A nostalgic recollection about Chile | Sunday Observer

A nostalgic recollection about Chile

18 October, 2020
Isabel Allende
Isabel Allende

Title - My Invented Country

Author – Isabel Allende

Publisher – HarperCollins Publishers India

PP – 198

My Invented Country is the second memoir by Isabel Allende, a Chilean writer who lives in America (Her first memoir is Paula -1993). Isabel Allende who is considered “the world’s most widely read Spanish-language author”, lived in her own country, Chile, until 1973 when President Salvador Allende, a cousin of Isabel Allende was overthrown (and murdered) by a military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet, a dictator with the help of the CIA. Thereafter, she with her two children, fled to Venezuela in fear of their lives.

Isabel stayed in Venezuela for 13 years, during which she wrote her debut novel The House of the Spirits (1982). In 1988, when she was on a book tour to California, she met her future husband, William C. Gordon, a Californian attorney and a novelist. With their marriage, Isabel and her two children received citizenship in America.

Hence, My Invented Country is a nostalgic recollection about Chile and its people by Isabel Allende who had been living outside of her country for over 40 years when the book was released. But the title of the book, My Invented Country also hints at an imaginary country.

However, when you read the book, you realise that it is not about an invented country but about the real country that her invented country was based on.

By means of all the facts about her country and people, she created her own country in herself, which is why she chose this title, My Invented Country.

Nostalgia

“This book has helped me understand that I am not obligated to make a decision: I can have one foot in Chile and another here, that’s why we have plains, and I am not among those who are afraid to fly because of terrorism. I have a fatalistic attitude: no one dies one minute before or one minute after the prescribe time.

“For the moment California is my home and Chile is the land of my nostalgia. My heart isn’t divided, it has merely grown larger. I can live and write anywhere. Every book contributes to the completion of that “country inside my head,” as my grandchildren call it. In the slow practice of writing, I have fought with demons and obsessions, I have explored the corners of my memory, I have dredged up stories and people from oblivion. I have stolen other’s lives, and from all this raw material I have constructed a land that I call my country. That is where I come from.” (Page 197)

The first chapter of the book, Country of Longitudinal Essences presents fascinating facts about Chile. Its first paragraph starts with, “Let’s begin at the beginning, with Chile, that remote land that few people can locate on the map because it’s as far as you can go without falling off the planet.” Isabel Allende presents a visual evocative description of her country in these starting pages. Then she tries to give new insights to the thoughts about the country:

“My advice to the visitor is not to question the marvels he hears about my country, its wine, and its woman, because the foreigner is not allowed to criticize – for that we have more than fifteen million natives who do that all the time. If Marco Polo had descended on our coasts after thirty years of adventuring through Asia, the first thing he would have been told is that our empanadas are much more delicious that anything in the cuisine of the Celestial Empire.” (Page 9)Sometimes, while she is reminiscing about her experiences in the past, she gives facts for a new discussion. The following paragraph is a classic example for that. There, she discusses about climbing the social ladder:“In the society I was born, in the forties, there were unbreachable barriers between the social classes. Today those lines are more subtle, but they’re there, as eternal as the Great Wall of China.

“Climbing the social ladder was oce impossible; descending was more common – sometimes the only nudge needed was to move or to marry badly, which did not mean to a cad or heartless person but someone beneath you. Money had little to do with it….” (Page 45)

“Along with these insightful thoughts she also brings fourth her inner traumas and dark experiences. She says, “My family is from Santiago, but that doesn’t explain my traumas, there are worse places under the sun. I grew up there, but now I scarcely recognizs it, and get lost in its streets.” (Page 10)

Theme of the stories

With some facts in this book, we can identify the Isabel Allende’s fiction too. For instance, the following paragraph describes why Allende’s fiction mostly consists of children without fathers and why the women in them are so strong and steadfast.

“One day when I was four, my father went out to buy cigarettes and never come back.

“The truth is that he didn’t start out to buy cigarettes, as everyone always said, but instead went off on a wild spree disguised as a Peruvian Indian woman and wearing bright petticoats and a wig with long braids.

“He left my mother in Lima with a pile of unpaid bills and three children, the youngest a newborn baby. I suppose that that early abandonment made some dent in my psyche, because there are so many abandoned children in my books that I could found and orphanage.

The fathers of my characters are dead, have disappeared, or are so distant and authoritarian they might as well live on another planet.” (Page 28)If a novel is a writer’s inner life, it is natural for it to have been shaped according to his or her life.

And some information we gather from this book reveals some factors behind her art of fiction. For instance, she says she grew up with the family anecdotes told to her by her grandparents, her uncles, and her mother. “But while she tried to verify some details of those anecdotes, others in her family never bothered about them. With these experiences Isabel Allende also tries to present her fiction without logical arguments, thereby, it gains its magical elements.

The book ends with this insightful note:

“I hope that this long commentary answers that stranger’s question about nostalgia. Don’t believe everything I say: I tend to exaggerate and, as I warned at the beginning, I can’t be objective where Chile is concerned. Let’s just say, to be completely honest, that I can’t be objective, period.

“In any case, what’s most important doesn’t appear in my biography or my books, it happens in a nearly imperceptible way in the secret chambers of the heart.

“I am a writer because I was born with a good ear for stories, and I was lucky enough to have an eccentric family and the destiny of a wanderer. The profession of literature has defined me. Word by word I have created the person I am and the invented country in which I live.” (Page 198) Finally, My Invented Country reveals the background of Isabel Allende’s fiction.

Compiled by Ravindra Wijewardhane

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