Biography of Isabel Allende, Chilean writer of great editorial success, member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and Chilean National Literature Prize.
Isabel Allende is a bestselling novelist. The total number of books sold exceeds 70 million copies.
Her novels have been translated into 42 languages and for now she is considered the world’s most widely read living writer of the Spanish language.
Isabel Allende’s family and studies
Isabel Allende was born on August 2, 1942, in Lima, Peru.
Her father, the Chilean diplomat Tomás Allende was the first cousin of Salvador Allende, who was President of Chile.
Her mother, Francisca Llona Barros, had her daughter Isabel in Lima, where she was accompanying her husband.
Doña Francisca passed away in September 2018, at the age of 98. She always had an intense epistolary relationship with her daughter Isabel.
In 1945, Francisca Llona broke her marriage to Tomás Allende and returned to Chile with her three young children. Isabel is the oldest of the three brothers. The other two are Juan and Francisco.
The family went to live in the house of Santiago Llona, Doña Francisca’s father. There, in Santiago de Chile, the children grew up under the care of their mother and grandfather Santiago, until 1953.
Doña Francisca married, in 1953, with Ramón Huidobro Domínguez, a career diplomat.
Ramón Huidobro was assigned to Bolivia in 1958. Isabel Allende was already 16 years old and, to continue her studies, she was enrolled in an American school in La Paz.
Soon after, the family had to move to Lebanon; Isabel Allende finished her studies at a private English school.
Isabel Allende from 1959 to 1973
When they returned to Chile in 1959, Isabel Allende met Miguel Frías, an engineering student, whom she married in 1962.
The following year, in 1963, her daughter Paula was born in Santiago de Chile.
Isabel Allende began working in the FAO office, “Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations“, in Santiago, Chile.
But, in 1964, the family moved to Brussels, Belgium. Almost immediately, in 1965, they moved to Switzerland.
Back in Chile, in 1966, her second son was born: Nicolás.
Starting in 1967, Isabel Allende took part in the writing of the magazine “Paula“, and published a large number of articles that had excellent acceptance by readers.
In addition to articles, she wrote a very funny satirical column called “Los impertinentes“.
As a journalist her activity in search of information was tireless. She did not dare to ring the bell of a house, go inside and ask questions. Nor did she hesitate to stop a stranger in the middle of the street and interrogate her.
The result of this information work and her agile and creative prose were articles of great interest.
Humor was always an integral part of her writings. Isabel Allende has the ability to gracefully show an alternative vision of almost everything she observes.
In these years of journalistic activity, Isabel Allende also worked on television; and collaborated in the children’s magazine, “Mampato“, in Santiago.
In the early 1970s she ventured into dramaturgy. Her play “The Ambassador” premiered in 1971.
The success achieved by the originality and grace of the arguments, helped her to release almost immediately: “The ballad of the medium hair“, “I am the Transit Soto” and “The seven mirrors“.
Isabel Allende’s life between 1973 and 1988
Between 1973 and 1974, Isabel Allende was deputy director of the magazine “Mampato“. She also published two children’s stories and a collection of fun and instructive articles titled “Civilize Your Caveman“.
In addition, she worked on two Chilean television channels.
After the military coup that, in September 1973, brought down the government of her uncle Salvador Allende, Isabel Allende’s life in Chile became complicated under the military dictatorship.
Finally, in 1975, Isabel Allende and her husband decided to seek a new life outside of Chile, and they went with their two children to Venezuela.
They remained in Venezuela for thirteen years, and there she worked as a journalist for the Caracas daily “El Nacional” and in a secondary school.
In 1982, Isabel Allende published the novel “The House of the Spirits“; And this completely changed her life, when she was 40 years old.
This first, and best-known, novel of her came from letters she had started writing to her grandfather in 1981, when she was 99 years old and knew she was about to die.
The success of “The House of the Spirits” was resounding. Isabel Allende’s fame spread to all countries, 51 million copies of the book were sold, and her novel has been translated into more than 27 languages.
Many scholars classify “The House of the Spirits” in the autobiographical genre. However, Isabel Allende has said that it is rather a collection of memories.
The novel is a fiction inspired by memories, both of herself and her grandfather and other family members.
The story that Isabel Allende tells in “The House of the Spirits” was taken to the cinema. On October 22, 1993 it premiered in Munich. It starred Jeremy Iron, Meryl Streep, Winona Ryder, Glenn Close and Antonio Banderas.
