My Invented Country: A Nostalgic Journey through Chile

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Isabel Allende evokes the magnificent landscapes of her country; a charming, idiosyncratic Chilean people with a violent history and an indomitable spirit, and the politics, religion, myth, and magic of her homeland that she carries with her even today.

The book circles around two life-changing moments. The assassination of her uncle Salvador Allende Gossens on September 11, 1973, sent her into exile and transformed her into a literary writer. And the terrorist attacks of ...

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Isabel Allende evokes the magnificent landscapes of her country; a charming, idiosyncratic Chilean people with a violent history and an indomitable spirit, and the politics, religion, myth, and magic of her homeland that she carries with her even today.

The book circles around two life-changing moments. The assassination of her uncle Salvador Allende Gossens on September 11, 1973, sent her into exile and transformed her into a literary writer. And the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, on her adopted homeland, the United States, brought forth an overdue acknowledgment that Allende had indeed left home. My Invented Country, mimicking the workings of memory itself, ranges back and forth across that distance between past and present lives. It speaks compellingly to immigrants and to all of us who try to retain a coherent inner life in a world full of contradictions.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Author Isabel Allende is best known for taking memories of her native Chile -- from which she's been exiled for more than a quarter century -- and weaving them into fiction infused with magic realism. In her seventh decade, Allende turns to the art of the memoir, writing a factual account of her family life and career while acknowledging that even this retelling has an element of fabrication to it. Allende writes affectingly of her mother's family, a colorful group who served as the foundation for her bestseller The House of the Spirits. And she brings true emotion to the story of how she left for Venezuela during the 1973 military coup in her homeland, while her husband and two young children stayed temporarily behind. While it was disturbing to be uprooted from her native land, Allende came to view it as a gift that allowed her to become the writer she is today. As might be expected with the autobiography of such an accomplished novelist, the narrative has a fluidity and non-linearity that may frustrate some readers. It is a weakness, though, that Allende happily admits to ("I wrote my first book by letting my fingers run over the typewriter keys, just as I am writing this, without a plan," she confesses), but for fans of her prose, such spontaneity is one of the book's -- and the writer's -- charms. Katherine Hottinger
The New York Times
The freshest and most specific images in this book all come directly from Allende's life. Some of the loveliest writing is about her maternal grandfather, a ''formidable man'' who ''gave me the gift of discipline and love for language.'' Clearly this autocratic and idiosyncratic man had a large and lasting influence on Allende, and the picture of him that she creates in these pages is full-bodied and affecting. He was a man who ''never believed in germs, for the same reason he didn't believe in ghosts: he'd never seen one,'' and who admired the young Isabel's desire to be strong and independent but was unable to foster or even condone such unfeminine characteristics. — Peter Cameron
The Los Angeles Times
When Allende poses sweeping general truths, she leaves room for argument. When with broad brushstrokes she summarizes recent history, I am not completely convinced. But the book gets my undivided attention when it expounds on the relationship of the author to that country of hers, invented, imaginary, fictional, to the story of her family, which is itself invented memory, and to her vocation as a narrator. We discover that the writer, throughout a difficult life of wandering and uncertainty, acquired a certainty, a strong territory of her own, a grounding, in her narratives. This for writers, or nonwriters for that matter, is the most suggestive, most instructive, aspect of the work. — Jorge Edwards
The Washington Post
The book graphically illustrates the traits Allende attributes to Chileans -- it is self-absorbed, willfully paradoxical and often irritating, but at least it is never boring. A plateful of noodles, perhaps, but very nicely spiced. — Joanne Omang
Publishers Weekly
Allende's novels-The House of the Spirits; Eva Luna; Daughter of Fortune; etc.-are of the sweeping epic variety, often historical and romantic, weaving in elements of North and South American culture. As with most fiction writers, Allende's work is inspired by personal experiences, and in this memoir-cum-study of her "home ground," the author delves into the history, social mores and idiosyncrasies of Chile, where she was raised, showing, in the process, how that land has served as her muse. Allende was born in Peru in 1942, but spent much of her childhood-and a significant portion of her adulthood-in Santiago (she now lives in California). She ruminates on Chilean women (their "attraction lies in a blend of strength and flirtatiousness that few men can resist"); the country's class system ("our society is like a phyllo pastry, a thousand layers, each person in his place"); and Chile's turbulent history ("the political pendulum has swung from one extreme to another; we have tested every system of government that exists, and we have suffered the consequences"). She readily admits her view is subjective-to be sure, she is not the average Chilean (her stepfather was a diplomat; her uncle, Salvador Allende, was Chile's president from 1970 until his assassination in 1973). And at times, her assessments transcend Chile, especially when it comes to comments on memory and nostalgia. This is a reflective book, lacking the pull of Allende's fiction but unearthing intriguing elements of the author's captivating history. Agents, Carmen Balcells and Gloria Gutierrez. (June) Forecast: Despite a six-city author tour and advertising in the Miami Herald, New York Times Book Review and San Francisco Chronicle, this book probably won't attract as much attention as Allende's fiction does. Still, after having written 10 other books, Allende's developed a strong fan base, and her loyal readers will undoubtedly clamor for this. