Isabel Angélica Allende Llona (born 2 August 1942 in Lima) is a Chilean writer. Allende, whose works occasionally contain elements of the genre magical realism, is best known for commercially successful novels such as The House of the Spirits (La casa de los espritus, 1982) and City of the Beasts (La ciudad de las bestias, 2002). Allende has been dubbed “the world’s most widely read Spanish-language author.” She was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2004, and she received Chile’s National Literature Prize in 2010. President Barack Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014.
Allende’s novels are frequently based on her personal experience and historical events, and they pay homage to women’s lives while weaving elements of myth and realism together. She has lectured and toured many colleges in the United States to teach literature. Allende, who speaks English fluently, was granted US citizenship in 1993 after living in California since 1989, first with her American husband (from whom she is now divorced).
Allende was born in Lima, Peru, to Francisca Llona Barros (the daughter of Agustn Llona Cuevas and Isabel Barros Moreira, both of Portuguese descent) and Tomás Allende, a second secretary at the Chilean embassy at the time. Her father was a first cousin of Chilean President Salvador Allende, who served from 1970 to 1973.
Isabel’s mother moved to Santiago, Chile, with her three children in 1945, after Tomás had abandoned them. Allende’s mother married Ramón Huidobro in 1953, and the family moved frequently after that. Huidobro served as a diplomat in Bolivia and Beirut. Allende attended an American private school in Bolivia and an English private school in Beirut, Lebanon. In 1958, the family returned to Chile, where Allende was briefly home-schooled. She read a lot when she was younger, especially William Shakespeare.
Huidobro was appointed ambassador to Argentina by Salvador Allende in 1970.
Allende completed her secondary education in Chile and met engineering student Miguel Fras, whom she married in 1962. They were the parents of two children, a son and a daughter.
“Allende married young, into an Anglophile family and a kind of double life: at home, she was the obedient wife and mother of two; in public, she became, after a spell translating Barbara Cartland, a moderately well-known TV personality, a dramatist, and a journalist on a feminist magazine,” according to the article.
Allende worked for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Santiago, then in Brussels and elsewhere in Europe, from 1959 to 1965. She also worked as a romance novel translator from English to Spanish for a short time in Chile. She was fired, however, for making unauthorized changes to the heroines’ dialogue in order to make them sound more intelligent, as well as changing the Cinderella ending in order to allow the heroines to find more independence and do good in the world.
Paula, Allende and Fras’s daughter, was born in 1963 and died in 1992. Allende returned to Chile in 1966, the year her son Nicolás was born.
Salvador Allende was deposed in a coup led by General Augusto Pinochet in 1973. Isabel found herself arranging safe passage for people on “wanted lists,” which she did until her mother and stepfather were assassinated. When she was added to the list and received death threats, she fled to Venezuela, where she remained for 13 years. During this time, Allende wrote her first novel, The House of the Spirits (1982). “I don’t think I would have been a writer if I had stayed in Chile,” Allende said, “because I would have been trapped in the chores, in the family, in the person that people expected me to be.” Allende believed that because she was a woman in a patriarchal family, she was not expected to be “liberated.” Her history of oppression and liberation is a recurring theme in much of her fiction, in which women challenge patriarchal leaders’ ideals. She was a columnist for El Nacional, a major national newspaper in Venezuela. She began a temporary separation from Miguel Fras in 1978. She spent two months in Spain before returning to her marriage.
In 1987, she divorced her first husband, Miguel Fras. During a book tour in California in 1988, Allende met her second husband, California attorney and novelist William C. Allende. Gordon, “Willie.” In July 1988, they married. She was the first woman to be awarded the Gabriela Mistral Order of Merit in 1994. Allende is from San Rafael, California. Her son, his second wife, and her grandchildren live just down the hill in the house she and her second husband left behind. She divorced Gordon in April 2015.
She was one of eight flag bearers at the Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony in Turin, Italy, in 2006. At TED 2007, she gave the talk Tales of Passion. Allende received the honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters from San Francisco State University in 2008 for her “distinguished contributions as a literary artist and humanitarian,” and the honorary degree Doctor of Letters from Harvard University in 2014 for her literary contributions.
She married New York lawyer Roger Cukras in 2019.
Although she was not as openly political as some of her contemporaries, she expressed her disdain for Donald Trump and his policies after his election in 2016, and she later endorsed Democrat Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. She has also frequently defended her father’s cousin, Salvador Allende’s, record.
On December 9, 1996, Allende established the Isabel Allende Foundation in memory of her daughter, Paula Fras Allende, who was hospitalized due to complications from the disease porphyria. Paula died in 1992 when she was 29 years old. The foundation is “dedicated to supporting programs that promote and preserve women’s and children’s fundamental rights to be empowered and protected.”
Allende joined the editorial staff of Paula magazine in 1967 and the children’s magazine Mampato from 1969 to 1974, where she later became editor. She wrote two children’s stories, “La Abuela Panchita” and “Lauchas y Lauchones,” as well as an article collection, Civilice a Su Troglodita. From 1970 to 1974, she worked in Chilean television production for channels 7 and 13. She once sought an interview with poet Pablo Neruda as a journalist. Neruda agreed to the interview and told her that she had too much imagination to be a journalist and that she should instead be a novelist. He also suggested that she publish a book of her satirical columns. She followed through, and this became her first published book. El Embajador, Allende’s play, was performed in Santiago a few months before she was forced to flee the country due to the coup.
From 1976 to 1983, Allende worked as a freelance journalist for El Nacional in Caracas, and from 1979 to 1983, she was the administrator of the Marrocco School in Caracas.
In 1981, while in Caracas, Allende received a phone call informing her that her 99-year-old grandfather was on the verge of death, and she sat down to write him a letter in the hopes of “keeping him alive, at least in spirit,” and the letter evolved into a book, The House of the Spirits (1982), which sought to exorcise the ghosts of the Pinochet dictatorship. Numerous Latin American publishers rejected the book, but it was eventually published in Buenos Aires. The book quickly went through more than a dozen editions in Spanish and was translated into a number of languages. As a writer in the magical realism style, Allende has been compared to Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Although Allende is frequently referred to as a practitioner of magical realism, her works also contain elements of post-Boom literature. Allende also follows a strict writing schedule. “I always start on 8 January,” Allende stated, “a tradition she began in 1981 with the letter she wrote to her dying grandfather that would become The House of the Spirits.” She writes on a computer, working Monday through Saturday, 09:00 to 19:00.
Paula (1995) by Isabel Allende is a memoir of her childhood in Santiago and the years she spent in exile. It is written in the form of an anguished letter to her daughter. In 1991, a medication error caused severe brain damage, leaving Paula in a persistent vegetative state. Allende sat by Paula’s bedside for months before learning that the brain damage was caused by a hospital mishap. Paula was transferred to a hospital in California by Allende, where she died on December 6, 1992.
Allende’s novels have been translated into over 40 languages and have sold approximately 74 million copies. Her memoir, The Sum of Our Days, was published in 2008. It focuses on her family life, which includes her grown son, Nicolás, her second husband, William Gordon, and several grandchildren. Island Beneath the Sea, a novel set in New Orleans, was published in 2010. El cuaderno de Maya (Maya’s Notebook) was released in 2011, with the setting alternating between Berkeley, California, Chiloé, Chile, and Las Vegas, Nevada.