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20 Questions for Isabel Allende

By Alan Abrams, La Prensa Senior Correspondent

Isabel Allende, one of the most important voices in contemporary Latin American literature, will be appearing at the Stranahan Theater in Toledo on April 16, 2009, as part of the Authors!Authors! series, sponsored by the Toledo Blade and the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library.

The program begins at 7:00 pm and tickets are $10. Copies of her books will be available for purchase at the event. For more information and to order tickets, phone 419.259.5266. This is the 15th year of the series, which has brought an array of outstanding authors to Toledo for informative Q&A sessions with their readers.

Isabel Allende

Ms. Allende agreed to be interviewed by La Prensa prior to her visit. It is her longstanding preference to conduct interviews via e-mail whenever possible. The replies she graciously consented to appear as she wrote them—with several clearly marked exceptions, where words have been added for additional clarity. Her replies have not otherwise been edited.

Her uncle, Salvador Allende, a democratically elected president of Chile, was assassinated on Sept. 11, 1973, in a CIA-funded and aided military coup, which ushered in the brutal and repressive regime of right-wing dictator Augusto Pinochet. Chileans are still coming to terms with the effects of having lived through and suffered at the hands of Pinochet’s military regime—this was Chile’s “9-11.”

Ms. Allende, who now lives in California, received widespread international acclaim for her first novel, The House of the Spirits, which was a critical success upon publication in 1982. She continues to be widely recognized as a unique talent and voice as a novelist and writer of short stories as well as plays and stories for children.

Here are her answers to La Prensa’s questions:

Q [La Prensa’s Alan Abrams]:  Will your appearance at the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library Authors! Authors! (words added) program be your first visit to Northwest Ohio?

A [Author Isabel Allende]: Yes, it will be my first visit.  I am looking forward to it.


Q:  Your new book will be available at the April 16 event. What is the title and can you please give our readers a short synopsis of the plot?


A: My book is called the Sum of Our Days and it is a memoir about me and my extended family.  With a crazy family like mine, I have enough material for several novels in the style of magic realism.  The story begins where my previous memoir, Paula, ends. It covers approximately from l993 to 2006.


Q: Is your new book a reflection of your life and of Chile’s 9-11 – the date of the assassination of your uncle, Salvador Allende?


A: No, this book is only recent story of my family.  In my other memoir, Paula, published in l994, I told about my life in Chile as a young woman.


Q: Have you been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature? I once did a column for another publication suggesting that such a nomination and your receipt of the award would be a logical continuation of the Nobel honors paid to other Latin American poets and writers. That is a view I still am honored to advocate.


A: Thank you so much!!  I am sure you are the only one who thinks so highly of my writing.  Certainly the Swedish academy does not.


Q: What do you think of Chile’s new president who is both a woman and a socialist?


A: Michelle Bachelet is an extraordinary person and she is doing a very good job.  Her life is novel.  Her father, who was a very respected general, was tortured and died in prison during the military coup of l973 because he did not join the subversive military men and remained loyal to the democratic constitution of the country.  His wife and his daughter Michelle, who (word added) was a teenager, were arrested and also tortured. Eventually they left Chile.  Michelle studied medicine in Germany and returned to Chile when Pinochet’s dictatorship ended in l989.  She was Secretary of Health and Secretary of Defense before winning the presidential election.  When asked about “reconciliation,” she says that it is a very personal decision that each victim makes privately.  She never shows any bitterness about her own past and prefers not to mention it, but she says that she can’t ask anybody to forgive or forget.  “We will never agree on the past, but we can agree on the future,” she says.


Q: Have you thought of returning to Chile in the wake of her election?


A: I go to Chile all the time but I am an American [U.S.] citizen; I can’t vote in Chile anymore.


Q: What do you think of President Barack Obama?


A: I supported him from the beginning.  Like almost everybody else in the world, I have placed my greatest hopes on his shoulders.  He is the leader of this century.


Q: What do you think of Hugo Chávez – especially as you and your family lived in exile in Venezuela?


A: He is a smart populist, a demagogue, and his government is a police state copied from the Cuban model.  If you don’t belong to his party, you have few chances in Venezuela. The opposition has been almost crushed. I would not like to live in that beautiful country now.


Q: What do you think of the movements in South America and Central America to elect leftist presidents such as in Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, and Nicaragua?