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Allende (The House of the Spirits) explores the homeland she left following the military coup and death of her uncle Salvador Allende Gossens, on September 11, 1973. The terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 prompted her to consider both the country she still called "home" and her adopted homeland, the United States. The result is a combination memoir, travelog, and social history that moves from one reflection to another as the mood or memory strikes the author. She paints a fascinating picture of an unusual country, one that features flamingoes in the north and volcanoes in the south, with apples and grapes in the central valley region. She is unflinchingly honest about detailing Chilean adherence to a class system, the people's fixation with machismo, and their inherent conservatism and clannishness. Chileans thrive on bureaucracy, funerals, and soap operas. It's unfortunate that the United States engineered a coup that toppled a successful democratic government-one that seemed to be leaning too close to communism to suit President Nixon-and thus opened the door for a brutal dictatorship that the people of Chile endured for many years. The author claims she has always felt like an outsider in her native country-within her family, social class, and even her Catholic religion-yet the fondness and nostalgia she brings to her narrative portray a longing that transcends her exile and reveals the inspiration Chile has had on the formation of her writing and life. My Invented Country is a warm and rich tribute to two very different countries, as well as a testament to the indomitable spirit Chileans bring to their tempestuous past. Listeners will enjoy hearing Allende narrate her own introduction before turning over the reading to Blair Brown, an accomplished actress whose voice is easy on the ears yet captures the proper emotional notes. Highly recommended for all public libraries.-Gloria Maxwell, Penn Valley Community Coll., Kansas City, MO Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
"I can't be objective where Chile is concerned," writes novelist Allende (City of the Beasts, 2002, etc.) in this evocative and, yes, highly personal, social geography cum memoir. Allende describes her tour of her homeland as "a series of reflections, which always are selective and tinted," and readers wouldn't want it any other way. She starts with her childhood, which "wasn't a happy one, but it was interesting," then proceeds by caroms, letting memory lead the text this way and that. She explores the country’s physiography: the inhospitable north, where flamingoes are "brush strokes of pink among salt crystals glittering like precious stones"; the central valley's apples and grapes; Santiago, with "the pretensions of a large city but the soul of a village"; or the volcanic southern zone, with its wind and rain. Yet this is primarily a social and personal journey. Allende writes about her family's history, about her experiences with the politesse that hides the unbreachable class system, and about the poor, who are "well educated, informed, and aware of their rights." The nation’s sobriety is matched by its violence: "experience has taught us that when we lose control we are capable of the worst barbarism." Many believe in the supernatural, and the Catholic Church’s influence is pervasive. Women, with their "blend of strength and flirtatiousness that few men can resist," are also "abettors of machismo: they bring up their daughters to serve and their sons to be served." Allende shows us organ grinders, gypsies, and hot bread. She makes connections with her books. "Each country has its customs, its manias, its complexes," she writes. "I know the idiosyncrasies of mine like the palm of myhand"--and there lies her nostalgia. The musicality in Allende's voice bevels all but the melancholy, especially the sad day in 1973 when the CIA orchestrated a coup against her uncle, Salvador Allende. Dazzling as a kaleidoscope: an artful tumbling and knocking that throws light and reveals strange depths. Author tour. Agents: Carmen Balcells, Gloria Gutierrez
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060559267
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/1/2003
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: Unabridged, Cassettes
  • Product dimensions: 4.40 (w) x 7.00 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende is the bestselling author of twelve works of fiction, four memoirs, and three young-adult novels, which have been translated into more than thirty-five languages with sales in excess of fifty-seven million copies. She is the author most recently of the bestsellers Maya's Notebook, Island Beneath the Sea, Inés of My Soul, Portrait in Sepia, and Daughter of Fortune. In 2004 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She received the Hans Christian Andersen Literary Award in 2012. Born in Peru and raised in Chile, she lives in California.

