Born in Lima, Peru in 1942, Chilean author Isabel Allende is a beacon of literary brilliance, revered for her evocative storytelling and explorations of love, feminism, and social justice. Her formative years, shaped by a diplomat father and extensive international wanderings, exposed her to a world of diverse cultures and characters that would later infuse her ouevre.
Allende’s debut novel, 1982’s The House of the Spirits, a mesmerizing blend of magical realism and political allegory, swiftly established her as a literary force and remains a classic of Latin American letters. With notable follow-ups like 1987’s Eva Luna, 1994’s Paula, and 2015’s The Japanese Lover, she takes readers on a global tour – from the vibrant streets of South America to the tranquil gardens of San Francisco – all while exploring the depths of human emotion and imagination.
In a reading list for The Week, Allende shared 6 books that have most influenced her life and craft, from The Arabian Nights to Germaine Greer’s groundbreaking 1970 feminist manifesto. Find her favorites below, and complement with the bookshelves of Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Luis Borges, Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie.
Isabel Allende’s Reading List
“Imagine a solitary girl, 14 years old, in Lebanon, in the 1950s, reading these sensuous stories with a flashlight inside a closet to avoid parental censorship. That was me. A thousand and one nights, hundreds of stories, magic, eroticism, adventure, and mischievous characters: What an orgy of the senses and imagination! I keep all this in mind when I write.” -IA
“The most important Latin American novel of the 20th century. Márquez’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.” -IA
“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.” -IA
Dracula by Bram Stoker
“We all know this macabre Victorian novel loaded with sexual innuendo, suspense, Christian paranoia, blood, mystery, and even a zoophagous madman. What is there not to like? It is badly written, but the story fascinates me to this day.” -IA
Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser
“Many years after my daughter’s premature death, Lesser’s spiritual memoir was a balm to my lingering sorrow. Broken down or broken open by pain? Bitterness or compassion? Self-pity or wisdom? These are choices we all have to make sooner or later.” -IA
“Among the thousands of apocalyptic futuristic novels in existence, this one stands out as the most depressing. 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!” -IA
(via The Week; photo by Saroyan Humphrey)
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