CULTURE

Isabelle Allende’s dreams, passion for life fuel her pen

Isabelle Allende is the most affable diva of world literature. She is so direct and creates such an immediate sense of familiarity and trust that one wonders whether she has any flaws. The celebrated Chilean writer is a mixture of many different ingredients: a significant family heritage, political activism, roots in a country that is liked by the world and a home in California, where the citrus groves, she says, remind her of her homeland. She survived the death of her daughter, attracted the love and admiration of millions of readers around the globe and has been hailed as being a model wife and mother. She is the classic voice of Latin American literature. Her world is ruled by waves of nostalgia, fantasy, the awakening of female identity, eroticism, ecology and passion. Allende has written many successful novels, but «The House of the Spirits,» published in 1982 and later made into a film, consolidated magical realism and launched the writer on an international scale. Allende is currently in Greece, where she visited the book fair in Athens on Sunday, gave a lecture yesterday at the Athens Concert Hall and is scheduled for a book signing at the Papasotiriou bookshop (at 37 Panepistimiou Street) today at 8 p.m. Knowing that she has thousands of readers in Greece, she was happy to give an interview to Kathimerini. How different are you today from when you were when you wrote «The House of the Spirits»? I was 39 when I wrote «The House of the Spirits» and living in exile in Venezuela, struggling to raise my children, desperate and miserable. I wanted to go back home, to Chile. My marriage was in trouble. I felt my life was a failure. Now, 25 years later, my life is much different. I am married to a man I adore, and my son has grown up and can take care of himself and his own children. I don’t have as many worries. Nevertheless, I am still the same person: the quiet girl I was once was, the revolutionary young feminist, the exiled woman, the mother who lost her daughter, the older witch I am today, they are all still in me. I still like stories, I demand justice and I can fall madly in love. You have said that you begin a new novel every January 8. Are you always so disciplined? Yes, unfortunately, I am always very consistent. I like my days to be productive. I am disciplined in my work and I loathe having to wait because of someone else. I am impatient. I know I have to change, but I can’t see why I should burden myself over matters of timing. Journey of life How has time treated you? Time is time. Life is a journey and we go ahead with it until we reach death. That’s all. The way we use our time in life is usually subjective. Of course, there are circumstances that are beyond our control that affect our lives but, under normal circumstances, we can choose between having a positive or a negative attitude toward reality. How I spend my time has always been very good, full of events, fun, surprises. I have mustered all of my internal strength to meet the challenges of life and that pleases me. It gives me rich material for literature. Do you feel like you have reached that stage of maturity where you can start to slow down? I believe that I am a mature writer because I have 25 years of experience and have written 16 books. But I still don’t feel that I can stop. I like writing. I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t keep doing it. Do you like to surprise your readers? I don’t know what my readers or publishers expect from me. Each book grows in me gradually and suddenly there comes a moment when I just have to sit down and write. I don’t plan it, I haven’t planned my career. I just write about things that are important to me. Do you ever feel that other people’s expectations can be suffocating? I have learned to separate my time into two parts. The first is when I am closed up in my own world, writing and writing. I am isolated during this period, holed up in my study, writing. I see only my family and I won’t put up with any pressure from the outside world. The second part is extroverted. I travel and surround myself with people. Sometimes I feel shattered, but it is important to me to come into contact with my readers and to tour the world because otherwise I would be a hermit. As a Chilean, do you feel a familiarity with European culture? Chile has always looked to Europe. We still use the Napoleonic Code in the courts, and our language and culture is Latin. We feel the American influence strongly, but I think culturally we are much more European. Do you feel that your books are open to political interpretations? All my novels have a political angle. Politics has marked my life. I wouldn’t be a writer today if I had not been an exile after the military coup in Chile in 1973. I care about what is happening in the world. I worry. How could I ignore politics? I like to think my novels can be political too. What are you working on now? I am writing a memoir. My research is centered on the thousands of letters I have written to my mother over the past 30 years. My mother and I correspond on nearly a daily basis and we keep our letters. This is the first time I opened the bundle of those written in the last 12 years. I discovered that they held a treasure. I remember only the most important events in my life and I have forgotten the rest, but with these letters I see what happened on a day-to-day basis. Do you use your dreams in your work? I do write down my dreams. I relate them to my mother in our daily correspondence or, if they are recurring or the scenes are very intense, I write them down in a notebook. I use my dreams in my books and in my life. I have learned to interpret dreams. If I see a baby then it is the book I am working on. If I see a house, it is my family. Water symbolizes creativity and snakes, money.