Isabel Allende: “I think that my most significant achievement is not my writing, but the love I share with my family.”
Isabel Allende was a thirty year old, successful journalist when her uncle, Salvador Allende, president of Chile, was overthrown and assassinated. Realizing the danger to her family—her last name put her on the coup’s “most wanted” list--Allende fled to Venezuela with her husband and children. Allende faced great difficulty finding work as a writer in her new country, so she turned her creative energies toward writing a novel, The House of the Spirits (1982) which became an international bestseller and major motion picture.
The book weaves together memories from Allende’s childhood in Peru where she was born, and Chile where she was raised by her mother and grandmother. It chronicles the ravages of a military coup and the enduring familial love that survives horrendous ordeals. Allende created a unique blend of mythic storytelling, magic realism and sumptuous, atmospheric details that won her innumerable awards and recognitions.
Allende went on to teach at universities in the United States, and she continued writing. To date, she has authored eighteen novels and many articles, essays and short stories. Her books have been translated into 30 languages and sold 56 million copies. In 2009, the Latin American herald Tribune described Allende as “the world’s most widely read Latin-American author.”
In 1996, Allende started a foundation dedicated to supporting programs that promote and preserve the fundamental rights of women and children to be empowered and protected. Her writings and charitable work pay homage to the women who raised her—their strength, their resilience and most of all, their spirit.
Isabel Allende celebrated the legacy and lore of her family in both literature and humanitarian efforts. Children today may lack the connections that previous generations felt with relatives both near and far. They can benefit from activities that raise their awareness and educate them about their ancestors, living family members and the folklore that weaves history into ritual and tradition.
Pick a holiday that celebrates family like Thanksgiving, Christmas or a birthday. Each year, encourage your children to interview a member of the family and record the experience in writing or other media. Share the event at the main meal and save it as part of a family history project.
You can guide younger children with basic biographical questions, but you may want to let older kids freestyle the project to see the directions their efforts take them. Relatives can be interviewed more than once and by different people, since the interviewer’s point of view influences the encounter, and the end results may be vastly different. Be courageous and get the activity going by doing the first one yourself!