My Invented Country: A Nostalgic Journey through Chile

My Invented Country: A Nostalgic Journey through Chile

3.7 8
by Isabel Allende

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Isabel Allende's first memory of Chile is of a house she never knew. The "large old house" on the Calle Cueto, where her mother was born and which her grandfather evoked so frequently that Isabel felt as if she had lived there, became the protagonist of her first novel, The House of the Spirits. It appears again at the beginning of Allende's playful,

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Isabel Allende's first memory of Chile is of a house she never knew. The "large old house" on the Calle Cueto, where her mother was born and which her grandfather evoked so frequently that Isabel felt as if she had lived there, became the protagonist of her first novel, The House of the Spirits. It appears again at the beginning of Allende's playful, seductively compelling memoir My Invented Country, and leads us into this gifted writer's world.

Here are the almost mythic figures of a Chilean family — grandparents and great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends — with whom readers of Allende's fiction will feel immediately at home. And here, too, is an unforgettable portrait of a charming, idiosyncratic Chilean people with a violent history and an indomitable spirit. Although she claims to have been an outsider in her native land — "I never fit in anywhere, not into my family, my social class, or the religion fate bestowed on me" — Isabel Allende carries with her even today the mark of the politics, myth, and magic of her homeland. In My Invented County, she explores the role of memory and nostalgia in shaping her life, her books, and that most intimate connection to her place of origin.

Two life-altering events inflect the peripatetic narration of this book: The military coup and violent death of her uncle, Salvador Allende Gossens, on September 11, 1973, sent her into exile and transformed her into a writer. The terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, on her newly adopted homeland, the United States, brought forth from Allende an overdue acknowledgment that she had indeed left home. My Invented Country, whose structure mimics the workings of memory itself, ranges back and forth across that distance accrued between the author's 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
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

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HarperCollins Publishers
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5.62(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.81(d)

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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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My Invented Country 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was a gift to my youngest sister who is not an avid reader, so since I needed something to read on the train ride to and from work I decided to give it a shot. I couldn't put it down and found myself telling some parts of it to the rest of my family. I have even found myself laughing while reading some parts! It is a very personal journey and I felt that I have learned a lot about the Chilean culture and Allende herself. She is a graceful writer and her style is capturing. It is the first book I read from Allende and cannot wait to pick up another one. I reccomend this book to anyone and the plus is that it is an easy read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My Invented Country is Isabel Allende¿s best book yet. This amazing biography takes the reader on a poetic journey though Ms. Allende¿s young life. Her writing is stellar and poetic. This book is to be savored for its beauty of language. Writers dream of crafting sentences like these. Lovers of language will adore this book for its symmetry and grace. Readers of all ages will love it for its beautiful and absorbing story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
chiforova More than 1 year ago
I read it in Spanish and I loved it. I had read some of her books, many years ago but for some reason I lost track of this author. She really is a very good writer. I couldn't put this book down,which I found easy to read and very entertaining( Allende has a great sense of humor). I recommend it as a very, very , good read.
SphinxFeathers More than 1 year ago
Emotional and elegant, Allende writes about both her past and her country's. Beautiful and provocative, the reader can't help but be drawn into each page. From the beginning to the end, you'll find you won't want to put this book down.
queenvicky More than 1 year ago
This is not one of Isabel Allende's best books but it is an interesting look at a country and people I didn't understand. She is always precise and doesn't flinch as she desribes herself and her contry.It helped me appreciate lots of the things I remember from "House of the Spirits." Enjoyed it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
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
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.