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The saga continues until the Miami Book Fair International (MBFI) ends with a BANG! of over 300 authors doing readings, participating in panel discussions, meeting with their fans, and signing books this weekend.  This is the fifth issue in my on-going series of diaries covering those events.  You can read Installments I An Evening with Frank McCourt, II An Evening with Thomas Cahill, III An Evening with Edward P. Jones, and IV An Evening with Arianna Huffington before continuing here, if chronological order is important to you.

Hailed world-wide as the "Lady of Letters," Isabel Allende may be diminutive in size but she is a giant in literary stature.  The honorific is a pun.  Not only is she among the foremost writers of our age but her novels take epistolary form, including her latest work of historical fiction, Ines of My Soul, which was the jumping-off point of tonight's presentation.

Allende has for the past 40 years written a daily letter to her mother, who has faithfully kept them and returned them to her daughter at the end of each year.  It is these aides de memoirs that Allende culls for her autobiographical works, including ( listen to a discussion ) on My Invented Country and Paula, the recollection of her daughter's life and death.

From the beginning of the interview (an interlocutor "prompted" Allende very much in the style of Dick Cavette), Isabel Allende's sense of humor is evident.  "For women, the best aphrodisiacs are words," she said.  She's also famous for this bon mot, "Erotica is using a feather.  Pornography is using the whole chicken."  About her talent, she is wryly modest, "As a child I wanted to be a chorus girl when I grew up, but my legs weren't long enough."

She is and always has been an ardent feminist, enhancing female nobility and increasing her readers' appreciation of women in the often magically realistic novels she writes.  Her imagination is prolific and graceful, as well as all-pervasive in her life.  "Even as a kid, I was a liar.  Now I tell lies to make a living.  In a larger sense, I don't know where `truth' lies because each witness to a factual event remembers it in her own way.  Time shatters recollection and distorts memory."

Her writing career began honestly enough. She became a journalist but, after the assassination of her uncle, Salvadore Allende, the family fled to Venezuela where she was unable to work in her chosen career for 13 years, and the pressure of pent up stories she had to tell built inside her until they came out many years into her exile in her first novel, The House of Spirits.

The newest novel is a melding of fact with fiction, truth with imagination as it weaves the story of Doña Ines Suárez, who came to Chile with the Conquistadores in 1540 and helped found the first Spanish settlement in Santiago.  Obviously the book combines all of Allende's recurrent themes of a powerful woman, exotic South American locales, fact blended with invention, and lust for life and love that her readers have come to expect.  Allende wrote the novel for reasons she explains, "In history books you can't find Doña Ines.  History is written by white males, by `winners.'  I imagine how she looks because there is no portrait of her; she was born 500 years ago, but I like to think she looked like Penelope Cruz in the best of times.  I make deductions - she was short, strong, healthy, tough.  Because I know that people were much smaller in those days from examining Spanish armor; she got around on foot or riding animals; she must have had most or all of her teeth because she lived to a ripe old age (over 70); and she crossed deserts and survived wars.  Look, this was a woman who followed a man across the world to found a nation and when she was 40 he traded her for two 20-year-olds.  In some ways she's a lot like me!"

When asked what would Doña Ines think of Chile today, Allende had this to say.  "She was a narrow-minded Catholic, and Chile is still like that.  She was not the wife but the mistress, and everybody has a mistress in Chile - even here!  But in Chile the tradition is one doesn't show off; if one is rich, don't make an exhibition of wealth.  Now there's a new class in Chile of nouveau riche who don't get it.

"I'm very happy for Chile now.  Chile has the first woman president of a country in this hemisphere.  The Minister of Defense is a woman.  Poverty, once stood at 40% and has been declining steadily in recent years.  The policy of paridad or parity for women in public life has led to newspapers' photographs of government officials to bear the tag, `count the women.'  It's always 50%.  There is now an equivalence of male and female energies in the management of the country that may even herald a change for the world.  By the way, in the president's budget 64% of funding is for social programs.  Imagine what America would be like if that were the case!"

This "Lady of Letters" literally has an entire closet filled with the daily correspondence conducted with her mother over a lifetime.  "Writing each day serves as a starter, often, to my other writing.  I write about everything - gossip, what happened in my neighborhood, what I hear about family, the recordings of my life.  I believe if there were days when I didn't write my mother they would be days that didn't happen."

As Allende says, her true country is neither Chile nor America, it is memory.  "I am like the former Pope.  When I go back to Chile, which I do frequently, I `kiss the ground' in my happiness to be back in the land that made me who I am.  But after a couple of weeks I want to leave again.  It feels too small; it is not the Chile of my childhood.  I experience the same kind of feelings about my husband.  I parted with him this morning - I came to Miami, he went to New York.  And I thought, as we said good-bye, `Damn, he's a tall handsome dude.'  And that's the memory I'm carrying with me right now.  But I know when I see him tomorrow, I'll be disappointed."  The audience erupted in laughter.