A: It is the natural response to an economic system based on inequality, exploitation of the poor – especially indigenous people - and accumulation of wealth in the hands of the privileged class.  The collapse of communism in the early nineties does not mean that capitalism is the answer, especially in Latin America, where the poor have endured too much misery for too long.   In the recent crisis we have seen what unbound capitalism can do to the world.  Now even the United States is rethinking its ideology.  Did you ever think that the government would nationalize banks or take over the automobile industry?

I don’t advocate authoritarian leftist regimes like the one of Chávez in Venezuela.  Please don’t think that all leftist governments are created equal.   In Chile, we have had leftist governments for 19 years and the country is a full democracy. 


Q: If you returned from exile to Chile and were urged to run for elected office, would you accept a nomination for president? Do you believe this could ever be a possibility? Has the subject ever been broached officially?


A: No, to all your questions.


Q: How do you feel about the film adaptation of your work?


A: I feel honored that my stories have used in movies, theater plays, musical, ballets, and even an opera.  Each adaptation is unique and really has nothing to do with me; my books are just a point of departure for other creators.


Q: Do you feel that justice has finally been meted out to the murderers of the Pinochet regime?


A: No, of course not, that is impossible.  But at least the truth is known.  Today, there is no one in Chile that can honestly deny the atrocities that were committed. 


Q: Did you have any qualms about living in the United States given the complicity of the CIA in the murder of your uncle?


A: Yes, I did at the beginning, but soon enough I found out that most Americans have no idea what kind of foreign police they finance with their taxes. When they are told about CIA intervention in other countries and its cost in lives and suffering, most [U.S.-]Americans are appalled.  Why would they support abroad tyrannies and corrupt governments that they would never tolerate in their own land?


Q: Were you and your family ever offered exile in Cuba? If so, why did you decline?


A: I had no contact with Cuba at that time and I was not offered asylum.

The very day of the military coup, September 11, l973, the Mexican government offered asylum to Salvador Allende’s family, close friends, and some members of his government.  They sent a plane to fetch them and they were given warm hospitality in Mexico.  Only one of his daughters went to Cuba because she was married to a Cuban diplomat.  I did not want to leave Chile because I was convinced that the dictatorship could not last, that the soldiers would go back to their barracks and very soon we would have elections and a democratic government, as we always had in the past.


Q:  Living in California, have you been actively involved in or following the plight of Latino immigrants, the so-called “illegal aliens” in that state? Have you written about their lives?

A: I have marched and protested the raids in 2007.  My Foundation does work with immigrants, so I know how difficult life is for them, even for those who have a legal status but are also discriminated.


Q: What long-term effect do you foresee as a result of the drug cartel violence that has spilled over from the Mexican border into the United States? Are you following that situation?


A: I have no idea what will happen in the future.  The war [on drugs] is definitely not working.  I have seen the effects of addiction very closely, my husband’s three biological children are addicts, one has spent half his life in prison, and his only daughter died of drug related causes. Addiction is bad enough but there is also crime, corruption, and extreme violence.  Maybe it’s time to legalize drugs as alcohol and tobacco are.  It would not diminish the number of addicts, but it might stop drug related crime and allow the authorities to have some control over this terrible epidemic of addiction.  The resources spent in fighting a lost war could be better spent in prevention and rehabilitation.


Ms. Allende attached the following note to her replies: “Thank you so much for your interest in interviewing me and for your challenging questions! Best regards from the house of the spirits in California—Isabel Allende.”


Editor’s Note: Costa-Gavras’s tense political drama entitled “Missing,” released in 1982 by Universal, documents the Chilean coup. The movie opens in an unspecified South American country (though clearly intended to be Chile) in the throes of a military coup (Chile’s Sept. 11, 1973). U.S.-American activist Charles Horman (actor John Shea), who has been a thorn in the side of the country’s military ever since his arrival, suddenly disappears. In trying to find out what has happened, his wife Beth (actress Sissy Spacek) is stonewalled, not only by the ruling junta but by the United States Embassy. His father, staunchly patriotic Ed Horman (actor Jack Lemmon), adds in the search. Highly dramatic.  Visit:  http://www.answers.com/topic/missing-film


On the Internet:

For a complete list our Isabel Allende’s books, go to her Web site at: http://www.isabelallende.com/books_frame.htm

For a description of her Foundation, visit: http://www.isabelallendefoundation.org/iaf.php

For a brief biography of Isabel Allende, visit: http://www.answers.com/topic/isabel-allende








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