On “Why I Write”
“In every interview during the last few years I encountered
two questions that forced me to define myself as a writer and human
being: Why do I write? And who do I write for…?
“In 1981, in Caracas, I put a sheet of paper in my typewriter
and wrote the first sentence of The House of the Spirits….
At that moment I didn’t know for whom I was doing it, or from
whom. In fact, I assumed that no one would ever read in except my
mother, who reads everything I write. I was not even conscious that
I was writing a novel. I thought I was writing a letter –
a spiritual letter to my grandfather, a formidable old patriarch,
whom I loved dearly. He had reached almost one hundred years of
age and decided that he was too tired to go on living, so he sat
in his armchair… calling Death....
“I wanted to bid him farewell, but I couldn’t go back
to Chile, and I knew that calling… was useless, so I began
this letter. I wanted him to go in peace because all his memories
were with me. I had forgotten nothing.
“For a year I wrote every night with no hesitation or plan.
Words came out like a violent torrent. I had thousands of untold
words stuck in my chest, threatening to choke me. The long silence
of exile was turning me into stone; I needed to open a valve and
let the river of secret words find a way out. At the end of that
year there were five hundred pages on my table; it did not look
like a letter anymore....
“In the process of writing the anecdotes of the past, and
recalling emotions and pains of my fate, and telling part of the
history of my country, I found life became more comprehensible and
the world more tolerable. I felt that my roots had been recovered
and that during that patient exercise of daily writing I had also
recovered my own soul....
“…Maybe the most important reason for writing is to
prevent the erosion of time, so that memories will not be blown
away by the wind. Write to register history, and name each thing.
Write what should not be forgotten.”
From: Zinsser, William, editor. Paths of Resistance the Art
and Craft of the Political Novel. Boston: Houghton Mifflin,
1989. Pp 41-45.
On The Rituals of Writing,
and on January the 8th
You start writing all your books on January 8. Why?
On January 8, 1981, I was living in Venezuela and I received a phone
call that my beloved grandfather was dying. I began a letter for
him that later became my first novel, The House of The Spirits.
It was such a lucky book from the very beginning, that I kept that
lucky date to start.
Can you speak about your ceremonies to write?
That day, January 8th, which is a sacred day for me, I come to
my office very early in the morning, alone. I light some candles
for the spirits and the muses. I meditate for a while. I always
have fresh flowers and incense. And I open myself completely to
this experience that begins in that moment. I never know exactly
what I'm going to write. I may have finished a book months before
and may have been planning something, but it has happened already
twice that when I sit down at the computer and turn it on, another
thing comes out. It is as if I was pregnant with something, an elephant's
pregnancy, something that has been there for a very long time, growing,
and then when I am able to relax completely and open myself to the
writing, then the real book comes out. 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 into 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.
I'm not the kind of writer who can have an outline, talk about
the writing to anybody, or read parts of my writing in process.
Until the first draft is ready - and that first draft can take months,
and it's usually, very long - I don't know what the book is about.
I just sit down everyday and pour out the story. When I think it's
finished, I print it, and I read it for the first time. At that
point I know what the story is about, and I start eliminating everything
that has nothing to do with it.
On One Hundred Years
of Solitude and García Marquez
What relationship is there between your work and García
Marquez’s narratives, especially Cien años de soledad
[One Hundred Years of Solitude]? It’s been frequently
pointed out that La Casa de los espíritus is strongly
resonant of Cien años.
If you are talking about the family saga, I really wasn’t
thinking of Garcia Marquez when I wrote La Casa de los espíritus.
Or when I turned that letter into a novel. García Marquez
is very important to Latin American Literature, and I think he’s
a very powerful influence on me. Nevertheless, I wasn’t thinking
about him, but rather of Henry Troyant, the French writer who left
Russia after the Revolution and wrote the story of the many Russian
families who lived that exile in Europe, especially in France. I
was thinking of Stendhal. I was thinking of our very own Latin American
families. I live in a continent where the family is very important,
so it seemed natural to tell the story of a country and continent
through the eyes of a family. My theory is that in my continent
the state is generally my enemy It’s every single citizen’s
enemy. You can’t hope for anything from the state….
Where is your protection, your security? In your family, and to
that extent that you have your tribe around you, you are safe. That’s
why the family is so important, and that’s why it’s
constantly present in Latin American literature, not only in Cien
años de soledad.
From: García Pinto, Magdalena. Women Writers of Latin
America: Intimate Stories (translated from the Spanish by
Trudy Balch and Magdalena Garcia Pinto). Austin: University of
Texas Press, 1991, pp. 35-36.
Some have called your writing “imitation
of García Marquez.”
Look, if you’re trying to be a dancer, and someone says it’s
bad because you dance like Nureyev, wouldn’t you feel wonderful?
That’s the way I feel when people say I write like García
Marquez. I think he is the great writer of the century, so it’s
wonderful if I’m compared to him –although I doubt he
would like that.
From: Foster, Douglas. “Isabel Allende Unveiled.”
IN Rodden, John. Conversations with Isabel Allende: Revised
Edition. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004, pp.81-82
...How much of García Marquez’s
influence on your writing, do you believe, has to do with the fact
that your were both journalists before you were writers?
I think that it has much more to do with the fact that we were
both raised by our grandparents. He tells the stories that his grandmother
told him, and I do the same. Also, remember that most Latin American
writers have been journalists, so for many of us, the past with
journalism has determined the way in which we write, and the way
in which we see things.