Allende had more charming insights about being a Latina married to a gringo.  "I have lived so long in English that I am totally bilingual, except for certain aspects of my life.  I write to my mother in Spanish, I count, I scold my grandchildren, and I think about money in that language.  My husband thinks he speaks Spanish, but quite often he just takes English words and pronounces them as if they were Spanish.  Very funny."

Allende spoke more seriously about being a writer.  "Everybody has a story.  Everybody can write a good first book because they have a story about their lives to tell.  The test of a true writer is the second book because it must come from the imagination.  It's not easy to find a story, but if you are a writer, it is an obsession.

"I hate being described as the best female Latin American writer of love sagas in literature.  When you add adjectives in front of the noun, it always diminishes its value.  You see that in phrases like `she is a writer of women's literature,' `children's literature,' `African-American literature.'  Only white males are allowed just plain `literature.'  I'm just a writer.

"I've been writing for twenty years.  When I sit down to write, I never think about where the story is going, if it will be published, how it will be received.  I just think, `God give me strength to finish.'  But I never finish.  That's why all my endings are ambiguous. I can't stop writing because there's always something that will happen next.  I just quit.  The secret is knowing when to quit."

Allende spoke on other topics, such as the difference between magical realism and fantasy, what it means to be a `crazy' writer, and answered questions from the audience about her literary influences and how she deals with her own `legend,' graciously entertaining her audience far past the allotted time.  But her last public statement at the end of the night was about a current political issue.  Regarding the Mexican-American border fence, Allende had this to say, "We all celebrated the downfall of the Berlin Wall and what it symbolized.  Now someone thinks we should build an even bigger wall along the Mexican border.  This country has long had a love-hate relationship with immigrants.  We love the idea of people coming to America to build a better life and fulfill their dreams through hard work, but we hate the foreign invader, even though our history shows they all assimilate, becoming what is the American salad bowl.  Globalization has made the flow of money around the world limitless, but the movement of labor is still limited."

[Nest Installment: An Evening with Richard Ford, author of Independence Day, the first novel ever to win both the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award.
NOTE: Because I will be at Ford's presentation tonight (Friday) and will be attending Book Fair events all day Saturday and Sunday, Ford's diary will appear Monday, Nov. 20th.  I'll follow with various diaries covering the weekend's events throughout next week.]

Originally posted to Limelite on Fri Nov 17, 2006 at 01:52 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  She's an interesting author (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Avila, Limelite, cfk

    I once read Daughter of Fortune... or some title like that.  I enjoyed her writing style and the narrative.

    •  And a Vibrant Personality (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      melvin

      All the time she talked, I kept imagining what it would be like to put her and Arainna Huffington on the same stage together.

      Think of it!

      They burn our children in their wars and grow rich beyond the dreams of avarice.

      by Limelite on Fri Nov 17, 2006 at 07:36:40 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I read the House of the Spirits. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Avila, cfk

    First time in high school, and I didn't appreciate it because it was summer reading and I have to stop to underline things and all.

    The second time was in college when it came alive for me, because the proffessor's opinion was read the book and don't take notes or stop to write.

    I love that book.  I've yet to pick up anything else she's written, but that book still sits on my shelf.

    "No government has the right to tell its citizens whom to love. The only queer people are those who don't love anybody." - Rita Mae Brown (-4.75, -7.13)

    by AUBoy2007 on Fri Nov 17, 2006 at 02:09:01 PM PST

  •  I read Casa de Los Espíritus (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Avila, bronte17, Limelite, cfk

    and it was great.

  •  C-SPAN's Book TV will cover the fair on Sunday (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Avila, bronte17, Limelite, cfk, Mary Mike

    Several panels will be broadcast live on Sunday afternoon.

    Link to the schedule: http://www.booktv.org/...

    "Not a single person voted for me. If you don't like what I do, it's kind of too bad."--Chief Justice John Roberts.

    by Dump Terry McAuliffe on Fri Nov 17, 2006 at 02:49:16 PM PST

    •  I Am Going To Try (0+ / 0-)

      to get a ticket for Obama.  Because I'm a "Friend of the Fair," I may have a better shot and a pretty good seat.  With membership comes privileges.  His venue is going to be a vast space, so don't know if it's worth being in the live audience or watching the C-Span broadcast later.

      They burn our children in their wars and grow rich beyond the dreams of avarice.

      by Limelite on Fri Nov 17, 2006 at 07:41:03 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I have almost all her books (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Avila, bronte17, Limelite, Mary Mike

    and I enjoyed them so much.  What a lady of spirit and true courage.  She is amazing!

    If you enjoyed one of her books, find some more. :)

    After House of Spirits which is my favorite, Of Love and Shadows is the next best, IMO.  It is a powerful and compelling read. Info here:

    http://search.barnesandnoble.com/...

