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24 February 2021

Isabel Allende Q&A: “Don’t whine, don’t complain, because no one cares“

The author discusses her relative, Salvador Allende the former president of Chile, Artemisia Gentileschi painting her portrait and her love of writing. 

By New Statesman

Isabel Allende was born in Lima, Peru, in 1942. The author of 25 books, she was fired from an early job translating romance novels for altering the heroines’ dialogue to make them sound more intelligent.

What’s your earliest memory?

My earliest memory is of a man’s white patent shoes and white linen pants stained with blood. That was when my father accidentally dropped my infant brother on the stone pavement.

Who are your heroes?

Robin Hood was my childhood hero. Today it is, of course, Olga Murray, the founder of Nepal Youth Foundation. She is a 96-year-old young lady who wears tennis shoes and who has saved thousands of Nepalese children from exploitation and starvation. You should google her.

What book last changed your thinking?

That was a short novel by Mateo García Elizondo, Una Cita con la Lady (A Date with the Lady). It gave me infinite compassion for victims of addiction. I had three drug-addicted stepchildren; it was true hell and I couldn’t understand or accept them.

Which political figure do you look up to?

I admire Salvador Allende, my father’s cousin and a former president of Chile, for his vision of a more just and inclusive democracy and for his unyielding courage.

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What would be your Mastermind  specialist subject?

I don’t have a Mastermind special subject, so I am afraid that it would just be storytelling…

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In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

If I could live anywhere else, I would live in Norway – in the future!

What TV show could you not live without?

I could live very happily without TV so there are no shows that I could not live without. I like to watch movies much more than shows.

Who would paint your portrait?

My dream would be for Artemisia Gentileschi to paint my portrait. I would love to sit for her and while she paints we would talk and talk and talk.

[See also: Adam Grant Q&A: “What would make my life better? Outsourcing sleep”]

What’s your theme tune?

I am tone deaf.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t whine, don’t complain, don’t ask for help, don’t talk about your worries or your ailments because no one cares, fend for yourself and for others. That was my grandfather’s advice and I have followed it with great success.

What’s currently bugging you?

Politics. The fact that toxic Trump is still in the picture and fascism is on the rise.

What single thing would make your life better?

To see the patriarchy crumble and a new cycle of human evolution begin.  But, of course, that’s too ambitious.  My life is pretty good right now; it doesn’t need improvement.

[See also: Rachel Clarke Q&A: “I’m afraid I specialise in death”]

When were you happiest?

In the past, I was happiest when I had my newborn babies. Today, it is when I make love.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

I would still be a writer. There is no other job that I could have.

Are we all doomed?

It’s not all of us who are doomed. Only some of us. 

“The Soul of a Woman” by Isabel Allende is published by Bloomsbury


This article appears in the 24 Feb 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Britain unlocks