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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Q&A with Isabel Allende

What are things that you learned growing up in Chile that have stayed with you?
At first I learned that being a woman was much harder than being a man and all my life has been a struggle for equality and freedom. I learned that the world is a very mysterious place-anything can happen. So there is space in my life and in my writing for magic, for spiritual matter, for the unknown.How did you become a writer and what role did education play in that process?

I was born to a generation of women in Chile in the early 40’s, at a time when education for women was not important and in my family everyone wanted my brothers to have higher education because they felt that I was going to get married and become somebody’s wife and somebody’s mother. I became a journalist at a time when you didn’t have to go school to do that. I worked as a journalist because I loved it, especially in women’s magazines and women’s TV programs. I was a feminist and I worked for a feminine and feminist cause.

In “Mi País Inventado,” your grandfather, abuelo Augustín is the ultimate patriarchal figure. How did this relationship influence you?

I totally adored my grandfather, but we didn’t agree on anything, so it was all about fighting, and by opposing him I became clear about what I wanted in life. I wanted exactly the opposite of what he wanted for me. He wanted me to be safe, respected, not to be obnoxious, not to be a feminist. I was exactly what he didn’t want me to be. But he eventually learned to accept what I wanted.

Political struggles play dominant roles in many of your books. How has your personal experience with politics influenced your writings?

I write about what I know and what I have seen. I write fiction so my books apparently are not me, they are other stories. Yet, why I chose to write about those particular characters or those particular stories is because they come out of something that is important to me, something that has defined me. In all my books, the things that have been important to me appear in between the lines. (There are) always strong women, absent fathers, death, violence, love, loyalty, and political and social issues, because those are the things that have determined my life.

From your experience, what is the difference between being an exile and being an immigrant?
When I first left Chile, I was exiled to Venezuela where I lived for 13 years and then I moved to the United States 20 years ago. An exile or refugee is someone that is expelled form his or her country or has to run away and so you have no choice where you go, and you always look back, because you have been cut away from everything that is dear and familiar to you. An exile never quite unpacks. In Venezuela I never adapted, and I didn’t even try.

When I moved to the United States because I fell in love with an American, I realized that this is immigration. I was coming to this country to stay, so I never looked back. I established myself here, learned the language, the rules and codes of the society. I know that I will always be a foreigner but I am an integrated foreigner. As an exile, you are always an outsider.

Who are the people that keep you grounded and why?
My children keep me grounded. I had them when I was very young and everything changed form that moment on. I have always been a rebel and a hippie, bohemian, weird, strange and rebellious and a bitch, but the kids keep me grounded. I know that no matter what, I have to feed them, protect them, and I have to make life easier for them. I want them to do better than I did and to know more than I know. Now, it’s not only my kids, but also my grandkids. I think that all women are hooked and profoundly rooted to motherhood.

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