Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Isabel Allende: The Sum of Our Days

Michael Pye reviews Isabel Allende's The Sum of Our Days.
Isabel Allende minds neing short, and short women are like short men: they take over whole worlds to compensate. She has made wonderfully vital fiction out of the margin between the spirits and the facts of life, she channels the heart of an older generation of popular writers, the generous entertainers, and makes it new. She even reinvented the masked avenger Zorro.

This makes her infuriating to the more po-faced and correct among us because she's an improper Hispanic, maybe a bit too upper class, willing to use the exotic in her background because she knows it fascinates; because she doesn't genuflect before her own name, which she shares with the Marxist icon Salvador, the murdered president of Chile; because she uses so much of what we're meant to take seriously as magical realism just to give us a very good time, and she does it with obvious intelligence.

She also has a personality so strong it rushes off the page, a remarkable presence even in translation (which says a great deal for Margaret Sayers Peden, her regular translator from the Spanish). She's wonderfully self-aware, as when she confesses, assuming we'll think her plain: "Pretty women in my books die before page 60."
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