Blair Brown, a veteran of the New York theater, received 5 Emmy® nominations for her starring role in The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd.

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First Chapter

My Invented Country
A Memoir

Country of Longitudinal Essences

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. Why don't we sell Chile and buy something closer to Paris? one of our intellectuals once asked. No one passes by casually, however lost he may be, although many visitors decide to stay forever, enamored of the land and the people. Chile lies at the end of all roads, a lance to the south of the south of America, four thousand three hundred kilometers of hills, valleys, lakes, and sea. This is how Neruda describes it in his impassioned poetry:

Night, snow and sand compose the form
of my slender homeland,
all silence is contained within its length,
all foam issues from its seaswept beard,
all coal fills it with mysterious kisses.

This elongated country is like an island, separated on the north from the rest of the continent by the Atacama Desert -- the driest in the world, its inhabitants like to say, although that must not be true, because in springtime parts of that lunar rubble tend to be covered with a mantle of flowers, like a wondrous painting by Monet. To the east rises the cordillera of the Andes, a formidable mass of rock and eternal snows, and to the west the abrupt coastline of the Pacific Ocean. Below, to the south, lie the solitudes of Antarctica. This nation of dramatic topography and diverse climates, studded with capricious obstacles and shaken by the sighs of hundreds of volcanoes, a geological miracle between the heights of the cordillera and the depths of thesea, is unified top to tail by the obstinate sense of nationhood of its inhabitants.

We Chileans still feel our bond with the soil, like the campesinos we once were. Most of us dream of owning a piece of land, if for nothing more than to plant a few worm-eaten heads of lettuce. Our most important newspaper, El Mercurio, publishes a weekly agricultural supplement that informs the public in general of the latest insignificant pest found on the potatoes or about the best forage for improving milk production. Its readers, who are planted in asphalt and concrete, read it voraciously, even though they have never seen a live cow.

In the broadest terms, it can be said that my long and narrow homeland can be broken up into four very different regions. The country is divided into provinces with beautiful names, but the military, who may have had difficulty memorizing them, added numbers for identification purposes. I refuse to use them because a nation of poets cannot have a map dotted with numbers, like some mathematical delirium. So let's talk about the four large regions, beginning with the norte grande, the "big north" that occupies a fourth of the country; inhospitable and rough, guarded by high mountains, it hides in its entrails an inexhaustible treasure of minerals.

I traveled to the north when I as a child, and I've never forgotten it, though a half-century has gone by since then. Later in my life I had the opportunity to cross the Atacama Desert a couple of times, and although those were extraordinary experiences, my first recollections are still the strongest. In my memory, Antofagasta, which in Quechua means "town of the great salt lands," is not the modern city of today but a miserable, out-of-date port that smelled like iodine and was dotted with fishing boats, gulls, and pelicans. In the nineteenth century it rose from the desert like a mirage, thanks to the industry producing nitrates, which for several decades were one of Chile's principal exports. Later, when synthetic nitrate as invented, the port as kept busy exporting copper, but as the nitrate companies began to close down, one after another, the pampa became strewn with ghost towns. Those two words -- "ghost town" -- gave wings to my imagination on that first trip.

