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The House of the Spirits | Study Guide

Isabel Allende

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Isabel Allende | Biography



Isabel Allende was born in Lima, Peru, on August 2, 1942. Her parents were originally from Chile, but her father—a Chilean diplomat—was stationed in Peru at the time of Isabel's birth. Isabel did not remain in Peru for long, however. In 1945 her mother, known as Doña Francisca (Panchita) Liona Barros Allende, requested and received an annulment of her marriage to Tomás Allende and returned to Chile with her three young children. They lived with Isabel's grandparents; Isabel formed an especially tight bond with her grandfather.

From 1953 to 1958, following her mother's marriage to another diplomat, Ramón Huidobro, Isabel lived in Bolivia and then Lebanon. She attended private schools where English was the main language. Her early experiences as a global citizen would continue throughout her life.

Marriage and Early Career

Upon returning to Chile in 1958 to finish her secondary education, Allende met her husband-to-be, Miguel Frías. By the time they married in 1962 Isabel had been working for the United Nations in Santiago, Chile, for three years. Their daughter Paula was born the next year. The young family moved to Europe, where they lived before returning to Chile in 1966, the year in which son Nicólas was born.

From 1967 to 1974 Allende wrote for the women's magazine, Paula, which she co-founded in Chile. During those years she was also an editor for the children's magazine, Mampato, and expanded her journalism career to include television, working as a popular host for a Chilean channel.

Years in Exile

In 1973 General Augusto Pinochet led a military coup that brought down the Chilean Socialist reform government. One of the people killed in the coup was Allende's cousin, Salvador, who had been elected president in 1970. Sympathetic to those who suffered under the new Pinochet regime, Allende actively aided some of the victims. By 1975 she felt endangered in Chile and escaped with her family to Venezuela, where they lived for 12 years. Allende continued her journalism career, working as a columnist for the Venezuelan newspaper El Nacionale.

But it was the 1981 news of her beloved grandfather's impending death in Chile that changed Allende's life forever. She began writing him a letter filled with memories of her childhood in the family home. Her grandfather never got to read the letter, but it became the basis of Allende's first novel, The House of the Spirits. Allende has written more than 20 books since the incredible success of her first effort.

Focus on Human Rights

Allende has worked tirelessly for human rights for most of her life. A significant endeavor is the foundation she created several years after the death of her daughter, who succumbed in 1992 to a coma brought on by a disorder that may affect the nervous system, skin, and other organs called porphyria. Called the Isabel Allende Foundation, it is dedicated "to supporting programs that promote and preserve the fundamental rights of women and children to be empowered and protected."

Allende became a United States citizen in 2003 during her second marriage to American lawyer William Gordon. The next year she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. However, her ties to Chile remain deep, and she has said of herself that she lives "with one foot in California and the other in Chile." In 2010 Chile awarded her the National Prize for Literature. Her awards and honorary degrees are numerous and global in scope. Among the most impressive is the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded to her by President Barack Obama in 2014.

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