Isabel Allende was born in 1942, and is the niece of Salvador Allende, who went on to become famous as the elected President of Chile deposed in a CIA-backed coup. She worked as a journalist, playwright and children's writer in Chile until 1974 and then in Venezuela until 1984. Her first novel for adults, `The House of the Spirits', was published in Spanish in 1982, beginning life as a letter to her dying grandfather. It was an international sensation, and ever since all her books have been acclaimed and adored in numberless translations worldwide.
In December 1991, the 28-year-old daughter of noted novelist Allende fell desperately ill and then slid into a coma, struck down by the inherited disease porphyria. As she nursed Paula daily in a hospital in Madrid, Allende kept a journal in which she told her daughter her life story: "I have the whole future ahead of me. I want to give it to you, Paula, because you have lost yours." The result is a deeply affecting tale, written in the rich, luminous prose typical of Allende's novels, that investigates the sources of her writing as it paints a vivid portrait of Chile moving from postcolonial propriety to Socialist experiment to Pinochet's oppression. In Part 2, written after Paula was brought back to California, the tone changes as Allende realizes that her daughter will never revive. In the remainder of the book Allende speaks not to Paula but about Paula, relating the effort it took to let her die peacefully. Pointing out that until the 20th century‘and even now in all but the most industrially advanced countries‘losing a child was a common experience, she gives some insight into what it takes to bear that loss. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/95.]‘Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
Allende is a mesmerizing novelist (The House of the Spirits; The Stories of Eva Luna) who here takes on a double challenge. Writing nonfiction for the first time, she interweaves the story of her own life with the slow dying of her 28-year-old daughter, Paula. A magician with words, Allende makes this grim scenario into a wondrous encounter with the innermost sorrows and joys of another human being. In 1991, while living in Madrid with her husband, Paula was felled by porphyria, a rare blood disease, and, despite endless care by her mother and husband, lapsed into an irreversible coma. Her mother, as she watched by Paula's bedside, began to write this book, driven by a desperation to communicate with her unconscious daughter. She writes of her own Chilean childhood, the violent death of her uncle, Salvador Allende, and the family's flight to Venezuela from the oppressive Pinochet regime. Allende explores her relationship with her own mother, documented in the hundreds of letters they exchanged since she left home. Allende later married-and divorced-an undemanding and loyal man and became a fierce feminist, rebelling against the constraints of traditional Latin American society. Eventually, hope waning, Allende and her son-in-law take the comatose Paula to California, where the author lives with her second husband. The climactic scenes of Paula's death in the rambling old house by the Pacific Ocean seem to take place in another time and space. Only a writer of Allende's passion and skill could share her tragedy with her readers and leave them exhilarated and grateful. QPB selection. (May)
'Allende's best work to date...she has everything it takes: the ear, the eye, the mind, the heart, the all-encompassing humanity.' New York Times 'Allende's writing is so vivid we smell the countryside, hear the sounds, see the bright birds, smell and even taste the soft fruit. Moving through Paula's last days, we enter that world, and share it, gladly, sadly, gratefully, and ultimately changed by the very reading of it.' Julia Neuberger, The Times 'This is a tender, moving and vivid record of a mother's agony at the bedside of her daughter. Paula begins as a long letter as a way of giving her back the life that is ebbing away...the result is a mesmerizing story. In flawlessly rich prose Allende shares with us her most intimate feelings...an emotionally charged, spellbinding memoir.' Washington Post 'Allende brings the natural storytelling power so evident in her novels to this courageous testament. She shares her personal tragedy with a warmth and passion that make Paula exceptional.' Sunday Express