I recall that my family and I, loaded with bundles, climbed onto a train that traveled at a turtle's pace through the inclement Atacama Desert to ard Bolivia. Sun, baked rocks, kilometers and kilometers of ghostly solitudes, from time to time an abandoned cemetery, ruined buildings of adobe and wood. It as a dry heat where not even flies survived. Thirst as unquenchable. We drank water by the gallon, sucked oranges, and had a hard time defending ourselves from the dust, which crept into every cranny. Our lips ere so chapped they bled, our ears hurt, we were dehydrated. At night a cold hard as glass fell over us, while the moon lighted the landscape with a blue splendor. Many years later I would return to the north of Chile to visit Chuquicamata, the largest open-pit copper mine in the world, an immense amphitheater where thousands of earth-colored men, working like ants, rip the mineral from stone. The train ascended to a height of more than four thousand meters and the temperature descended to the point where water froze in our glasses. We passed the silent salt mine of Uyuni, a white sea of salt where no bird flies, and others where we saw elegant flamingos. They were brush strokes of pink among salt crystals glittering like precious stones.

The so-called norte chico, or "little north," which some do not classify as an actual region, divides the dry north from the fertile central zone. Here lies the valley of Elqui, one of the spiritual centers of the Earth, said to be magical. The mysterious forces of Elqui attract pilgrims who come there to make contact with the cosmic energy of the universe, and many stay on to live in esoteric communities. Meditation, Eastern religions, gurus of various stripes, there's something of everything in Elqui ...

My Invented Country
A Memoir
. Copyright © by Isabel Allende. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Reading Group Guide

My Invented Country A Nostalgic Journey Through Chile Isabel Allende Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Sayers Peden Memoir, Nonfiction-->

About the Book
One of the most original writers of her generation, Isabel Allende has crafted novels, short stories, and memoirs that chart the landscape of the soul. Now she recalls the lost world of her roots, a version of Chile that vanished when General Pinochet's military junta erupted on September 11, 1973. Her uncle, President Salvador Allende Gossens, was assassinated in the coup. The social climate that had permitted her candid journalism was replaced by a brutal dictatorship. Accompanied by her husband and children, she fled into exile, taking with her a writer's vivid memories of magnificent landscapes, eccentric relatives, and an endlessly fascinating culture whose history is nothing short of mythical. Offering an evocative tour of Allende's often misunderstood homeland, My Invented Country transports us to compelling locales, while capturing the tumultuous events that led Allende to recognize her storytelling gifts.

Topics for Discussion

  1. What are your initial impressions of Chile as Isabel Allende presents it in her opening scenes? Does the landscape correspond to its inhabitants? In what ways does Allende's persona reflect this geography?
  2. The book's title reminds us of the subjectivity of memory. What recollections of your hometown might be shaped by your unique point of view? How would you describe your "invented" place of origin?
  3. Allende describes herself as a charismatic woman who speaks frankly, wears bold colors, and savors her meals without worrying about cholesterol. Do these traits make her more of an exception in California or in Chile?
  4. Allende powerfully recalls the aftermath of the September 11 military coup that launched Pinochet's reign of terror in 1973. She describes the fallout in personal terms: families torn apart by informants, a nation's faith in its electorate shaken, a vibrant cultural climate replaced by one of suppression. Discuss the parallels and distinctions between the trauma of Chile's 9/11 events and those that occurred in the United States exactly twenty-eight years later.
  5. Despite the many wrenching occurrences in My Invented Country, Allende maintains a tone that is poetic yet also ironic and deliciously humorous. What is the effect this voice? What do you make of the gap that sometimes keeps Allende and her husband from appreciating each other's jokes?
  6. What did My Invented Country reveal about Chilean attitudes towards sexism, racism and political correctness? How might this memoir have shifted had the author been male, or mestizo?
  7. Relatives -- particularly grandparents -- played a distinctive role in shaping Allende's sense of self and inspiring much of her fiction. She even maintains an almost daily correspondence with her mother. Which of your relatives most heavily influenced your character, and your sense of imagination?
  8. Allende writes that Chilean status was not heavily tied to wealth before the Pinochet years, but in contemporary Chile the ruling class is extremely affluent -- possibly at the expense of a once-sizeable middle class. Is this situation uniquely Chilean, or do you believe that the 1970s and 1980s were marked by similar economic shifts around the world?
  9. My Invented Country is as much travelogue as memoir. What did you discover about the distinctions between various countries of South America, particularly Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Venezuela? How does Allende's South America compare to the other locales she has lived in, such as the Middle East and Europe?
  10. Allende's fiction often features characters who have unusual perceptions of reality, or are able to tap spiritual worlds as easily as tangible ones. Does My Invented Country evoke any of these themes? In what way does it complete the memories recorded in her memoir Paula?
  11. In what sense does My Invented Country read like a novel?<
  12. Did the book change your perception of your American identity?
  13. In what ways is Allende a quintessential American?
  14. In the book's second-to-last paragraph, Allende writes that "For the moment, California is my home, and Chile is the land of my nostalgia." Is your home also the land of your nostalgia?

