many others. I remember the lasting impression that Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird had on me. I read that book again every decade or so. From these books I got a sense of plot and strong characters. I discovered fantasy and eroticism in One Thousand and One Nights, which I read in Lebanon at age fourteen. At that time and in that place, girls didn't have much social life aside from school and family; we didn't even go to the movies. My only escape from a troublesome family life was reading. My stepfather had four mysterious leather volumes in his locked closet, forbidden books that I was not supposed to see because they were “erotic.” Of course I found a way to copy the key and get in the closet when he was not around. I used a flashlight, could not mark the pages, and read quickly, skipping pages and looking for the dirty parts. My hormones were raging and my imagination went wild with those fantastic tales. When critics call me a Latin America Sheherazade I feel very flattered! The American and European feminists that I read in my twenties gave me an articulate language to express the anger I felt against the patriarchy in which we all live. I started working at Paula, a Chilean feminist magazine, sharpening my ideas and my pen to defy the male establishment. It was the best time of my life. I have always liked movies, and sometimes an image or a scene or a character stays with me for years and inspires me when I write. For example: the magic in Fanny and Alexander or the story within a story of Shakespeare in Love.
  • Pain is universal. We all experience pain, loss, and death the same way.
  • The death of a child is the oldest sorrow of women. Mothers have lost children for millennia. It is only a privileged few who can expect all of their children to live.
  • I work with emotions; language is the tool, the instrument.
  • This sounds very corny but my life has been determined by two things that have been extremely important: love and violence. There is sorrow, pain, and death, but there’s another parallel dimension, and that is love. There are many forms of love, but the kind I am talking about is unconditional. For instance, the way we love a tree. We don't expect the tree to move or to do anything or to be beautiful. The tree is just a tree, and we love the tree because it’s a tree. You love an animal that way. We love children that way.
  • The soul has no age.
  • It’s strange that my work has been classified as magic realism because I see my novels as just being realistic literature. They say that if Kafka had been born in Mexico he would have been a realistic writer. So much depends on where you were born.
  • the awareness of how powerful the written word can be: how you can tap into that world that we are talking about and discover things that would have been impossible to know if you didn't have that connection to a collective knowledge that comes through the writing.
  • Short stories come to you whole. A novel is work—work, work, work—and then one day it’s over; it’s finished. But a short story is something that happens to you—it’s like catching the flu.
  • Who wants to be in the mainstream?...Being marginal is like being a new immigrant. If you can transform marginality into something positive, instead of dwelling on it as something negative, it’s a wonderful source of strength.
  • there are more similarities than differences when it comes to gender. Essentially, human beings are very similar, but we are stuck in the differences instead of highlighting the similarities.
  • I have been a feminist all my life, fighting for feminist issues. When I was young, I fought aggressively. I was a warrior then. And now I am becoming more aware of those essential things we men and women have to explore and that could really bring us together. But don't get me wrong: I am a feminist and a very proud one!
  • you will find elements of magic realism in literature from all over the world—not just in Latin America. You will find it in Scandinavian sagas, in African poetry, in Indian literature written in English, in American literature written by ethnic minorities. Writers like Salman Rushdie, Toni Morrison, Barbara Kingsolver, and Alice Hoffman all use this style.
  • For a while, in the U.S. and Europe, a logical and practical approach to literature prevailed, but it didn't last very long. That’s because life is full of mystery. And the goal of literature is to explore those mysteries. It actually enlarges your horizons. When you allow dreams, visions, and premonitions to enter into your everyday life and your work as a writer, reality seems to expand.
  • I do believe in destiny. I believe that we are dealt a hand of cards and we have to play the game of life as best we can. And often the cards are marked.
  • I try to write the first sentence in a state of trance, as if somebody else was writing it through me. That first sentence usually determines the whole book. It’s a door that opens to an unknown territory that I have to explore with my characters. And slowly, as I write, the story seems to unfold itself, in spite of me. It just happens.
  • Writing is like training to be an athlete. There is a lot of training and work that nobody sees in order to compete. The writer needs to write every day, just as the athlete needs to train. Much of the writing will never be used, but it is essential to do it. I always tell my young students to write at least one good page a day. At the end of the year they will have at least 360 good pages. That is a book.

Interview (1989)Edit

In Interviews with Latin American Writers by Marie Lise Gazarian Gautier (1989)

  • I acknowledge that One Hundred Years, like the works of Borges, Cortázar, Donoso, Neruda, Amado, among others, opened the road for me.
  • The written word is an act of human solidarity. I write so that people will love each other more.
  • The political future of Chile is a democracy, without a doubt.
  • For me, feminism is a fight that men and women must wage for a more educated world, one in which the basic inequality between the sexes will be eliminated. We have to change the patriarchal, hierarchical, authoritarian, repressive societies that have been marked by the religions and the laws that we have had to live with for thousands of years. This goes a lot deeper than not wearing a bra, or the sexual and cultural revolutions. It is a revolution that must go to the heart of the world, and that all of us must fight, women and men alike. Both sexes are on a ship without a course, and we must give it a new direction.
  • I don't pretend to be anyone's voice. I have been very lucky to be published in Europe, and I say lucky because there are women who have been writing in Latin America since the seventeenth century, like Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. The problem is that few people ever talk about them. Their work is rarely taught at the universities, there is no literary criticism on them, and they are not published, translated or distributed.
  • When I write, I fly to another dimension. Like Eva Luna, I try to live life as I would like it to be, as in a novel. I am always half flying, like Marc Chagall's violinists.

Quotes about Isabel AllendeEdit

  • The New York Times Book Review said of Isabel Allende that she is "the first woman to join what has heretofore been an exclusive male club of Latin American novelists." Her voice stands out as a spectacular outcry of the "magically real." Like the Argentine novelist Luisa Valenzuela, she has inherited the spellbound qualities of the "Boom," the literary explosion of the 1960s, when a group of young Latin American writers brought new dimensions and vitality to the Spanish language. Her characters, mostly women, move between the supernatural and the everyday life with extraordinary ease…Meeting Isabel Allende and listening to her is a rewarding experience. She tells her story in an unpretentious way, insisting on the fact that she knows nothing about literature. We fall under her charm and we can see why her characters talk the way they do: with persuasion and magic, and in a natural and straightforward manner.
    • Marie Lise Gazarian Gautier, Interviews with Latin American writers (1989)

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