Chilean American author Isabel Allende discusses her newest novel, “The Wind Knows My Name” (El viento conoce mi nombre) with MSNBC anchor and “Latina to Latina” podcast host, Alicia Menendez; in the Kaufmann Concert Hall and online; from the 92nd Street Y, New York in the Upper East Side; on Tuesday, June 6, 2023 at 7:30pm. From $35. 92ny.org 🇨🇱 🇨🇺
Each ticket includes a copy of the book in English translation by Frances Riddle, or the original in Spanish.
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Isabel Allende, La Chilena
As one of today’s most widely-read Spanish language authors, the New York Times bestselling Chilean American author is also one of the world’s most influential Latinas.
Known for her wanders into Magical Realism, Allende is a prolific author who weaves stories around the roles of women and the history of Latin America. Many of her books have been made into movies and television series.
Though Allende spent much of her life in Venezuela and the United States, it is important that she is Chilean. A history of violence and loss from the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990) and its fallout, has left contemporary Chileans with a unique sense of how political violence happens and how it much it hurts. Any American who dreams of revolution should talk to a Chilean. The innocent suffer the most and it takes generations to recover. The legacy of the Pinochet years is still not fully resolved in Chile today ~ 33 years on.
Alicia Menendez, La Cubana
This is a discussion between two brilliant women.
Raised in a Cuban American political family in New Jersey, Alicia Menendez distinguished herself with her senior honors thesis on women’s social capital at Harvard University in 2005.
She has grown into a driving force in Latina journalism as an MSNBC anchor and “Latina to Latina” podcast host.
Both the Allende and Menendez families have experienced the terror and struggle of forced migration first hand. And both have overcome it. This should be quite a talk.
The Wind Knows My Name (El viento conoce mi nombre)
Great art has a way of arriving at the perfect moment, almost as if scheduled by its own consciousness, and this is a story for our times. The American border has become a boundary of dreams and nightmares. New York City, made an open city by its first Jewish community in 1654, currently feels itself overwhelmed by the newest New Yorkers seeking sanctuary.
Allende is an author who is perhaps more poet, than novelist. The book’s title alone will make every exile who hears it, pause a moment, and maybe wipe away tears of memory.
That wind travels the earth, scouring everything in its path with both unspeakable terror and infinite hope. The wind knows our names.
If you ever had to leave home, wherever that might be, you will always feel that wind in your heart. It’s a torment most of us won’t speak of because it it is too heavy a weight to carry through the day.
But it needs to be spoken, both to cleanse our souls and as a warning to treasure each moment and let those you love, know you love them. Do not call that wind, because it may turn on you and blow away everything you know and love.
In “The Wind Knows My Name,” Allende weaves together two children’s stories of violence and migration. One is five-year old Samuel Adler in 1938 Vienna, whose mother sends him off alone with his violin on a Kindertransport train to England after his father disappears in the violence of Kristallnacht. He never sees his parents again. But in England, he becomes a violinist with the London Philharmonic, and then follows his interest in jazz to America.
The other is Anita Diaz, a partially blind seven-year-old fleeing gang violence in El Salvador with her mother in 2019. They ride another famous train on their way to America and survive the dangerous journey, but Anita ends up alone at a camp in Arizona, torn from her mother by new family-separation policies at the American border. The little girl soothes herself by imagining trips to Azabahar, a magical realm she made up with her sister once upon a time back home.
Meanwhile a young social worker, Selena Diram, works with Frank, a lawyer, to find the little girl’s mother. They find another relative, Leticia Cordero who herself fled the El Mozote massacre (1981) in El Salvador. Letitia provides home care for the now eighty-six-year-old Samuel Adler as an undocumented immigrant in the United States.
Ironically, Samuel’s grandson is a presidential advisor who hawks harsh immigration policies. That actually happened. A Jewish American grandfather who escaped World War II, said his presidential advisor grandson wouldn’t be alive if his grandson’s anti-immigration policies were in effect during the war.
You can’t imagine what people go through just to find safety. And if you give such an exile a home, they will love and protect it more than most natives can understand. When the wind takes you away from everything you know, you get very creative just to survive.
Allende makes you feel the impact of forced migration on children in a most visceral way.
The most vivid image of his past was that last desperate embrace. That was the day his childhood ended.”“The Wind Knows My Name,” Isabel Allende
The book is available in hardcover, paperback, Ebook and audio at penguinrandomhouse.com
Isabel Allende is Driven by the Pain of Loss and a Mother’s Love, with a Little Help From the Spirits
All great artists are driven by some ember of pain that once burned so brightly in their life, it will never be extinguished.
Born in Lima, Peru on August 2, 1942, she was a journalist in Chile. Chilean President Salvador Allende was her father’s cousin. When the president was assassinated in 1973, Allende was forced to flee into exile in Venezuela.
A 1981 letter to her dying grandfather grew into Allende’s first novel, “La casa de los espiritus” (The House of the Spirits) in 1982. It is the feminine media naranja, or soulmate, of “100 Years of Solitude,” the Gabriel García Márquez classic of the Magical Realism genre.
It’s worth noting that for many Latins, Magical Realism is not a literary construct. It is the real magic of life. It’s how we understand everyday joys and sorrows. The modern world tries to rationalize everything, but some things can’t easily be rationalized ~ especially the logic of separation. Even the logic of union seems to be governed by a nearly unimaginable series of coincidences.
In an interview with Laura Fernández for the Spanish newspaper “El Pais,” Megan McDowell, one of today’s leading Spanish translators, said, “I am convinced that good writers have some kind of contact with the afterlife.” We are aware of that unseen guiding hand, but not quite sure what it is. You might call it spirits, saints, myth, folklore, madness, or just chance, but there seems to be something there. It might even be the feminine aspect which is the creative part of a man, and very strong in Allende.
The philosophical concept of Occam’s razor, suggests that the simplest solution is the best one. The involvement of forces of nature, named as imaginations or spirits. is often the simplest solution. We need something to cover up pain, or explain someone else’s good fortune, so we can get on with our own lives. The spirits provide good cover. For that, we honor them with continuous love and care. Also, the land of the spirits is the same as the landscape of the human mind. Many of us say we don’t believe in any of this, yet our actions suggest that we actually do. We are all humans after all.
Allende’s 1995 book “Paula” is a memoir of childhood and exile written as a letter to her daughter who died after a long year in a vegetative state caused by a medical error. Sometimes you have a lot to say, but no time or place to say it. The pain of that last desperate embrace has to come out somehow.
Isabel Allende is an incredible woman who lives in a virtuous cycle. Having achieved much, she is an active player in giving, the currency of the universe. Perhaps it is what made her successful in the first place.
She is a very hard worker. It’s been reported that Allende works from 9am to 7pm every day from Monday – Saturday. There is an example in that for all of us who want to succeed in life. You have to work at it.
Among many awards, Allende won the Chilean National Prize in Literature in 2010, the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom winner in 2014, and the PEN lifetime achievement award in 2016.
It’s also been reported that she starts writing every year on January 8 because that is when she started writing “In the House of the Spirits.” This modern woman is a little superstitious and in her stories of women’s suffering and loss, there is something of herself. The wind knows Isabel Allende’s name.