About the Author

Born in Peru, Isabel Allende was raised in Chile. She is the author of numerous best-selling books and now lives in California.

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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2006

    'A Slow Dance in a Large Circle'

    Isabel Allende is a captivating writer, one who can spin tales of intrigue and magical mystery as well as any of our Latin American writers. There is much that could be said about Allende's writing style: she moves from colloquial, humorous conversation and sharing to a manner of relating history in the form of the best historian writers. And it all works. Throughout the book Allende warmly describes just what makes Chile and its people unique and the information is not only fascinating but warmly charming. And then she very astutely takes us by the hand and for the last third of the book shares with us the political history of Chile over the last 200 years. Of course she is intimate with the Allende years, being part of that family that was forced into exile with the toppled government, but she does not present an acrid, angry stance but rather an optimistic view of the peoples' ability to change from Christian Democracy to dictatorship under Pinochet. For the first time this reader came away with the feeling that the entire process is understandable. Allende never forgets that she has been a stranger in different countries all her life, that the Chile she knows is as much a part of nostalgia as it is fact. This book was written from her home in San Francisco and she shares with us the following insight: 'But that is how nostalgia is: a slow dance in a large circle. Memories don't organize themselves chronologically, they're like smoke, changing, ephemeral, and if they're not written down they fade into oblivion.' This is a warm insight into the mind of one of our important writers of the day. Highly recommended. Grady Harp

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2004

    Nothing but the truth

    As a Chilean immigrant to the USA, I was so glad to find this book that so accurately, and enjoyably describe my country ans its people. I bought the book in English because I want my 'gringo friends' to read it and learn a lot more about me and the place I come from. I read this book during my flights all over the USA, since I am a Flight Attendant, and I still remember the look on the faces of my co-workers when I couldn't just hold a loud laughter, as I read the description of Chileans that Isabel so smartly makes in her book. I don't go around wearing a t-shirt with the Chilean flag on my chest, but OH GOD, aren't I Chilean from head to toe. Thanks to Isabel for a magnificent book that touched my heart!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 4, 2003

    A book that made me laugh and cry as a Chilean

    Iwon't read the rules, sorry. My life in Chile, 40 years, has been almost equal to Isabels, except the political part of it (i.e. her uncle's death during the coup). Her descriptions of people, their thoughts, feelings, oddities, depth, valor, vigor, dedication, also faults and strange beliefs, however well intentioned, are all similar to my familiy's, friends and many acquaintances. My doctor recent told me after a regular bloodwork: Hannes, you have to much blood in your chilean circulation...... I am taking this book for a 2nd reading during my flight back to my country, in a few weeks. Isabel, le has dado al 'clavo en la cabeza', y me has despertado nuevamente una anoranza y nostalgia por Chile que nunca dejo de existir desde el dia que llegue a USA. Y que me tengan un balde listo para mis lagrimas, cuando aparezca mi tierra debajo del avion. Gracias por este magnifico y emotivo libro.

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