Mar 11, 2009

My Invented Country by Isabel Allende

My Invented Country: A Nostalgic Journey Through Chile is Isabel Allende’s memoir about her native country. She clearly loves Chile, but she explains that she never quite felt like she belonged in her homeland. She first left it as a teenager, with her mother and her diplomat stepfather, to live in Europe and the Middle East. When she returned she had trouble adjusting to its very traditional society, especially as she became more committed to feminism and to social justice. After the 1973 military coup that installed the dictator Augusto Pinochet in power, she left Chile again, first to Venezuela and then to the United States, where she lives today.

In My Invented Country, she writes about her land and her colourful family, whose history inspired much of her fiction. She writes about her nostalgia for a homeland she knows to exist only in her mind, and about its history and natural beauty. And she writes about poverty, racism, class consciousness and severe sexism (did you know that Chile still has no divorce law? This is particularly worrisome if you consider how common domestic violence is.) She denounces these things mercilessly, but at the same time she writes about her country with obvious affection.

I loved her voice—she sounds so candid and so passionate, and she’s occasionally very funny. As she admits herself, she writes about things from a very personal perspective:
I realize as I write these lines that my view is subjective. I should report events dispassionately, but that would be to betray my convictions and sentiments. This book is not intended to be a political or historical chronicle, only a series of recollections, which always are selective and tinted by one’s experience and ideology.
Her point of view is obviously not neutral (is anyone’s, though?), but perhaps because we’re on the same page on pretty much everything, her subjectivity was less visible to me than it would be if we had different worldviews. That’s how it always goes, I guess.

My Invented Country is not a long book, but it taught me a lot about Chile. Most of my previous knowledge about what happened before and after 1973 came from the movie Machuca, which tells the story of the coup from the point of view of a young rich boy who is friends with a boy from the poor section of Santiago. I watched the movie in Brazil, and I’m not sure how easy to find it is outside South America, but if you have a chance to watch it I really recommend it. It’s an amazing movie.

Anyway, my point is to say that I know a movie and a short memoir are by no means exhaustive in terms of information, but both made me want to learn more, and that’s a start. They also made me want to visit Chile. Despite the problems it still faces, it sounds like such a beautiful and interesting place.

This was only my second book my Allende. My first experience with her was disappointing, but I’m very glad I gave her another chance. Now I know that even if I don’t like her fiction, I like her a lot. But I do want to try her fiction again. Any recommendations?

Memorable bits:
In ChiloĆ©, a group of islands off Puerto Montt in the south of the country, they tell tales of warlocks and malicious monsters: of La Pinocoya, a beautiful damsel who rises from the water to trap unwary men, and the Caleuche, an enchanted ship that carried away the dead. On nights of the full moon, glowing lights indicate the sites where treasures are hidden. It is said that in ChiloĆ© there was fir a long time a government of warlocks called the Recta Provincia, or Righteous Province, which met in caves by night. The guardians of those caves were the inbunches fearsome creatures that fed on blood, and whose bones have been broken, and eyelids and anuses stitched shut, by witches. The Chilean’s imagination for cruelty never cases to terrify me.

The unfortunate Indians of Tierra del Fuego, in the extreme southern tip of Chile, died by gunfire and disease long ago; of those tribes only a handful of Alacalufes survive. Hunters were paid a bounty for every pair of ears they brought as proof of having killed an Indian; in this way the territory was successfully “cleared” for the colonists.
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A Fondness for Reading

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36 comments:

  1. Oh, I think I would enjoy this very much!!! I've never read anything at all by her, another author I'm scared I won't understand. Bad Debi!

    Anyway, I have to say that I am sometimes absolutely weirded out by your posts...sometimes I feel like you read my mind or something. Less than a week ago, I pulled A Nation of Enemies: Chile Under Pinochet off the shelf. I wanted to remember it when I was ready to start my next non-fiction read. I suppose I could make those kind of "connections" with just about anyone's blog if I tried, but with you they just seem to pop up so vividly in my mind. Sorry, you probably think I'm a total whack-o (and you might be right).

    Anyway, I just went and added that movie to our Netflix queue...it sounds fantastic!

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  2. Oh, I didn't even know this work existed. I feel as though sometimes Allende's non-fiction works get pushed aside to focus on her fiction. I will have to seek it out, I think I'd like it.

    As far as fiction goes, I've read a few and Daughter of Fortune is my favorite! I'd recommend you try that before giving up on her fiction.

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  3. I've never read anything by her. I'm always amazed at how different an author's fiction and nonfiction writing can be. Sometimes if I love an author's fiction, I'm afraid to try their nonfiction for fear of not liking them as a person. I know that sounds silly, but oh well. It's the truth.

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  4. I've never read anything by Allende either. Always meant to, but I just haven't been in the mood.

