Isabel Allende recalled that Santiago fell silent that day. On the morning of September 11, 1973, Salvador Allende rushed to the presidential palace La Moneda after learning that a military uprising was taking place. Tanks surrounded La Moneda, an early 1800-century neoclassical building, and the armed forces called on President Allende to resign. He vowed to defend the constitution and declared in a radio address that he would not step down: “Neither crime nor force can stop social processes.” Minutes before noon, military planes bombed La Moneda, setting its northern wing on fire and shrouding the rest. In the smoke. When troops later stormed in, they found the president’s body in one of the palace’s main halls, his hand next to a rifle. At the end of the day, Augusto Pinochet took power, marking the beginning of his seventeen-year rule. “On that distant Tuesday in 1973, my life split in two,” Isabel Allende wrote decades later. “Nothing was ever the same again: I lost my country.”
Salvador Allende was her father’s cousin.She believed in his vision to transform Chile into a freer and fairer society by road to chile, or Chile’s path to socialism, but worries about whether his plan will thrive in a world of competing ideologies. It’s no secret that conservatives despise President Allende. The White House did not oppose him. The CIA, which supported those who deposed him, tried to prevent him from taking power. But, like many others, Isabel Allende dismissed rumors that his rule might be questioned or that democracy might be threatened. “We were proud of our differences from the rest of the continent, which we contemptuously called ‘banana republics,'” Allende later wrote. “No, we declare that this will never happen to us.”
After Pinochet came to power, Allende, a former television anchor and humor columnist, was fired. “There’s nothing to laugh about — except those in power, and it’ll cost you your life,” she wrote. In the absence of a free press, word spread by word of mouth: thousands were tortured in detention centers or left to die. The number of victims imprisoned, disappeared or killed by the state would eventually exceed 40,000. But among those who cannot stand the truth and have no sympathy for it, a feeling of denial prevails. road to chile. “Chileans learned not to speak, not to listen, not to see,” Allende wrote. “When I felt the repression tightening like a noose around my neck, I left.”
On a rainy winter morning in 1975, Allende left Santiago for Caracas, Venezuela, carrying a handful of dirt. A month later, her husband and two children joined her. Allende took his first steps as a novelist by writing a letter to his ailing grandfather on a makeshift table in his closet. “I wanted to tell him that I remembered everything,” Allende later said. The letter became a five-hundred-page manuscript that was rejected by Latin American editors. However, in 1982, Barcelona’s Plaza & Janés publishing house printed three hundred and eighty pages titled “La Casa de Los Espíritus” or “The House of the Spirit”.
The international success of “House of Spirits” helped Allende find a voice that other exiles could relate to. “Chile was not an isolated case,” Allende later wrote. “In 1975, half of Latin America’s citizens were living under some form of repressive government, most of which was supported by the United States.” Allende’s later work was unusually prolific—she published twenty-six books, More than 77 million copies were sold—but she never gave up on the theme of displacement. She revisited it again and again as an obsession, a form of catharsis and a subject of study. She had other losses to deal with. One of Allende’s most memorable works is “Paula,” an ode to her late daughter, who died two years ago after being diagnosed with porphyria, a rare genetic disease. Died at the age of nineteen.
Allende, now 81, recently published the novel “The Wind Knows My Name.” The book spans two historical periods and is guided by two main protagonists: Samuel Adler, a Jew born in Austria before the outbreak of World War II, and Anita Dia Anita Diaz, a Salvadoran child, was separated from her mother due to sanctions imposed by the US government. “Zero tolerance” policy. The author draws parallels between the evils of Nazism and the violence across Central America, where more than a million people have been displaced. Allende powerfully demonstrates that family separation recurs over time as a means of punishment and a source of grief.
In the days leading up to the fiftieth anniversary of the Chilean coup, I spoke with Allende about the legacy of exile, The Wind Knows My Name, and the state of American democracy. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention an important date coming up: the fiftieth anniversary of Pinochet’s coup in Chile—a day that marks your life and career as an exiled writer. What do you remember from that day?
It was a day in September, the beginning of spring for us. I remember it being very confusing. I get up early in the morning, my kids walk to school, and I drive to the office. I saw empty streets, some people stuck waiting for buses that didn’t come, and some military trucks coming and going. But we have no experience with military coups. I don’t think most people know what it’s about.
I got to the office and the janitor at the door said, “This is a military coup, go home, everything is closed.” So, I tried to go to a friend’s house who had a phone and called my in-laws and asked them Pick up my kids from school. My friend’s husband is a French teacher and he went to school early in the morning to mark some tests, but she didn’t hear from him. She was very worried. So, I said, “I’ll pick him up.” The school is located in the center of Santiago, near La Moneda Palace. When I got there I met my friend’s husband and I heard Allende’s last words on the radio. Then we saw the bombing of the palace. We saw flames, smoke, planes and noise. We couldn’t believe what was happening.
Can you imagine? It would be like the US military bombing the White House – it’s unimaginable. Then we had a curfew for almost three days. You can’t get out at all. Everything was censored, no radio, no television. So, it’s a very strange time full of uncertainty and fear.
About a year and a half later, you moved to Venezuela, where you lived for thirteen years. Then you fell in love with a Californian and followed him to the Bay Area, where you lived for nearly forty years.
On the surface – compared to your childhood – this seems to be an unusually stable time in your life. Yet you describe feeling like you will always be a foreigner, even in Chile. Where does this feeling come from?
Probably since childhood. I was born in Peru, but my father abandoned my mother when I was three, so we returned to my mother’s native Chile to live in my grandparents’ house. Then my mother married a diplomat and we traveled together. Every two years we say goodbye to people, places, schools, languages and move to another place.
Then I became a political refugee, then an immigrant. So, my life has always had that sense of displacement, which is not a bad thing for a writer. Very good actually. Because you have to pay attention. You have to listen, watch carefully, and learn the clues and codes of the new place. Maybe it’s because I don’t feel like I completely belong in a place, so I always ask questions that others take for granted. And, in the answer, I got the story.
You want to believe that the dictatorship won’t last, like so many other Chileans do. In 1988, a referendum ended Pinochet’s rule and you returned to the country, but you never moved back. Why?