These 5 Books Have Shaped Isabel Allende’s Life

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In 1981, Isabel Allende started writing The House of the Spirits, but a decade before that, the author worked as a feminist journalist. She wrote humorous articles for a magazine named Paula, and one day Pablo Neruda called up the publication and asked for a meeting with Allende. As a journalist, Allende naturally assumed she’d interview the famed Chilean poet, so she even went out to buy a new tape recorder.

When she arrived to his Isla Negra home, Neruda showed off his collection of bottles, paintings, and books. The two ate lunch and drank white white. “And then I said, ‘OK, Don Pablo, I’m ready for the interview because I have to go back and it’s raining, and it’s getting to be very dark,'” Allende told Latino USA. “And he said, ‘Oh no, my child. I would never be interviewed by you. You are the worst journalist in this country. You are always putting yourself in the middle of every story. You lie all the time. And I’m sure if you don’t have a story, you make it up. Why don’t you switch to literature where all these defects are virtues.'” At the time, Neruda’s words stung, and she tried to ignore what he said.

But as the military coup in Chile changed the journalism industry, Allende resorted to doing odd jobs – until she eventually found herself writing. Neruda is not the only author who has had an impact in her life. Here are five important books in Allende’s life:



A book that reminded her of her grandmother:

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

“The most important Latin American novel of the 20th century,” she said, according to The WeekMárquez’s characters seemed very familiar, and his voice sounded like my grandfather’s. I realized that with a family like mine, I didn’t have to invent anything to write fiction.”


The book that inspired her to become a feminist journalist:

The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer

“As a young woman, I was desperately angry with machismo until I read this 1970 book — revolutionary at the time — and discovered that there was an articulate, smart, and humorous way to tackle the patriarchy. I channeled my fury into action and became a feminist journalist.”


The book that is always on her night table:

Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser

“I have searched for spirituality in different venues for half a century,” she told The Daily Beast. “I have read many books on this subject but this is the only one that I keep on my night table. It is about wisdom, compassion, love, and spiritual practice in the real world.”


A novel she continue to revisit:

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

“Among the thousands of apocalyptic futuristic novels in existence, this one stands out as the most depressing,” she said. “Yet it is so beautifully crafted that I have read it three times. In McCarthy’s tale, the love of a father for his son sheds the only light in the midst of supreme horror and darkness. What a writer!”


A book that's always in her life:

La Lumière des Justes by Henri Troyat

“These four books and many others by this prolific writer, which I read in French as a teenager, gave me a taste for historical novels, family sagas, tragedy, melodrama, unforgettable characters, political, and social conflict, etc. When I write I can smell Troyat’s ghost watching over my shoulder!”