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Gently nostalgic reminiscences
on 7 February 2015
I wasn't sure what to expect from My Invented Country as I'm pretty sure I've not yet read any of Isabel Allende's novels. What I got was gently nostalgic reminiscences of her childhood and adolescence, sprinkled with witty and sharp observations of not only Chile, but also Allende's adopted countries since the 1970s, primarily Venezuela and the USA, and the contrasts between them. I knew little, also, of Chile other than the name of Pinochet so was fascinated to learn insignificant details of daily life and the national culture, pre-Pinochet. Allende's love for the natural landscape comes across continually thoughout her memoir and she makes it sound like a fabulous country to tour. Could we get our caravan across the Atacama Desert do you think?
Allende's starting points for many of her reminiscences are members of her eccentric extended family, all of whom she admits are perfect fodder for a writer! I was irritated by abrupt stops where she would indicate that a tale had already been included in a novel so she 'wouldn't repeat it here'. Now I have to go and buy some of the novels too! I am very tempted by her first, The House Of The Spirits, now though, especially as I learned how it came about.
Allende's criticisms of present-day Chile, its rampant commercialism and ostentatious shows of personal wealth were disappointing to read as perhaps now it is just becoming like everywhere else. This sentence:
'Freedom consists of having many brand names to choose from when you go out to buy on credit' was striking and made me wonder if I have missed Chile as an individual country, perhaps it is more prevalent in Santiago. The divisions post-dictatorship are also saddening to read and I was interested by Allende's reasons for now living in the USA, a country which did so much to damage her beloved Chile.
Overall, My Invented Country is a diverting memoir, quite light overall and with a such meandering pace that sometimes I wondered where we were going to end up. However it has sparked an interest for me to discover both more of Allende's writing and more about Chile itself.