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Isabel Allende: “It would be terrible for the United States and humanity if Trump were president again”

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The prolific Chilean writer Isabel Allende returns to bookstores this week with her first children’s book, Perla, the super dog (Alfaguara). It is a story that was born from an event as everyday as walking a pet. Allende (Lima, 81 years old) had gone out with her little dog, who gives the work its name, and she approached a tree and started barking at a squirrel. In the same place there was a large dog that broke off its leash and attacked her. “Everyone ran to hold the dog, but we couldn’t get there, and Perla turned around and faced him. I had never seen her like this, all her hair stood up, she was foaming at the mouth, she growled like a beast and the dog turned around and ran away. Then people took videos and photos and Perla became a celebrity in the park,” the author says smiling through a video call.

Her dog and a little neighbor who visits her on Tuesdays and Thursdays became the inspiration for the book, she says. “My agent had been telling me for a long time to write a story for little children, an illustrated story. I didn’t have small children around her, because my children and my grandchildren are already grown, but there is a neighbor who comes to see me on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I have known her since she was born and now she is three and a half years old. Her name is Camila and she enters the house shouting ‘!book, book, book! The only thing he wants is to read. First we read a book and then she has an ice cream. Those two days are sacred for her and deep down they have become sacred for me too. So there everything came together,” says the author.

The book, published with illustrations by Sandy Rodríguez, tells the story of Nico, a little boy whose family rescues a dog who will soon become his best friend. The child suffers bullying at school, but he keeps it quiet. Allende reproduces the park scene in the story and Perla’s attitude towards the dog that wants to destroy her helps the child confront her attackers. “That gave me the idea that many times if we face what we fear most, it turns out that it is not so terrible,” says the author of The island under the sea y Paulathe story about his daughter’s illness and death.

In this interview, Allende talks about her own childhood, wandering around the world due to the work of her parents, diplomats, which caused her to constantly change schools and grow up as a shy, isolated girl. She also talks about the things or situations that inspire her books and current events, with the latent fear of the power that “bullies” take in the world. She fears, for example, that Donald Trump will return to power in the United States, but she is also concerned about the conservative turn that is being registered in many countries. “People feel that they are not represented in democracy and that democracy is as corrupt as anything else. They are looking for an authoritarian leader. Look what has happened in El Salvador,” she says in reference to President Nayib Bukele. “I think it would be terrible for the United States and for humanity if Donald Trump were president again, I hope it doesn’t happen, but there are many possibilities that it will happen despite the scandals,” says the acclaimed Chilean author in this interview she grants. from his home in the seaside town of Sausalito, north of San Francisco.

Ask. In his books he explores human relationships, but in this particular work he focuses on the relationship between a child and his dog. You have said that you like dogs more than people…

Answer. Of course, because dogs are loyal, friendly, fun and they don’t talk back to you.

P. Nico, the child protagonist of the book, suffers bullying at school. You say in the book that “bullies are cowards.” Is the book a message against child abuse?

R. I don’t like the idea of ​​giving a message, but rather telling a story, and if the story teaches you something good, so much the better. I had the idea that if we face what we fear most, it turns out that it is not so terrible. I think that first of all parents and teachers have to be watching and trying to protect them, but there also has to be an attitude on the part of the child to defend themselves.

P. Many times children are silent. Do you think that a child who suffers abuse can act like Nico did when reading this story?

R. An abused little child has so few defenses. I was never abused at school, but I changed schools all the time, because my parents were diplomats. I lived changing schools, countries, friends, and I always felt excluded, that feeling that one does not belong, that one does not have a single friend; At recess she was hiding behind a book pretending that she was reading so that it wouldn’t be obvious how alone she was.

P. How did you face that exclusion?

R. I could never face her, because when she came to make friends, she had to go somewhere else. In life I have learned to take the initiative of friendship, but when she was young, and especially when she was a girl, she was shy, sick of shy. She didn’t dare me to take any initiative. If they didn’t invite me, I stayed in my corner with a book.

