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Isabel Allende's feminist soul

By Kobo • July 02, 2021Author Interviews

Since her debut in 1982 with the novel The House of the Spirits, Chilean author Isabel Allende has won awards and accolades throughout the literary world.

Our Netherlands correspondent spoke with the celebrated novelist about her new book, The Soul of a Woman, in which she reflects on her relationship with feminism, sexuality, and aging.

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You have written 26 books, sold more than 75 million copies and received over 60 prizes in 15 different countries. One could say: nothing more to wish for. But isn’t there? Or is there something you still want to do well, win, or is it more, to achieve?

I have written only 26 books. Most of them have been translated into 42 languages. I can say that I have been very lucky because I never thought of my writing as a “career”. I just love to tell stories. For me this is not about accumulating awards or selling books, it’s about the joy of writing, so I plan to keep doing it for as long as I have a brain.

On the cover of The Soul of a Woman in Dutch it says, translating into English: “My life as a mother, wife and feminist.” Is that a particular order, or is there a role that fits you best?

On the original cover of the book in Spanish, from which the Dutch version was translated, it says “on impatient love, long life and good witches”. That describes the spirit of the book more than my role as a mother or a wife. However, to answer your question, I would say that this book is about my life as a woman and a feminist, not about motherhood or marriage, although both are also included in those pages.

It is said about this book that it is one of your most personal books ever. Do you agree? And why (not)?

It is very personal, but I have written two memoirs that are more intimate: Paula and The Sum of our Days. Also another short memoir about life in Chile called My Invented Country.

Feminism plays a great role in this book, but also in your life. Do you see a difference in the relevance of feminism now, compared to when you were young? Or, to put it in other words, is feminism still as much needed now as it was, say, fifty years ago?

Feminism is a revolution and like all revolutions, it started with anger and the desire for change, but there’s no manual or road map to follow. We have had to improvise on every stage. We have encountered crossroads, obstacles, backlashes and moments in which the movement seemed to have stopped. But then another generation of young women brings new energy and the struggle continues. But much more needs to be done. The situation of women in the West is way better than the situation of most women in the rest of the world. Feminism has achieved a lot and the fact that it has not achieved all its goals yet doesn’t mean it has failed. The ultimate goal of feminism is to replace the patriarchy by a management of the world in which women and men in equal numbers and with equal power make the decisions. We are far away from getting there.

I have two daughters aged 9 and 11, and if I look at a social medium like Instagram I sometimes wish (for them) that it didn’t exist. It is such a harsh environment. On the other hand, it can also bring people together. What’s your opinion about this medium, also seen in the light of empowerment of girls?

When my children were little, television arrived in Chile. Many parents didn’t want their children to be exposed to television because they could not control the content. I was not among them. We cannot protect our children from this changing world, we can only give them values, and help them to develop critical thinking, to discriminate and choose right. Social media has great advantages and some serious problems, but it is unavoidable, so we have to learn to live with it..

You are a great believer in love. I like that. Is it love that drove you to write The Soul of a Woman, or if not, what did?

The Soul of a Woman is a reflection on my life as a woman and as a feminist, on the war against women, on the patriarchy and the kind of future we want for our children. I didn’t write it out of love, although love is very important in my life, I wrote it because I am angry and I want to change the world.

Compared to writing your other books: did writing The Soul of a Woman differ in any way, and if so, in what way?

All my books are different. I have tried many genres: literary and historical novels, adventure books for young adults, short stories, no-fiction, memoirs and even a crime novel. Each book has its own requirements. There’s no formula. I have the feeling that each time I have to invent everything all over again, that whatever I learned before doesn’t apply for the new project.

Why is The Soul of a Woman a must read for everyone? What would you like to be the book's greatest souvenir to the reader?

It would be very pretentious on my part to assume that everyone should read my book. I would be very grateful if some people did and if it could be an excuse to start a conversation about what women need and want. I would feel honored if my book was chosen by book clubs and maybe by teachers; also, if it was used by couples, by parents and teenagers and by friends to talk about their relationships.

Do you have an eReader? And do you like it?

I read printed books, but more than half my reading is done on my eReader. I love it because I can carry hundreds of titles with me everywhere I go. I also listen to audiobooks. I wish they would invent a chip that could be implanted in the brain so that we could read while we sleep…

With the greatest respect, most women of your age would be – and this is an expression in Holland – ‘sitting behind the geraniums in the window’. But not you. Is there a point where you think: ok, this is my last book, or will writing always be a part of your life?

As I said before, I don't plan to retire. I am 78 years old but I feel strong and healthy, I am engaged in the world, I am still passionate about the same causes I supported as a young woman, passionate about romantic love, passionate about my family, my pets and the work in my foundation. Most of all, I am passionate about writing! ◼

The Soul of a Woman by Isabel Allende

What feeds the soul of feminists—and all women—today? To be safe, to be valued, to live in peace, to have their own resources, to be connected, to have control over our bodies and lives, and above all, to be loved. On all these fronts, there is much work yet to be done, and this book, Allende hopes, will “light the torches of our daughters and granddaughters with mine. They will have to live for us, as we lived for our mothers, and carry on with the work still left to be finished.”

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