Saturday, December 02, 2006

Interview with Isabel Allende

The welcome that Isabel Allende extends at her Mediterranean-style villa in the hills overlooking San Pablo Bay is as radiant and warm as the California sun.

At 63, she is petite and beautiful. She holds out both hands in greeting, her smile wide, her dark eyes kind, drawing in strangers as if they were her neighbors or grandchildren.

The warmth and light that infuse Allende’s aspect and home stand in dramatic contrast to the dark and bloody world of “Ines of My Soul,” a work of historical fiction set in Spain and Chile. Its heroine, Ines Suarez, was a real-life Spanish conquistadora who endured crushing hardships in helping her lover, Pedro de Valdivia, to conquer the indigenous Inca and Mapuche and to found the city of Santiago, Chile.

Their love story is set in an era defined by horrific warfare, murder and torture. The 1500s, in both Europe and the New World, were absolutely brutal, Allende said. This was the time of the Spanish Inquisition, when it was assumed that the only valid confession was one extracted through torture.

Ines is wholly a woman of her day, and Allende does not turn away from the historical record, which has her decapitating indigenous prisoners and hurling their heads over a fortress wall to terrorize their peers as well as saving lives as a gentle-handed healer.

Why this woman, this place, this time?

“A lot is known about this era, although less is known about Ines,” Allende said. “But you know she was an extraordinary woman—look at all she accomplished! She crossed the ocean, then the Chilean desert on foot; she helped found and save the city of Santiago. In a time when women rarely left home, what she did was like going to the moon.”
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