The House of the Spirits (La Casa de los Espíritus) marked Isabel Allende's novelistic debut and the advent of her status as an internationally best-selling author. After spending many years as a journalist, television, and theater writer in Chile...
Isabel Allende was born in 1942 in Peru, although her ethnicity is Chilean. After her parents' divorce, Allende returned to Chile to complete her high school education. She married her first husband, Miguel Frias, in 1962 at the age of 20. Their daughter Paula was born a year later, during the time Allende spent in Europe working with the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization. Upon her return to Chile she began to establish herself as a journalist, writing for a women's magazine called Paula and a children's magazine called Mampato. During that time she also wrote for television shows and film documentaries. Allende gave birth to her son, Nicolas, in 1966. From 1971 to 1974 she expanded her writing resume to include the theater, publishing three plays in three years. At the same time Allende's writing career was gaining steam, her family life took an extreme turn. Allende's uncle, President Salvador Allende, committed suicide when his administration was overcome in a 1973 military coup. The author reluctantly fled to Caracas, Venezuela. As she recalled in one of her speeches: "I was the last one [of my family] to leave. I stayed until I couldn't stand it anymore." Although she never fell in love with the country, she became a long-time resident, writing for the newspaper El Nacional from 1975-1984. Despite the difficulties of being in exile, Allende credits her time in Venezuela with allowing her to stretch her wings as a fiction writer: "Without the military coup I would have remained in Chile, I would still be a journalist and probably a happy one. In exile literature gave me a voice, it rescued my memories from the curse of oblivion, it enabled me to create a universe of my own."
Allende's road to becoming a bestselling international author truly began when she learned that her 99-year-old grandfather, who had remained in Chile, was dying. Unable to return to his side in his last days, she began writing him a letter that became the manuscript for her 1982 novelistic debut, The House of the Spirits. The book was a wild success, eventually becoming a classic in countries from her native Chile to faraway Sweden. She went on to publish Of Love and Shadows and Eva Luna, also to critical acclaim. Despite Allende's literary successes while in Venezuela, her marriage deteriorated and eventually ended in divorce. In 1988, at the age of 45, she met her current husband, American lawyer William Gordon, in Northern California. Despite the happiness of a love-filled marriage, Allende again faced tragedy in 1992 when her daughter, Paula, died from complications from a rare genetic condition called porphyry. Her heartache inspired her to entwine her daughter's story with her own in a work of nonfiction, Paula, published in 1994. In 1996 she started the Isabel Allende Foundation in her daughter's memory, to encourage women's empowerment on a local and global scale.
Allende has gone on to publish a total of 15 books, including Daughter of Fortune, Portrait in Sepia, and her most recent, Zorro (2005). Her works have been translated into 27 languages and adapted into films, operas, and ballets. Allende has taught at the University of Virginia, Montclair College in New Jersey, and the University of Berkeley, California, and has lectured throughout America and Europe. She holds honorary degrees from several American universities, including honorary Doctorates from Columbia and New York University, and has won many awards, although she maintains that the most "significant awards...are the moving letters that [her] readers have sent [her]." Allende gained American citizenship in 2003 and now makes her home in California, where she continues to write and inspire her devoted readership.
On her website, interestingly enough, Allende expresses her unease about providing readers with an official biography: "It is very strange to write one's biography because it is just a list of dates, events, and achievements. In reality the most important things about one's life happen in the secret chambers of the heart and cannot be included in a list like this. I think that my most significant achievement is not my writing, but the love I share with my family. But in this web-site we need to have my bio: students and journalists request it often."