P. It’s strange, because you’ve said that one of your powers is to make people laugh.

R. One changes a lot with age and circumstances change. I began to bring out my personality and feel at ease when we finally returned to Chile. I was 16 years old then and I finally entered a school with the idea that I was going to stay in a country. At that time I began to feel more confident about myself, but it was very difficult for me.

P. The uprooting hits.

R. Of course it hits. My parents weren’t even with me, because they were in Türkiye. I went to live at my grandfather’s house and everything was strange and nothing helped you. I couldn’t go out anywhere, because my grandfather was super strict. He didn’t have much of a social life either. I was very feminist, full of ideas and very rebellious, but I behaved very well, I got very good grades and it would not have occurred to me to jump out the window to escape, like my granddaughter did, who escaped from her room to the neighbor’s roof. .

P. Maybe that kind of freedom helps children become more independent.

R. Clear. My son Nicolás was terrible and I still don’t know all the evil things he did, but some are legendary.

P. As which?

R. I’ll tell you one. We lived in Caracas, in Los Palos Grandes, where the buildings are next to each other, and Nicolás would throw eggs with a slingshot at the building in front, with the idea of ​​passing it through the window and having the egg fall inside the apartment. He never hit it and the egg fell against the wall of the building, in the summer heat of Caracas, and the egg ran downwards and as it ran it became an omelette. Then they came to claim me and I said: ‘But how, my son? Never! My son would never do something like that.’ He would call him and say ‘Nicholas, are you slinging eggs at the building across the street?’ And he answered me: ‘Mom, why do you always suspect me. You put me in a terrible position, because you never trust me.’ He never told me a lie straight up. It was terrible, the ones he did to me were fatal, but now he is a serious man, completely Zen.

P. What attitude did he take in the face of these pranks?

R. I trusted him blindly. She was so stupid, you know, an asshole mother.

P. What effect does literature have on Isabel Allende?

R. It takes me to another world. When I read a book I immerse myself in a universe that someone else created and that I completely believe. I know it’s fiction, I know it’s a novel, but I dedicate myself to the mission. And that’s what I try to do when I write: I try to create a world that I’m immersed in detail by detail. And while I’m in that book, I have nothing else in my head, to the point that I can’t relax, because I have the book inside me, I dream about the book, I wake up in the morning thinking about it, I get up at midnight because An idea occurs to me. I can’t let go of it.

P. At what point do you say ‘here may be a story for a book’?

R. I think they are seeds that I have inside, because everything catches my attention. People write to me, send me stories about their lives or the lives of their grandparents. One thing after another is spun. I am very disciplined and I start all my books on January 8, but many times I don’t know which of all those seeds is going to germinate into a story. Sometimes on January 8th I start one thing and I can’t develop it and I start another and suddenly something catches on.

P. How much does current events influence? In your previous novel you touched on a very strong topic: family separation due to the immigration policies that were reinforced under Donald Trump.

R. I’m not trying to write about current events, because they change very quickly, but about human tragedy, which is eternal. I have a foundation and we do work on the border, we are aware of the detention centers for separated children, because there are 1,400 children in the United States who have not yet been able to be reunited with their family. They deported the parents, not even to their country of origin, they sent them to Mexico, and they were never able to reunite the family again.

P. Are you worried that a Trump return to power will make this situation worse?

R. Of course. I think it would be terrible for the United States and for humanity if Donald Trump were president again, I hope it doesn’t happen, but there is a good chance that it will happen despite the scandals. The Republican Party supports him, so it is very possible that he will be elected. And he has already announced a mass deportation.

P. Why do you think there is such a high percentage of people in the US who favor Trump?

R. Because there is a turn to the right in many places, and a return to authoritarianism, as if democracy had failed. People feel that they are not represented in democracy and that democracy is as corrupt as anything else. They are looking for an authoritarian leader. Look what has happened in El Salvador.

P. Why is totalitarianism so attractive?

R. Because they want clear answers.

P. Maybe literature helps us prevent people from becoming bullies, as you call them, when we grow up.

R. I don’t think literature has that power. Literature gives us other things, it connects us with other people, it makes us understand that we are not alone, that what happens to us does not happen only to us. I think that is the power of literature, that of connection, it makes us part of humanity.

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