In the introduction to her book, My Invented Country: A Memoir, Isabel Allende explained that by “some blood-chilling coincidence–historic Karma,” she had experienced two life-changing September 11ths. Her world changed the first time on September 11, 1973, the day of the military coup in her beloved Chile, and on that day she lost a country. After living in exile in various locations, Allende now makes her home in the United States. She has struggled since that day in 1973 to redefine herself: “…if someone had asked me where I’m from, I would have answered, without much thought, Nowhere; or, Latin America, or, maybe, In my heart I’m Chilean. Today, however, I say I’m an American...” For many years, she felt like an outsider in this country until the tragedy of September 11, 2001, an event that unified all Americans in grief. It was then she realized that in that shared grief she had gained a country.
This book is a fascinating exploration of memory and nostalgia. It is a courageous and honest account of her struggles to come to terms with the loss of her country, and it chronicles her growth and development as a person and as a writer.
I write because I need to remember and overcome. It is from memory and a sense of loss that the passion to create emerges. Every book is an act of love, an offering that I prepare with great care, hoping that it will be well received.”
She shares her deep love and nostalgia for her lost country and culture in her descriptions and reminiscences of the politics, food, manners, myths, and customs of Chile. I learned a great deal about the character of the country and the culture of the people from her stories. But she explains that the Chile of her memory is “an invented country…”
…From the instant I crossed the cordillera of the Andes one rainy winter morning, I unconsciously began the process of inventing a country…
…Through the intervening years, I lived with my eyes turned south, listening to the news, waiting for the moment I could go back, as I selected my memories, altered some events, exaggerated or ignored others, refined my emotions, and so gradually constructed the imaginary country in which I have sunk my roots…”
It became clear to me, as I read this book, that Allende had finally reached a point in her life where she could stop briefly and look back over her shoulder at the pathway she has walked since 1973, and really understand each turn and obstacle along the way. She has made peace with the enormous losses she has suffered, and finds joy in her writing and her family. She is “proud of being bicultural.” … “I have tried to keep my language, my traditions, my sense of honour and my roots alive and vibrant. You don’t have to give up all the good things, just keep adding all the good things that this country can offer you.”
She poignantly shared with her readers the understandings she has come to about herself, and explains the importance of writing in her life:
…My heart isn’t divided, it has merely grown larger. I can live and write anywhere. Every book contributes to the completion of that “country inside my head,” as my grandchildren call it. In the slow practice of writing, I have fought with my demons and obsessions, I have explored the corner of memory, I have dredged up stories and people from oblivion, I have stolen others’ lives, and from all this raw material I have constructed a land that I call my country. That is where I come from…
I loved the fact that she would share so much of her “life-processing” with me, and I admired her emotional honesty, as well as her resilience and optimism. This is a hopeful book and a poignant look at the life of an artist.This was the third book I’ve read for Melissa’s Expanding Horizons reading challenge, with my focus on Hispanic/Latin American authors, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.