In Venezuela in 1993, I received a gift that would change my life – a copy of La Casa de Los Espíritus by Isabel Allende. I devoured the thick book in a matter of days. After that, my relationship with literature changed forever. I became a regular reader of Allende, and, during the pandemic, I stumbled upon The Soul of a Woman, published in January 2021. It is a book that condenses, with its brilliant narrative, the Chilean author’s feminist outlook. The Soul of a Woman walks us through her relationships, family affections, and close friendships with the women who have marked her life.
Feminist: Born or Made?
Isabel Allende was born in Peru into a family of Chilean diplomats. She spent her childhood in Santiago de Chile, in an old house in Providencia, and was closely acquainted with the political life surrounding the government of her uncle Salvador Allende and, of course, the military coup that cost him his life.
From her early years, the author’s distinct character and outlook were evident. In this book, she defines herself as a “feminist since kindergarten” before she even knew the word for it. This stance, perceived at the time as aggressive, set her up for a very different life than the Latin American women writers known up to that time.
An absent patriarch would also mark the author’s life and the stories. Her mother took on all his roles, raising Allende in a house of women, even as the society outside remained governed by men.
When Two Stories Meet
The vagaries of my own life took me from the cold mountains of the Venezuelan Andes to the streets once traveled by Isabel Allende. The COVID-19 pandemic found me in my second home in southern Chile.
On one of the few trips to the supermarket during the quarantine, I came across The Soul of a Woman, which the author finished right at the beginning of the confinement. I devoured it in just one day and was exhausted — in a good way!
The Soul of a Woman is a sort of coda to her literary creation, where she lucidly summarizes the motivations of her personal story. Better yet, this masterpiece challenges us, as women, to position ourselves defiantly in a patriarchal society.
Let Us Learn
For those of us who were not steeped in Latin American feminism, Allende gives a masterful tour, from north to south and east to west, through history and the eternal war of the sexes here.
She also explains with her bold pen how the fear of women is a common denominator of gender aggressions. She reminds us how violence and terror are instruments of control in our society from the kidnapping of girls to physical and psychological violence to labor and economic inequality to political discrimination.
The author pays tribute to her The Soul of a Woman, who inspired and accompanied her in her hard work. Among them, Panchita, Paula, Stephanie Sinclair, Simone de Beauvoir, Carmen Balcells, Olga Murray, Eve Ensler, Kavita Randas, Esther Odiambo and Las Hermanas del Perpetuo Desorden.
Isabel Allende, now 79 years old, proudly Chilean, living in the United States, is a witness to and protagonist voice of international feminism. Her story and narrative are a sample of that feminine force that has endured for centuries despite all the attempts to control it. Undoubtedly, it is worth reading.