Q&A: Isabel Allende on feminism, TV series, love in pandemic

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This combination photo shows the cover of "The Soul of a Woman," left, and a portrait of author Isabel Allende. (Ballantine via AP left, and Lori Barra via AP)

NEW YORK – Isabel Allende is not only the world’s most widely read Spanish-language author but also a self-declared and outspoken feminist. So it is not surprising that her most recent book, “The Soul of a Woman,” arrived in the United States during Women’s History Month, just days before the premiere of a miniseries about her life on HBO Max.

In her first nonfiction book in more than a decade, the Chilean author reviews her relationship with feminism from her childhood to the present, remembering those who marked her — from her mother, Panchita, and her daughter Paula to literary agent Carmen Balcells and authors Virginia Woolf and Margaret Atwood. She also reflects on the #MeToo movement, the recent social unrest in Chile and the global pandemic.

“The year of the pandemic has paralyzed everything, and much of what women had done was going out to the streets to gather and protest,” said Allende in a recent interview with The Associated Press via Zoom from her home in California. “Women alone are very vulnerable, women together are invincible... It's not that I think that it has regressed or stopped. This is moving forward.”

The first 50 years of her life are dramatized in “Isabel: The Intimate Story of the Writer Isabel Allende,” a three-part biopic premiering Friday on HBO Max and starring Chilean actress Daniela Ramírez.

Produced by Megamedia Chile and directed by Rodrigo Bazaes, the miniseries bookends the story with the death of her daughter, who died in 1992 at 29 while in a deep coma due to a porphyria crisis (as Allende wrote in her 1994 memoir “Paula”).

“It made me sob because it starts with Paula in the hospital and ends with Paula’s death. We saw it with my son (Nicolás) and we both had to stop because we were crying so hard with the first scene. But then it gets better in the sense that it is no longer so emotional for us," she said, adding that she was extremely pleased and impressed with the result.

Allende starts a new book every January 8th. Last year, the confinement allowed her to finish not one but two: “The Soul of a Woman,” a Ballantine Books release, and an upcoming novel titled “Violeta” that begins with the 1918 pandemic (“which really began in Chile in 1920,” she points out) and ends with the current pandemic. “It is the life of a woman during that time,” she says.

During the interview, Allende recalled her beginnings as a feminist and also spoke about her experience as a 78-year-old “newlywed” in confinement. She married her third husband, New York lawyer Roger Cukras, in July 2019.