Isabel Allende has been one of my long-time favorite authors. I was initially swept away by her intriguing prose when my husband Jordan and I first moved to South America and I found myself wandering the streets of Santiago, Chile quite honestly feeling a bit overwhelmed by this new life I was embarking on. We had traveled to the end of the world to follow our dreams of exploring the country and then starting our own travel company, Knowmad Adventures. This all sounds exciting and wonderful, but our first month in Santiago was filled with what Chileans call trámite, or sticky red tape. We zigzagged the city trying to open a bank account, get plug adaptors, or even buy a phone card. Everything was unknown, everything foreign – the Chilean culture and customs completely enigmatic to me.
And then I found a tucked-away bookstore with My Invented Country amidst other books by Isabel Allende. It’s more or less a beautiful tumble of thoughts on paper describing her take on the narrow land of contrasts that is Chile. She explores the subjects of a strict hierarchal society and its machismo tendencies, racism and poetry, socialism and genocide, among others, all in a couple hundred pages that reads like an entrancing novel. Not only did I feel like I had gained a more secure understanding of this country I was to call home for the next year or so, but Isabel’s writing style left me feeling like I had just had a good, long conversation with a lost friend.
Since then I haven’t been able to put down the following good reads by her either:
- Inés of My Soul, a historical fiction account of the first Spanish settlers in Chile.
- Paula, a heart-wrenching memoir written while her daughter was dying.
- The House of Spirits, her first and possibly most famous book. It was later made into a movie with Meryl Streep, Jeremy Irons, Glenn Close, Antonio Banderas and Winona Ryder.
I intend to read all of her books (with only have 14 to go!). You can find the complete list of books by Isabel Allende on her website at isabelallende.com. If you asked me to pick a favorite so far, I don’t think I could do it. Although I did put down The House of Spirits over a month ago and still find the characters swarming in my head at night.
Allende creates the fictional and tumultuous history of the Trueba family in The House of Spirits. Esteban, the main protagonist, grows from a lovesick, poor young man to a hardened patron, to a surly, yet softened grandfather in the course of the novel. Clara, his wife, is possibly the most absorbing character. She lives in a world apart, conversing with spirits and described as “Clara, clearest, clairvoyant.” Esteban, Clara, their three children (and sometimes their lovers), a granddaughter named Alba, servants, spiritualists and birds all inhabit at one point or another the mansion on the corner in some great unnamed Latin American city. In the summers they’d take the train out to Trés Marias, the sprawling estancia invoking images of Chile’s southern Patagonia regions. This three-generational family saga filled with love, hatred, passion and violence is played out against this backdrop and in a country alive with revolution and change, not unlike Chile during its late colonial and socialist eras, and then later the during the dictatorship of Pinochet.
It is especially enchanting to read a novel by Allende while traveling through Chile. International flights first arrive in Santiago from the States and the novel Inés of My Soul tells the story of the founding of this capital city, tracing the route of conquistadors Pizzaro and Valdivia through the northern desert of Atacama, Chile.
Actually, most Chile vacations will take you through a stunning landscape described by Allende in one of her novels. For information on when to go to Chile or for more suggested travel books browse Knowmad Adventures’ extensive South America FAQs section of their site.
Un Beso, Tara
Image via Current Read.
Tara is the Co-Founder, Marketing and Operations Manager at Knowmad Adventures, a company dedicated to creating unique, private and custom trips in South America. She first traveled to South America in college and is endlessly inspired by the cultures, food, colors and idiosyncrasies she discovers there. Read Tara’s biography and more about the Knowmad team.