Magical Realism, Isabel Allende, Historical Fiction, and International Women’s Day

Happy International Women’s Day! This holiday isn’t hugely celebrated where I’m from, here in the U.S., but dating internationally has introduced me to its significance overseas, in Europe among other places. Because it’s women’s day, or women’s month, or 51% of the population is female, I’m going to be writing this month about some of my favorite women authors. Among them is the esteemable Isabel Allende.

I’ve read three of Allende’s books: House of Spirits, my introduction to the literary genre of magical realism (which I think has given birth to what we now think of as urban fantasy), Daughter of Fortune, and Portrait in Sepia. These last two are about Chilean women living in Chile and California in the late 19th and early 20th century, during the Gold Rush, and trying to find their way as women in a world not terribly amenable to making things easier for women. The thng I loved about Allende’s characters were that they did what it is they wanted to do, regardless of whether it was the advisable choice, or the “correct” choice, or he easy choice–because they, as the character, wanted it. The protagonist of the first book, Eliza Sommers, reads more masculine, running away from home and dressing as a man while in search of her lover. Her granddaughter, the protagonist of the second book, Aurora del Valle, reads more feminine–growing up “properly” and dressing as a woman. But the thing that made me like these characters, the thing that made them interesting to me, was that they both had agency. Right, wrong, or indifferent, the course of their life was set by their desires. And that is what made them well-executed to me as “strong” female characters, side-stepping the cringey “plucky” female character trope.

Allende recently gave a virtual talk at my local library, which you can access here, if it tickles your fancy.

What about you, dear readers? Who’s your favorite female author? Why?

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