#meetawriter: A moment with Isabel Allende
The Commuting Book interview with Isabel Allende / July 2017
TCB: It is always a cause for excitement when we received one of your books for our Read and Share project. Your unique storytelling has captivated millions of readers around the world, and that is not a small feat. We do appreciate and value the enormous work and intellectual effort that writers put in their work. We also believe it is important to bring writers and readers closer together, and this is the reason we wanted to talk to you for a bit. Because we know you are currently busy travelling, here are just a few questions (of the millions we would love to ask you).
TCB: Reading a book, unless you are reading out loud to others, is a very personal and private experience and we tend to isolate ourselves to concentrate and to avoid distractions, but it is also a social experience, as we at The Commuting Books are trying to demonstrate. What is your experience regarding this communal side of literature?
IA: The most rewarding aspect of my work is the response from the readers. When I find myself amidst a group of people who have read one of my books and we can discuss it, I feel totally happy. I love sharing stories, mine and others. I like book clubs and libraries. In 1970, in Chile, the government started a program of moving libraries. They were buses full of books that would go to rural areas where people – specially children – didn’t have access to literature. Decades later they set up libraries in subway stations. Readers pick up a book, read it while commuting or at home, and drop it later in any of the stations. It is very successful, people love it and they always return the books.
TCB: What is it for you, the essential characteristics of literature that makes it eternal, and an integral part of the human existence?
IA: Stories interconnect us. Through stories we share our humanity, our memories, dreams, sorrows, joys and hopes. In books we discover that the similarities we share with others are so much greater than the petty differences than separate us. Literature informs us, offers us new points of view, new perspectives, new ideas; it can shape our minds as individuals and collectively. But mostly, in books we satisfy our biological need for stories.
TCB: Books are great travelling companions, and you seem to be always on the move, what kind of books do you take with you?
IA: I take mostly novels, unless I am researching for a project, and I try to read on my IPad because I can carry a thousand books in my purse and read with by letters and a lit screen even in the dark cabin of a plane at night.
TCB: Which book has impacted you the most?
IA: I can’t possibly answer this question because many books have shaped me as a person and as a writer: the great novelists of the Boom of Latin American literature (1965-85), feminist and political authors, some poetry and spiritual books, and many more.
TCB: We would like to have your book recommendation for those who have not read in a while and need some motivation.
IA: My latest novel is The Japanese Lover and by the end of October my new book, In the Midst of Winter, will be published in English (it is already out in Spanish). Both novels tackle the themes of immigration, traumatic lives, family, friendship, and mature love. The Japanese Lover is the story of a Jewish woman who grows up in San Francisco in a wealthy family. All her life she has shared a forbidden love with a Japanese gardener. In her eighties, in a retirement home, she remembers her life and her love.
In the Midst of Winter is the story of three unlikely people – a university professor, a Chilean woman journalist and an undocumented Guatemalan refugee – who find themselves trapped in a snow storm in Brooklyn in January of 2016. The Guatemalan young woman is in a situation of life and death and the professor and the journalist have to make a choice: wash their hands or get involved. They opt for taking the risk of helping her and in doing so their lives change. The inspiration for the book came from a quote by Albert Camus: In the midst of winter, I realized that I have in me an invincible summer. My characters are living a long winter of solitude and trauma but in those three desperate days of the storm they open their hearts and discover the invincible summer that we all have inside.
TCB: What do you think about your books being left at bus stops around the city, for people to take home and then return for others to enjoy?
IA: Actually, this is the case in Santiago. As I said before, there are public libraries in the subway stations and apparently my books are very popular. I can’t think of a better destiny for my characters! They live in the bowels of the subway and in the hearts of some readers.
TCB: Muchas gracias Isabel y esperamos poder recibiste algún día, aquí en Christchurch. Thank you very much, Isabel. We hope to welcome you here in Christchurch one day.