- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 19, 2002

The term "magical realism," so often applied to the works of Latin American writers, is misleading, author Isabel Allende says. Mrs. Allende, who spent many years of her life in Chile, appears Tuesday in the Literary Series at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. She especially objects to magical realism as a blanket description of her own considerable output. The author feels far more comfortable being called a feminist.
"Yes, it follows me around in spite of the fact I have been writing 20 years and have published 11 books, with this element in only some of them," she says by telephone from her home in San Rafael, Calif. "All Latin American literature is labeled that way, but, you know, the new generation of writers have rejected that as much as they have rejected politics.
"Young people, who are very influenced by movies and the media, are not writing political books; their reality has changed," she says.
The genre implies that the fiction draws strictly on a surrealistic imagination to incorporate elements of myths and fantasy in a style made popular by the novels of Colombian-born Gabriel Garcia Marquez, winner of the 1982 Nobel Prize.
"I see my novels as just being realistic literature," she explains further on her Web site, where she gives her views at length in the format of a mythical Q&A.; "They say that if Kafka had been born in Mexico, he would have been a realistic writer. So much depends on where you were born. Sometimes magic realism works and sometimes it doesn't. On the other hand, you will find those elements in most literature from all over the world, not just in Latin America."
She concedes that if the goal of literature is to explore life's mysteries, then "when you allow dreams, visions and premonitions to enter your everyday life and work as a writer, reality seems to expand."
The Tuesday event, which is co-sponsored by Borders Books & Music and billed as "A Conversation With Isabel Allende," is timed conveniently enough with publication of the author's most recent novel, "Portrait in Sepia." The book completes a trilogy begun with her first, "The House of the Spirits," which tells the story of 120 years in the fortunes of a Chilean family. "Portrait" incorporates research into the history of Mrs. Allende's beloved Chile and the early years of California during the mid-19th century gold rush. (The compelling photograph on the cover, done in sepia tones, is the face of a young, real-life Chilean student of English at the University of California at Berkeley.)
In this, like most of Mrs. Allende's books, the most vivid and some of the strongest characters are women.
"I grew up with this male idea that women are always competing with each other, like men, but in my life experience that is not the case," she says. "My life would be quite different if I had not had women to help me along the way. As I get older, I see older women have a lot to give. I don't think in history there has been such a number of educated, healthy older women who have a lot to give, who can make a difference."
Born in Peru 59 years ago and reared in part by a stepfather who was a diplomat, she worked as a journalist in Chile until the 1973 military coup toppled her father's cousin, President Salvador Allende. She fled to Venezuela where she lived until 1984. She met her second husband, Willie Gordon, a San Francisco lawyer, when he came to a reading she gave in San Jose, Calif., for her third book, "Eva Luna." She now is a U.S. citizen but visits her family in Chile often.
Next week's visit to the East is a rarity, she says, since she usually reserves the first months of each year only for her writing, which she does in Spanish. The second half normally is given over to speeches and personal appearances. "My life is very schizophrenic," she says with a laugh. "I have extroverted time and introverted time."

WHAT: "A Conversation With Isabel Allende"
WHERE: National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Ave. NW
WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday
TICKETS: $15, general admission; $10, museum members; $5, students with valid ID. Reservations required. (A reception and book signing will follow the program.)
PHONE: 202/783-7370

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