Posts featuring Isabel Allende

#ReadWomen: A Focus for 2019—And Beyond

What was activism and new awareness has become habit and daily practice.

It’s been five years since I wrote for the Asymptote blog about my resolution to read only books by women for a year, and nearly five years since British author Joanna Walsh created the #readwomen2014 hashtag on Twitter. Around the same time, Walsh also started the @read_women Twitter account, which gained more than 25,000 followers. The account, which Walsh maintained with the help of several other people, was retired on June 16, 2018, after four and a half years online.

Walsh’s efforts sparked a worldwide movement among readers, activists, bookstores, and publishers that gained worldwide press coverage. The tag evolved to #readwomen as people continued to share the names of underappreciated writers and discuss ways to balance the literary scales that have been tipped for centuries against women. As novelist Alexander Chee wrote in an October 2014 essay for The New York Times Book Review, “Walsh’s hashtag became a rallying cry for equal treatment for women writers,” and the movement’s aim of calling out gender bias in publishing and the general public’s reading habits was, as he saw it, “for everyone.”

Near the five-year anniversary of the #readwomen movement, I wanted to look for signs of potential progress for literary fiction by women. What’s changed since 2013? Have conditions improved for literature created by women and those who identify as women or non-binary? What follows is a very brief, scattershot survey of notable points around these questions, a sketch of a small corner of the global picture from my limited perspective. READ MORE…

My 2018: Nina Perrotta

As a resident of Brazil, I made it a point to read books by Latin American women in their original languages.

In today’s post, Assistant Blog Editor Nina Perrotta reflects on the many books that accompanied her during a year abroad in Brazil, ranging from classic Japanese novels to contemporary fiction in translation.

Early in 2018, as I was preparing to move to Brazil, I picked up a faded old book from my parents’ bookshelf. Junichirō Tanizaki’s classic novel The Makioka Sisters, originally published in serial form in the mid-1940s, follows four sisters, two of whom are in need of husbands, as they navigate their own altered fortune and the clash between tradition and modernity in inter-war Japan. There’s nothing I love more than a really long novel, and this one, for me, was an ideal blend of familiar (the Jane Austen-style plot) and different (the specifics of Japanese society in that era, which I knew little about). In hindsight, it was probably my favorite of all the books I read this year.

As soon as I finished The Makioka Sisters, I started The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (who, notably, was shortlisted for Literary Review’s “Bad Sex in Fiction” award this year). Though the two novels were written nearly a half-century apart and have little in common, I enjoyed reading them back-to-back, especially since one of Murakami’s characters, who would have been a contemporary of the Makioka sisters, tells war stories from his time in the Japanese army during World War II.

As my trip to Brazil drew nearer, I rushed through The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and, fortunately for my suitcase, managed to finish it just before I had to leave for the airport. Once at my gate, I got started on Charles Dickens’ massive Bleak House, which I had tried—and failed—to read once before. I promised myself that I would finish it this time, no matter how long it took. And so I spent the next two months carrying Bleak House around the streets of Curitiba, Brazil, reading it on the sunny couch in my apartment, and occasionally using it as a yoga block (it was about the right size).

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Asymptote Podcast: The Devil

New Year, new podcast episode!

This month, we examine a character who has been influencing the minds of authors for thousands of years: the Devil. We’ll be taking a look at that fiery hell-demon we all know and love to hate (or fear), but we’ll also discuss how other cultures view this figure. We first consider Maximon, a Guatemalan saint not recognized by the Catholic Churcha fusion of Satan, Judas, Cortes, and the Mayan trickster god Mam. Then we’ll move on to Russia, where we will look at how the Devil influenced two hundred years of their literature. We’ll end with an exploration of the Voodoo religion, which isn’t as devilish as you may think.

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In Conversation with Isabel Allende

“In all my books there is a strong sense of place and my stories often have an epic breadth.”

The “eternal foreigner” sat down during the tail end of her U.S. book tour to discuss her new novel, The Japanese Lover, and writing across boundaries.

While working as a young reporter in Chile, Isabel Allende went to interview the great Don of twentieth-century poetry, Pablo Neruda. At least, she assumed as much when she accepted his invitation for a visit to his house on the coast.

In preparation for the event, Allende washed her car and bought a new tape recorder. She drove to Isla Negra. After she and Neruda shared a lunch of Chilean corvina and white wine, Allende proposed that they begin their interview. Neruda was surprised, and rebuffed her, saying, “My dear child, you must be the worst journalist in the country. You are incapable of being objective, you place yourself at the centre of everything you do, I suspect you’re not beyond fibbing, and when you don’t have news, you invent it.” He suggested that she switch to literature. Perhaps Allende never would have done so if she had foreseen how eager editors would be for her to repeat this fanciful anecdote over the years. Still, in radio interviews, her voice seems to soften into fondness during each retelling. 

The publication of her debut novel, The House of the Spirits, in 1982, allowed Allende to make a full-time career change. Her journo’s vice of placing herself “at the centre of everything” is transformed into a defining virtue through her fiction: she is an exemplar of using the third-person omniscient point of view. Allende’s works have been translated into 35 languages, and the Spanish-language edition of her latest book, El amante japonés, was released in September by Vintage Español. The English translation, The Japanese Lover, was released on November 3, from Atria.

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Megan Bradshaw: Prior to moving to California, what was your familiarity with the history of Japanese internment camps in the United States? How did your initial historical research for The Japanese Lover influence your assumptions and the direction of the novel?

Isabel Allende: I had not heard about the internment camps before moving to California but in recent years there have a been a couple of novels that mention them. My research gave me a much deeper understanding of what this meant for the people who were in the camps, how they suffered, how they lost everything and how they felt dishonored and shamed. Of course, their situation can’t be compared to the victims of Nazi concentration camps because there was no forced labor, nobody starved and certainly there was no intention of exterminating them. I had not intended to dedicate full chapters to the camps in my novel but the material was fascinating. READ MORE…