Sunday, November 19, 2006

Isabel Allende and I (biographical note)

Thursday, November 16 of the year 2006, is a day I will always remember. It was the day I met Isabel Allende. I first discovered Allende's writing in 1996, when my family and I were exiled in Costa Rica. The first one I read was De amor y de sombras (Of love and shadows is the English translation). I fell in love with the main character, a strong woman who worked as a journalist and had to leave her country to avoid being murdered for reporting on government corruption. I was twelve years old when I read that novel. I still remember. Now, I'm 22. I'm graduating with two bachelors, one in Journalism, the other one in Spanish. I remember I decided to be a writer at 12, when I first read De amor y de sombras. I don't know if I decided that. I still think I don't have the courage to actually sit down and write something very long, but after I read that novel, I wanted to write. I was inspired to do it.
On Thursday, I met the woman whose work I used to read for pleasure. Ain't that something? Reading for pleasure is a luxury that college students like myself seldomly get to enjoy. I met the creator of the works that helped me escape as an adolescent. I met the woman behind Alba, Blanca, Rosa la bella and Clara, one of my favorite characters. I met the inventor of characters I only wish to be one day.

In the meantime, my grandmother Esperanza asked me to write her story. She didn't question me. She was sure I would do it and what's even more important, she thought I was capable of it. She barely knew how to write herself. The only thing I ever saw her reading was her book of prayers. "Mi nieta, mi nieta va escribir mi historia en un libro. Arlena, no dejes de escribir esto y aquello." She used to tell me in her distinct, special voice. She pushed me to do something I still haven't done. I would lay in the wooden floor of our house in Costa Rica and spend hours reading those and other novels. Then, I would write letters to the friends I had left behind and write some for myself.
Ever since I read De amor y de sombras, I've read La casa de los espiritus and even done a research paper for school comparing it to Cien años de soledad. I also read El plan infinito when I moved to Miami. I bought La ciudad de las bestias on a train station, while waiting to catch a train that took me for the first time to Barcelona, a city I have never forgotten it. Here and there, in different countries and emotional moments, Allende's novels have been in my life. The first one I read now reminds me of my diseased granma. The second one of a school paper. The third one of the trip I was taking to Barcelona while reading it. When my uncle died, I sent my aunt another one of Allende's greatest novel, Paula, and she thanked me for having helped her to cope with her pain. She said the novel had helped her.
In these ten years, I've discovered more books and developed a more critical approach towards literature. You can even substitute critical for the words harsh and cynical. But that hasn't been my fault. Spanish professors construct and deconstruct the writers' techniques and their novels. In any case, professor Camayds, among other professors at FIU, are to blame for the cynism and criticism some students are approaching literature with.

On Thursday, I remembered the times when I read for pleasure. I remembered my adolescence and teenage years, in which Isabel's writings played a special role.
"Isabel, no dejes de escribir. Yo estoy leyendo tus libros desde que tengo 12 años y ya tengo 22 y sigo leyendolos. Nunca dejes de escribir." I told her.
Isabel smiled and said: "Que linda! Que linda! Gracias por decirme eso." Isabel touched me in many ways but I paid her back. I made her smile and motivated her to keep on working, since she had been talking throughout the conference about how hard it was sometimes to write a new story, not her own, a new, different and exciting one. She talked about the writing process and pushed her to keep at it.

Now I have Allende's latest book, Ines of my soul. Unlike the other books of hers that I've kept throughout the years, this one was signed by her. She wrote Isabel Allende in beautiful cursive. She struck me as a happy woman. A woman over fifty who is satisfied with what she has done and achieved. As I heard her talking, Isabel even seemed as a person who never thought she would get far, touched many lives, or write as much as she's had. She was unforgettable, inspiring, beautiful. She must be over fifty years old already, but she shines more than a fifteen year old. She has the blissful smile of a woman satisfied with what she's lived and achieved. She had the confidence only the years bring and the happiness that she has brought to herself.


Blogger Wayne said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:56 PM  
Blogger Wayne said...

Arlena...This is the best writing I have seen by you. Really well done. Good work. I think you ARE a writer. Proud of you! Keep it up.

5:39 AM  
Blogger Arlena said...

Don't exaggerate. I am trying to get back in track. I love Allende. I just have to keep on writing and reading, but what about the story below this one. I turned it in for class, introduction to creative writing, and the professor gave me an A. The story takes place over lunch. And you are the writer; I'm a novice.

9:01 AM  
Blogger Wayne said...

Yes, Arlena, I did like "The Wedding". Your writing has goten dramatically better over the past year. Very nice work!

3:11 PM  
Blogger g said...

I've been a bad friend, yes, but a good reader...your writing accompanies me

7:16 PM  
Blogger g said...

I'd always regret not making it to that lecture....was working late and missed it. But you met her for both of us, so I'm glad. Make sure to tell me about her some time.

7:20 PM  

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