    Do you actually do anything besides read?? You must read so fast!!

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  5. I really love allende's writing style. It brings places to life that I have never been. Thanks for this review...I'm off to put it on the TBR list.

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  6. I remember I had a really unfortunate experience with her fiction as well. I tried really hard to read her work because she was "a classic" but I never felt connected to it.

    I'm glad you enjoyed this one and I hope others have a good suggestion for your second shot with her fiction :)

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  7. I heard Allende on Blog Talk Radio recently and ever since then, I really want to read one of her books.

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  8. Oh this one sounds interesting. I love her fiction books but haven't read any of her non-fiction. Ok. If you want a good Allende book...try Portrait in Sepia (my favorite) and then Daughter of Fortune. Love them!

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  9. I've read a couple of her fiction books and enjoyed them, but they are not among my favorite books. This memoir, however, sounds wonderful.

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  10. Oh, Nymeth! I am very sad to hear that your first attempt at Allende was City of Beasts! I am glad that didn't stop you from reading more from her! She is one of my favourite authors, so I strongly recommend reading more from her. I have read all of her non-fiction, but I still have two novels to read by her one of these days!

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  11. I'm definitely going to have to seek this one out. I know very little about Chile as well. Hmmm--I think I know the geography and capital. How sad is that! I have a few Allende books on my shelf, but the only one that I've read is The House of the Spirits. It's kind of an epic saga along the lines of Marquez, but I think you'd really like it. My college roommate recommended it to me and I'd love to re-read it again (although it wouldn't be included in my challenge list...) I also have Daughter of Fortune and Zorro, but I believe both of those are set in California rather than South America/Chile.

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  12. I've been meaning to read this forever. I've read three novels by her, all in Spanish.

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  13. Hi Nymeth.. City of Beasts is not a good start for Allende (nor a good follow-up for that matter). I haven't read it, but based on a lot of reviews I don't intend to.

    My first attempt at Allende was Daughter of Fortune and I wasn't impressed, it was just okay. And then I read THE HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS.. it's so beautiful. And it's on my top list of favourite books. I hope if you try her out again, it's the one you choose.

    Thanks for these thoughts on My Invented Country. I've been thinking whether I should read it or not. I'd like to try Eva Luna as well, not sure if I should, though. But you've given me some things to think about here.. :)

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  14. PS. Where I came from, divorce hasn't been legalized either. Mostly divorce isn't allowed in predominantly Catholic countries. What they do is have the wedding annulled by the church, but it takes years sometimes and it's difficult to process.

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  15. I love reading books that give you lots of information about different countries, especially if the author is biased and absolutely loves the country. I will definitly have to read this.

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  16. Hi Nymeth! Just a little something to say thanks for your kindness: http://eveningreader.wordpress.com/2009/03/11/youve-gotta-have-friends/

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  17. Great review. I really enjoy Allende's writing. My first book was Daughter of Fortune and I loved it! I'm sorry to see that you didn't care for her YA trilogy. I really got into the 1st,2nd, and was a little let down with the 3rd one. I might have to read this sometime. I love learning about countries, politics, pretty much everything and I know next to nothing about this part of the world. I'll be on the lookout for the movie too!!

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  18. Great review! I kept seeing this in the bookstore but never did pick it up...

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  19. I'm glad you liked this book, Nymeth. I did, too. I've liked her non-fiction very much -- Paula is incredibly powerful. If you haven't read her adult fiction, you really must give her another chance, and read House of the Spirits. I read the City of Beasts series, and if that's the only one of her fiction books you've read, you've got a skewed impression of her writing. I actually enjoyed them, but they're not representative of the rest of her work.

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  20. I know very little about Vhile except where it is on a map but it's always nice to learn about a place from a perspective like this. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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  21. Sounds wonderful. I love Allende's novels so I think I may have to read this! :-)

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  22. Debi: I don't think you're a wacko. I absolutely promise. It takes sense that we're interested in so many of the same things, since we think so similarly about all sorts of topics. I'm still new to Allende, but this book at least is really, really accessible.

    Meghan: Thank you for the recommendation! And yeah, you don't hear as much about her non-fiction, but judging by this book it's excellent.

    Lisa: It doesn't sound silly! I really understand. I think I'm more afraid to make the transition from fiction to non-fiction than the opposite.

    Stephanie: lol, I promise I do other things occasionally :P Such as eat, sleep, work and study :P

    Serena: Yes, she really does bring places to life! Even with City of Beasts, which I felt mostly meh about, I could tell that.

    Saveophelia: I definitely will try her again, but with City of Beasts I couldn't connected to the story either.

    Bermudaonion: She sounds like a really interesting woman, doesn't she?

    Amanda: Thanks for the recommendation!

