Friday, April 13, 2007

Interview with Isabel Allende

Elaine Ayala interviews Isabel Allende.

From her Marin County home in San Rafael, Allende — who, as niece of former Chilean president Salvador Allende, lived for a while in exile, traveled the world as the stepdaughter of a diplomat, and was once fired from her job as a book translator for changing endings to better reflect women — spoke with flair and humor about her life and work.

Q. Your main figures are strong women. Are they ever weak in your world?

A. More than strong, they dare take a risk. They feel that they don't belong. They're poor and have no place in the establishment. Most of my strong heroines make terrible decisions. They're so stubborn. They have to have extraordinary lives. Weak people don't make good characters. They make good former spouses.

Q. What were your favorite books as a child and young adult?

A. I grew up in a house full of books and in an adult world. There was no censorship and no special books
Picasso and Brice Marden
for kids. So by age 9 or 10, I was reading adult books. The works of Shakespeare was the first book my stepfather gave me. The first time I read it, I couldn't keep track of the characters. So I drew them on pieces of cardboard, and I moved the characters around. Then I could understand the plot. I knew nothing of the language. The same thing happened a little later with Russian novels. Then (as a teen) I started reading a lot of science fiction. I read the Latin American writers later because they were not available until then.

Q. Why?

A. Many of the great writers were writing in their own countries and were being published by local publishers. The works stayed in the countries. In Spain, Franco censored all Spanish writers. So Barcelona publishers were looking for (Spanish-language) writers and found this well of incredible literature in Latin America. They exported books back to Latin America. Among them was Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jose Donoso, Octavio Paz. All the great writers of the boom. Twenty of them at least were published in Barcelona.

Q. Name some of your favorite contemporary books?

A. I read three or four books a week or more. The latest is by Khaled Hosseini who wrote "The Kite Runner," which has been on best-selling lists. He wrote another novel called "A Thousand Splendor Suns." This is what I have on my desk this very minute. Tomorrow I will have other favorites.
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