It wasn't until she had published her third book, Eva Luna (1989), that she left her day job at a school for the disabled, and, for good measure, her marriage. Allende has an unusual willingness to make her private life public. Her website contains a selection of personal photographs; she has written without reservation (though with self-mockery, too) of the way in which she met her second husband, "an Irish-looking North American lawyer with an aristocratic appearance and a silk tie who spoke Spanish like a Mexican bandido and had a tattoo on his left hand" at an event for Of Love and Shadows (1987). Within a couple of weeks she had mailed him a contract detailing her demands, and what she was prepared to offer in a relationship, even though she was "absolutely shocked by the way he lived - by how awful his family was. He had three biological children, all of them drug addicts. How can you have three children, all of them drug addicts? No sense of family, everybody disconnected." He soon found himself the subject of a novel, The Infinite Plan (1993); she found that his often invented Spanglish was creeping into her writing; these days she has her work trawled for linguistic and grammatical oddities.
"If I had to choose between a relative and a good story, I would take the story," she says of the outrage that The House of the Spirits provoked among her relatives in Chile. This tendency produced a 1995 memoir that has been called - with good reason - her masterpiece. It was written at her daughter Paula's bedside, after the 29-year-old had fallen into a year-long coma following complications due to porphyria. Intended at first as a way to fill in the gaps for her daughter when she woke, Paula is furious, grieving, recklessly honest; occasionally, when Allende begins to realise that her daughter will never return, is in fact dying, it is unbearably so. Her mother, who was her trusted editor, was horrified and wanted her to turn it into a novel. Allende tried; it felt wrong, a betrayal of Paula, and she refused.
A year later Gordon's daughter disappeared, presumed murdered. (The oldest child has been in and out of prison his whole life; the youngest, after eight years of heroin, is clean.) It was nearly the end of their marriage. "But every time I mentioned the word divorce, Willie would drag me to therapy. He was determined to keep this thing going. And he won. It was very funny, because I remember once we made a deal that for three weeks we would not mention the word divorce, no matter what. We could kill each other, but that word was not going to be mentioned. And it saved us, because we realised that if you put your energy into solving the problem instead of running away, everything shifts." It was five years before she could write again, and she tested the water with Aphrodite (1998), a book of recipes and aphrodisiacs. She had started Daughter of Fortune (1999), about Chileans in the California gold rush, before Paula fell ill, but didn't finish it for another seven years. It's a sweeping melodrama, full of flashing eyes and pirates and love at first sight.
Allende knows this sort of thing means she doesn't often get reviewed - especially in Chile, where she is nevertheless popular (Inés has been at the top of the bestseller lists since it was published there in August) - but she is defiant. "I think that any writer who is commercial, who sells a lot of books, has to face criticism. Because the more hermetic and the more difficult your book is, supposedly it's better. But as a journalist you learn that you have a readership, and you have to connect with that readership no matter what. If your readers do not pick up your book and read it, you've wasted your time. I want people to identify with the characters, to know that other people feel the same way. To know that what is happening to them at a particular point - a child dying or something - has happened before and will happen again." Read More
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