My middle daughter, Valerie, gave me a copy of The Penquin Book of International Women's Stories edited by Kate Figes for Christmas. I was, of course, very happy to get it. Yesterday I was looking through the book to see what countries for Project 196 might be found in the collection. In the table of contents they have the country of the author next to their name and I saw "Isabel Allende-Peru" so I read the story and I am very glad I did. She was born in Peru (1942) to parents from Chile who were serving as diplomats in Peru. Her parents returned to Chile shortly after her birth and she has always been involved in writing about Chile (one of her cousins was elected President) and on her webpage it is clear she thinks of herself as Chilean. She has been an American citizen since 1993 and has lived in California since 1987. Given this I decided not to count her as my writer from Peru for Project 196, in which I am posting on a short story from all 196 countries in the world. That being said, Isabel Allende is a writer of tremendous popularity, with over 57 Million books sold, translations into 30 languages and numerous awards and honorary degrees. You can learn more about her work and very interesting life on her webpage.
"Two Words" is one of her better know short stories. It was in fact required reading at La Salle College, one of Manila's most prestigious universities last term in Junior English. The story very much has the feel of Latin American magic realism. The central female character is a woman who grew up as an orphan with no one to help her. She learns the power of words and how to read, a very big thing in a largely illiterate society. She makes her living by writing letters for people, with every letter she gives people two secret words to help protect them. She rapidly develops her fame as a woman with a great ability to use words, to caste a spell with them. The place she lives is rugged, nearly in a state of anarchy with bands of bandits disguised as political groups roaming the countryside and terrorizing people at will. One day the woman is kidnapped and brought to the command post of "The Colonel". He has heard of her power with words and he wants her to write a speech for him, one he can give throughout the country to get himself elected president. Where ever he goes people are mesmerized by the speech. It also appears the woman has cast a spell on the colonel that made him fall in love with her. His second in command wants to kill her as a witch but the colonel will not have it. I will leave the rest of the very intriguing story untold.
"Two Words" is a very interesting story and it is not hard to see from reading it why she has sold such a huge number of books. I will hopefully be reading more of her work in 2013 and beyond.
Please share your experience with Isabel Allende with us