Exclusive: Chilean Novelist Isabel Allende on Her New Tell-All Memoir

Ricardo Ram’rez / Retna Ltd.

The Sum of Our Days, a sequel to Paula, recaps new episodes in the emotional lives of Allende’s colorful friends and family following the death of her daughter. First published in Spanish and already a best seller, those curious about the juicy details of the everyday life of the famous writer and an active member of her self-ascribed “clan” will be intrigued by Allende’s frankness. When her son Nico found out she was writing another non-fiction book he asked her why she was doing so. In response, Allende compared her writer-self to the scorpion in the fable that stings the frog it crosses the pond on top of, declaring apologetically to her son, “because it’s my nature.” In the book she writes, “A tribe has its inconveniences, but also a lot of advantages” and Allende dedicates this book to her small tribe, who allowed her to tell their stories and allows us to glimpse them. Here’s what Allende had to tell Latina:

What made you into the writer you’ve become?

Being a journalist. The act of being interested. And my need to communicate, wanting to tell something to someone. It’s like extending a hand to trap somebody, then forty more.

What countries have you lived in?

Peru, Venezuela, Chile, Bolivia, Belgium, Switzerland, Lebanon, Madrid and the United States.

You write in Spanish, how long have you been communicating in English?

20 years now. But you’re not the same person (when you’re talking in a new language). Your irony, talking without thinking, doing mathematics in your head, praying, cooking…it’s different.

What are your essentials when you are writing?

Silence, being alone, and feeling warm and bundled. And Willy (her husband), he protects me and is my chef for dinner at 7. Oh, and Jasmine, mango tea. No caffeine needed for me.

Where did your husband Willy learn to speak Spanish?

He learned it in ghettos of Los Angeles. He’s a bandit of Mexican Spanish.

Tell us about your writing to your mother as a way of understanding and forming the episodes of your lives.

My mother Carla is 87. We write each other daily letters for 15 years and I call her if her letter doesn’t come. Then she prints them out and returns the pile of letters to me at the end of each year. I have a closet filled with these letters.

What do you think of Chilean president Michelle Bachelet?

She’s extraordinary: That in a conservative and catholic country that a single woman, mother, agnostic and socialist is President… extraordinary. It’s a sign of our advances in overcoming machismo.

What would be your top five books and authors from Latin America?

Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, José Donoso’s The Obscene Bird of Night, Jorgé Luis Borges’ The Aleph, all of Pablo Neruda and all of Sor Juana de Inés de la Cruz.

You know Antonio Banderas. Is your husband jealous?

(Laughs) He could be my son! But Banderas is charming and lovely. It’s like Willy with Michelle Pfeiffer.

Who would you choose to play you in the movie version of The Sum of Our Days?

Peneople Cruz or Sylvester Stallone. I’m a tank. Sweet, but still a tank.

The Sum of Our Days will be released April 1st, 2008 by Harper Collins. (It's now available at Amazon.com)

--Adriana V. López