Allende Charms Audience

Chilean-American magical realist delights crowd with selections from her new book

A HOUSE FULL (OF SPIRITS)
Jade A Sabatino

Isabel Allende, a leading Chilean-American novelist, reads from “The Sum of Our Days: A Memoir” at First Parish Church yesterday.

Acclaimed Chilean-American novelist Isabel Allende touched on everything from homosexuality to ballroom dancing to her crush on Antonio Banderas in a book reading at the First Parish Church in Harvard Square yesterday night.

Her new book, “The Sum of Our Days: A Memoir,” discusses the dynamics of her family relationships following the death of her daughter, an event described in her previous memoir “Paula.”

Allende warned the audience beforehand that the book had “nothing spiritual or profound in it. It’s just gossip.”

The sell-out audience, filled with both dedicated fans and new readers, responded enthusiastically, frequently interrupting her Spanish-accented speech with appreciative laughter.

Allende read three chapters from her book. In “Searching for a Bride,” she described her struggles and accomplishments as a matchmaker for her son Nico. In “Ballroom Dancing and Chocolate,” she described her husband Willie, while in “The Perverted Dwarf,” she sardonically described his initial attempts at writing a novel himself.

Allende has worked as both a novelist and a journalist. Her books have been translated into 27 languages and have become best-sellers in four continents.

In addition, she said that she writes letters to her mother every day.

Among her most noted works is her 1982 novel “The House of the Spirits,” an example of magical realism, a style incorporating magical elements often used by mid-20th century Latin America authors. She said that “Spirits” would be difficult for her to write today because she has evolved into a simpler, more precise writer.

At last night’s event, which was sponsored by the Harvard Book Store, Allende described her motives for writing “The Sum of Our Days,” saying that after her daughter died, she felt the “need to write things to understand them,” and that the written word let her “contain the grief.”

Despite the somber story behind the novel, Allende’s tales were filled with humor and wit. When pressed by audience members about the source of her humor, Allende responded that “humor is not something you do consciously. I’m not a comedian or a stand-up comic.”

She also showed a self-deprecating streak, saying, “I’m a sloppy writer,” and that she was “very bad at titles.”

Although she is fluent in English, Allende continues to write her novels in Spanish, and she superstitiously always begins writing each novel on January 8.

Audience member Dahri I. McFaline, a Spanish teacher and long-time Allende reader, lauded the “strong humanistic side” of her writing, saying that her work is “very inspiring” and that “you can identify with any aspect of her writing.” Allende said her reason for continuing to write is simple: “I need to make a living. I have to support a tribe. When I retire, I’ll pull teeth,” she said, referring to a scene in the book.

She is currently working on an as-yet untitled historic novel set in the Caribbean during the early 1800s.