    Jenclair: I really loved it. Mostly for the kind of woman she is, and I think you'd like her too.

    Kailana: I promise not to give up on her. We have pretty similar taste, so if she's one of your favourites I bet I'll like her novels too.

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  23. This sounds so interesting! I've really enjoyed the fiction of Allende's I've read, and her real life always seemed fascinating. :)

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  24. Trish: I most knew chill was very long and not very wide :P And the capital too. An epic saga along the lines of Marquez...I do like the sound of that!

    Lenore: How cool that you can read Spanish! I can mostly understand it and I've read a few textbooks in Spanish, but I worry that with a novel I'd miss all the nuances.

    Claire: Yeah, City of Beasts is not a book I'd tell anyone they HAD to read. Thank you for recommending The House of Spirits. I actually watched the movie many years ago, but I remember very little. I just remember Meryl Streep's character saying "I'll never speak to you again" :P I'm from a very Catholic country too, but we do have divorces...I wonder when they became legal, though. And I'm not sure what the church's official position on the matter is. She explains about having weddings annulled in the book too, but it does sound really complicated.

    Scrap Girl: I actually love those more personal perspectives too. I mean, third person non-fiction is great for information, but I love the passion in books of this kind.

    Priscilla: Thanks again :D

    Staci: I hope you manage to find the movie! It's a really great one. And you all have me more than convinced to try her adult fiction.

    Alice: It's a quick and worthwhile read :)

    Robin: thanks again for recommending it! I probably wouldn't have picked it up if it weren't for you. And I promise I will give her fiction another chance.

    Ladythink: I didn't know much either other than it was the really long country :P But it sounds like a very interesting place.

    Marie, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

    Eva: I think you'd really enjoy this one.

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  25. I love Isabel Allende! She lives in this area, I would like to see her read sometime. This sounds like a really great book, thanks for reviewing it!

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  26. Ooh I didn't know she wrote a non-fiction book about Chile! Thanks - I really like her so will definitely get this. Try The House of the Spirits, that's my favorite I think. The only other one I can think of right now is Daughter of Fortune and though I read it a long time ago, I remember that I enjoyed it!

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  27. this sounds very good. great review.
    glad you gave the author a second chance and liked it.
    http://thebookworm07.blogspot.com/

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  28. I am reading Allende's Paula right now, and I HIGHLY recommend it, even only halfway through. It is so beautiful. She wrote this memoir of her family as she sat by her comatose daughter's bedside. Amazing. I've also read her House of Spirits trilogy and thought it was fantastic. I didn't read the one you didn't like.

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  29. Thanks for the great review. I'll put this on my *wish* list. My father worked in the Straight of Magellan on an oil rig for about 5 years in the late 70's and early 80's. He fell in love with the people of Chili. I don't know much about it's history, but my Dad made it sound like a beautiful place.

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  30. It does sound interesting. I don't really know anything at all about Chile so will keep a look out for this next time I am in the library.

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  31. Miss D: She talks a bit about her life in San Francisco in the book. I think you'd enjoy it!

    Joanna: Thanks for the recommendation! I'll definitely try those.

    Naida: Yes, trying her again was definitely worth it.

    SmallWorld at Home: Paula sounds like a wonderful book, but also very sad. It's one I'll definitely pick up at some point.

    B: It really does sound beautiful. Especially the south. Patagonia, both the Chilean and the Argentinian sides, is on my must visit list.

    Rhinoa: I didn't know much either. It sounds like such an interesting country. I should look for books on Chilean folklore.

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  32. I've been an Allende fan for a while but I'm realizing that I prefer her older novels. I highly recommend House of Spirits or the Stories of Eva Luna.

    I got to meet her at a book signing one time and she's just a wonderful, dynamic speaker and seems like she'd be a fun person to know.

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  33. I love her early fiction. House of the spirits was my favourite book when I was 14-16 years old! Eva Luna was really good too.

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  34. Iliana, I'll keep those two in particular in mind when I try her next. She really does come across as a fun person to know.

    Valentina: Between you and Iliana and everyone else, it's settled :P I'll try those next.

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  35. I just checked out the audiobook from the library after recently listening to Allende's most recent memoir, The Sum of Our Days, which I loved. It was the first of her non-fiction books I've read.

    My favorite fiction is Eva Luna, but I have yet to read House of the Spirits, which I think I'd enjoy. Have also read Stories of Eva Luna, Inez of My Soul, and Zorro. Never tried her YA books.

    Glad to have found your blog!

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  36. I just love Allende! She is so amazing, and her style is so unique..

    And you should read House of the Spirits! We just finished it as a part of our IB studies and I fell in love with it.. :)
    The sad part is that I had to read it in Finnish and I think it took of some emotions from the novel.. So I really hope to do it in English sometimes, maybe even in Spanish.. :D

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