From: Invernizzi, Virginia. “I remember Emotions, I remember
Moments.” IN Rodden, John. Conversations with Isabel
Allende: Revised Edition. Austin: University of Texas Press,
2004, p. 255.
Critics have drawn comparisons between
your works and other Latin American writers. They readily compare
Gabriel García Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude
with your novel The House of the Spirits. Some feel that
it is a remake of Marquez’s novel replacing patriarchal authority
with emphasis on matrilineal strength. How do you respond to that?
I belong to the first generation of writers in my continent who
have been brought reading other writers of Latin America. They previous
generation, which we have called the Boom generation, included such
writers as García Marquez, Jose Donoso, and Carlos Fuentes.
The phenomenon of the Boom started in Barcelona. I was very privileged
to be part of the readers of that time. I grew up reading them,
and when I started writing, I think that all those wonderful words,
those images, that tone to narrate our continent was so deeply rooted
in me that it just came right out in a very natural way. It was
not my intention at all to create anything ironic about One
Hundred Years of Solitude because I really admire that novel
very much. I have read it a long time ago, and I don’t remember
it very well. But comparing One Hundred Years of Solitude
in the way that it is compared is totally unfair.
From: Iftekharuddin, Farhat (ed). Speaking of the Short Story:
Interviews With Contemporary Writers. Jackson: University
of Mississippi Press, 1997, p. 1.
In Paula, I find your honesty incredible….
Most people couldn't write about things like that. Was that hard
for you? Did it take courage?
When I started writing that book, it was supposed to be a letter
for my daughter, Paula, and I didn't find it difficult to write
for her. Then six months later, I realized that she was never going
to wake up. But I went on writing because I couldn't stop, although
I wasn't writing for her so much anymore. I began writing letters
to my mother.
After Paula died, and my mother came to the funeral, she brought
all the letters I had written to her that year — 190 letters
in all. I had been writing practically every day. She asked me to
read them in chronological order so that I could realize that the
best thing that could happen for Paula was to die. She was in limbo
between life and death, between heaven and earth.
When I read my mother's letters and the letter I had written to
Paula, I realized that only thing I could do was to make it into
a book. That would be my way of mourning her. But I didn't have
the intention of publishing it; I thought it would just stay in
the family, because I hadn't changed any names or events. But when
the book was finished, my relatives read it - like my son and Paula's
husband - and it became a family decision to publish it. At first,
I was going to eliminate some parts and change some names before
it was published, but I found I couldn't do it. It would mean betraying
the very essence of the book. Then I sent the manuscript to all
the people who were involved in the book, to see if they had any
objections, and no one objected.
From: Lee, Virginia. “When Magic Met Reality: An Interview
With Isabel Allende.” Common Ground On Line, viewed
March 5, 2004, at http://www.commongroundmag.com/allende.html.
On the Overthrow of
Salvador Allende’s Government, and Isabel Allende's Years
©Alejandro Stuart. Used
with permission of the photographer.
|In her 2003 book My
Invented Country, Allende comments on the overthrow of
democratically elected government of her uncle Salvador Allende
11, 1973 and its impact on her life. All that “absolute
liberty” she had had as a journalist to ask questions
“ended abruptly with the military coup of 1973, which
unleashed uncontrolled forces. Overnight I became a foreigner
in my own land, until finally I had to live because I couldn’t
live and bring up my children in a country where terror reigned
and where there was no place for dissidents like myself. During
that period curiosity and boldness were outlawed by decree.
Outside Chile, Chile I waited for years to return once democracy
was restored…. ”
From: My Invented Country: A Nostalgic Journey Through Chile,
©Alejandro Stuart. Used with permission of the
Even if exile, as an unfortunate reality throughout
Latin American history, forced her to uproot her life and that of
her children, she has often spoken positively about the years living
away from her native country: “…we’ve been very
lucky in Venezuela, much luckier than other exiles in other parts
of the world. We were welcomed with generosity and hospitality in
that warm green country, where you can put down roots and make another
home…. We live in a democracy, in a warm green land, where
we feel free, where we belong, which we love like a homeland.”
From: Women Writers of Latin America: Intimate Interviews,
Links to Other Interviews
(limited to online interviews).
John Rodden’s book, listed in the bibliography,
provides more extensive texts compiled from various sources, in
some cases appearing in English for the first time.
Baldock, Bob and Dennis Bernstein. “Interview
with Isabel Allende.” Mother Jones, September-October
Flanders Laura. “Interview
With Isabel Allende.” Working for Change: Working Assets
Hendry, Kim. “Of
Exiles and Healers.” The Guardian. April 15,
Holt, Pat. “On
Stage With Isabel Allende. Part I.” Holt Uncensored.
December 18, 2001.
Holt, Pat. “On
Stage With Isabel Allende. Part II.” Holt Uncensored.
December 21, 2001.
Lee, Virginia. “When
Magic Met Reality.” Common Ground Online.
Moore, Steve. “A
Conversation With Isabel Allende.”
Richards, Linda. “Interview
With Isabel Allende.” January Magazine. November,
Zapata Whelan, Carol. “The
Difference Between Fantasy and Imagination: A Conversation with
Isabel Allende.” Margin: Exploring Magical Realism.
©2004, Stanford University Libraries