Two years after the publication of “The House of the Spirits” in 1984, Isabel Allende released her second novel. Entitled “De amor y de sombra“, it also became another great editorial success.
In 1987, after a time of separation from her husband Miguel Frías, during which time Isabel Allende was in Spain, both decided to divorce.
Isabel Allende’s life between 1988 and 2000
In early 1988, Isabel Allende traveled to Chile to participate in the plebiscite called by Augusto Pinochet.
In July of that year 1988, Isabel Allende married the lawyer William Gordon. The marriage was celebrated in the United States, in San Francisco, California.
Isabel Allende had met William Gordon in 1987, when she was on tour in the USA promoting her book “De amor y de sombra“.
William Gordon was an attorney defending Latino immigrants. Born in 1937, he had lived his childhood in a Mexican neighborhood in Los Angeles. He knew Spanish and had read Isabel Allende’s novel.
In 1990, Isabel Allende traveled to Chile to receive the “Gabriela Mistral award” from the hands of President Patricio Aylwin.
In 1991 Isabel Allende suffered a terrible blow when her daughter Paula Frías Allende entered a Madrid hospital, suffering from a crisis of seizures, delusions and vomiting.
After receiving the first medical care, the young Paula, 28, seemed to recover favorably. But then she fell into a deep coma, from which she never came out.
She lived prostrate in a vegetative state and Isabel Allende decided to take her to her home in California. There she died on December 6, 1992.
Isabel Allende captured the story of her helplessness and frustration in a novel she wrote as a tribute to her daughter: “Paula“.
In 1994, Isabel Allende created a Foundation, in memory of her daughter, who had worked as a volunteer educator and psychologist, in marginal communities, in Venezuela and Spain.
Isabel Allende in the 2000’s
Normally, Isabel Allende works at her home in Sausalito, where she has resided since 1988 and where she has written many of her novels.
After her many successes with memory novels, Isabel Allende decided to write books of historical fiction. These topics required a lot of research, but allowed her to capture her imagination more freely.
This is how historical novels emerged:
“Inés del alma mía” based on the life of Inés de Suárez, the first Spanish woman to arrive in Chile, in 1541, accompanying Pedro de Valdivia; and
“The island under the sea” that narrates the life of the slave Zarité in Haiti, at the end of the 18th century.
In 2012, she decided to venture into the field of the police crime novel that her husband, William Gordon, had cultivated since 2006.
Her first police genre play, aided by her husband in the plot structure, was “The Ripper Game“. Her agent, Carmen Balcells published it in early 2014.
In 2015, while at the Madrid Book Fair, Isabel Allende revealed that she had separated from her second husband, William Gordon, with whom she lived in San Rafael, California.
William Gordon, born in 1937, passed away on March 17, 2019, at age 82. Everyone who knew him remembers his frank gaze and unwavering good humor.
Isabel Allende’s third marriage
In June 2016, Isabel Allende met her current partner, attorney Roger Cukras, in New York.
Roger Cukras is a lawyer, partner in a prestigious New York law firm. He studied college at Temple University, Philadelphia, and majored in Tax Law.
Mr. Cukras is the same age as Isabel Allende, and was widowed in 2015.
The love story began a year ago, when Roger Cukras was driving to see his children in Boston. On local radio, he listened to an interview with Isabel Allende, from whom he had read several books since he discovered “The House of the Spirits“.
From that day on, he did not stop sending her “good morning” and “good night” messages for five months, until he managed to get the novelist to answer him, after having accompanied his last email with a bouquet of flowers.
Isabel Allende fell in love at 75, for the third time in her life. In July 2019, in an intimate ceremony, Isabel Allende and Roger Cukras married in Washington.
Awards and honors awarded to Isabel Allende
The main “prize” has been received by Isabel Allende with the international acceptance of her writings. The list of her books is long and testifies to the silent applause of the readers.
She has been distinguished in the “Academy of Arts and Letters of the United States“.
In May 2007, she was awarded a Doctor Honoris Causa by the University of Trento.
In September 2010, she was awarded the Chilean National Literature Prize.
Isabel Allende was the fourth woman to receive this award, preceded by Gabriela Mistral (in 1951), Marta Brunet (in 1961) and Marcela Paz (in 1982).
The following year, she received the Hans Christian Andersen Prize for Literature for her qualities as a magical storyteller and for her talent for “bewitching” the public. British writer Joanne Rowling had won the first edition of this award.
Interesting interview by Isabel Navarro with Isabel Allende