    Thanks, once again, Limelite!!  You chose one of my favorite authors and have written of her so well. Have fun.  I will look forward to more diaries!!!

    "Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you. They are unique manifestations of the human spirit." Wade Davis

    by cfk on Fri Nov 17, 2006 at 03:56:13 PM PST

  •  and PS (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Avila, Limelite, Mary Mike

    I am amazed that she has written to her mom every day.  How neat and interesting that is and useful for her remembering.  Lucky mom!  I feel so bad about her daughter, too.

    "Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you. They are unique manifestations of the human spirit." Wade Davis

    by cfk on Fri Nov 17, 2006 at 03:58:33 PM PST

  •  I heard her this morning on (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    philinmaine, bronte17, Limelite

    Democracy Now with Amy Goodman, who is attending MBFI. She was glorious. I have such a high regard for her as a writer and as a political observer. She is very astute at both.

    Thanks for these great reports from the scene. You must take wonderful notes!

  •  Thanks for the diary, Allende (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Limelite

    isa great writer so if anyone happening to read this hasn't read her, do yourself a favor. I heard part of the interview with her and Alice Walker and was just hoping i wouldn't drive out of range (I would have stopped) I just wanted to hear her voice.

  •  Thanks so much...great diary! n/t (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Limelite

    "Control of the initiative is control of the battle. In the alley, at the poker table or in politics. One must raise." David Mamet

    by coral on Sat Nov 18, 2006 at 06:45:59 AM PST

  •  Chile's coup is coming to America, she says (0+ / 0-)

    You can find it here at this link.

    If that link doesn't work, go to http://www.kuow.org and enter "Isabel Allende" in the search box.  It's the interview with Nancy Skinner.

    Sorry U.S. dems.  You're headed for violent disappearance & torture & extermination.  Think that's an extreme assessment?  What do you think happened to South American liberals?  It's the same (Kissinger, Otto Reich, John Negroponte) fucking people.

    Besides, that's not just my opinion.  It's her warning.

    •  >What do you think happened to South Am. libs? (0+ / 0-)

      Er, they got elected in Venezuela and Bolivia? Or do you mean Chilean, El Salvadorian, Nicaraguan, etc libs? There still seem to be plenty of the latter, if not as many as there should be.

      The south certainly leans left
      http://news.bbc.co.uk/...

      I realize there's been and continues to be a lot of interference there and in the US, but I don't think it's helpful to over egg the pudding. Whilst there is a rise in authoritarianism in the US that needs to be carefully watched and acted against, I don't think the present situation in the US is similar to that in immediately pre-Pinochet Chile.

      •  Are you an idiot, or is this snark? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Limelite

        "Er, they got elected in Venezuela and Bolivia"?

        Hundreds of thousands of liberals were "disappeared," tortured & murdered from Chile to Argentina to Bolivia to Brazil to Ecuador to Paraguay -- and the disappearances & mass-graves continue to this day in Alvaro Uribe's Colombia.

        This fact is the reason why the masses refuse to "lean Right."

        Maybe you should listen to Isabel Allende when she warns about the direction the U.S. is headed.

        Maybe you should listen to Sandra Day O'Connor's warnings.

        Maybe you should ask yourself why the investigation of the Anthrax Attacks of post-September 11 went cold, after the trail led to Fort Detrick, Maryland.

        Maybe you should ask yourself why the South Americans are as mistrustful of the military as the U.S. is glorifying of it.

        Maybe you should ask yourself why Otto Reich and John Negroponte, who were directly involved in the creation of Operation Condor and Honduran Death Squads, are not only scot-free with impunity but actually function in key posts of the Bush Administration.

        Maybe you should ask yourself why Freepers not only defend but laud to this day Pinochet's "economic triumphs" as a pilot project of the University of Chicago's proto-Neocon fantasies.

        Maybe you should ask Jose Padilla whether the U.S. Constitution is hanging by a thread...

        ...and then maybe you should ask yourself whether Bush really did purge and stack the CIA and NSA with Far Right operatives who will feed false intelligence into any future non-Republican Administration.

        Certainly, your conflation of South America's current political tendency with an overall obscuring of its past isn't helpful.

        In fact, it's downright COINTELPRO.

        Maybe you aren't an idiot or a snarker after all.

        •  How rude. (0+ / 0-)

          Clearly you feel strongly about this. I think you're wrong, but I won't call you an idiot as  I don't know who you are.

          I'm aware of most of the stuff you mention. That's why I talked about US interference. I'm aware the Dems have not followed it much if any of it up. Do you understand why? (clue-- it's not because they belong to the skull and bones)

          Covert operations outside the US are different from those inside. Not morally, but practically. They are conducted differently. Again, why do you think that is?

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