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Isabel Allende Discusses New Book, Trump’s Wall And #MeToo

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

Isabel Allende discusses her new book, "In The Midst of Winter," with KPBS, Nov. 30, 2017.


Isabel Allende, author


Illegal immigration, gender violence and poetic justice are just a few of the subjects that Isabel Allende grapples with in her latest book, "In The Midst of Winter."

The internationally renown Chilean author's novel interweaves the lives of an elderly vegan professor who is terrified of everything and desires nothing, a fierce Chilean journalist who has a crush on him and a young Guatemalan woman fleeing horrific violence.

Allende sat down with KPBS to discuss this book, President Trump's wall and the #MeToo movement, which involves women sharing stories of sexual harassment and assault on social media to raise awareness about the ubiquity of the problem.

What follows is a partial transcript of the interview. Her book's title comes from the French philosopher Albert Camus, who wrote: "In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer."

Video by Nicholas Mcvicker

Q: You’ve said that the only way to change the world is to empower women and nurture feminine energy in men. How can we accomplish the latter?

A: Educating men. Young men. I think the old men, we have to wait until they die off. There’s nothing we can do about them. But the young ones, women like you and me are bringing them up so everything is changing and we know that it is changing. Because in my lifetime, I have seen a big change. The generation of my son is very different from mine and my grandchildren are totally different too.

Q: You’ve fought for women’s rights for decades, through your foundation and books. I want to ask your thoughts about the #MeToo movement. What do you think is accomplished by telling these stories that raise awareness about the ubiquity of gender violence?

A: We can relate to personal stories. If we talk about numbers, for example immigration or harassment, if we talk about millions of women who have been harassed — that doesn’t mean anything until we see a face or hear a story ... Anita Hill started by denouncing sexual harassment in the workplace. And she started a revolution. She lost the hearing, and she lost in that moment, but she won the war. Because now we are conscious about harassment in the workplace ... So what’s happening today here with this movement and these women coming out, they’re for the first time making men accountable. And that is something that will change probably the way we understand gender relationships in the United States and by extension other places. And I think it’s very important.

Q: “In the Midst of Winter” is so relevant in the U.S. right now given the current immigration debate ... You wrote: “Xenophobia toward Latinos was already in the air, unleashed by Donald Trump’s hateful presidential campaign.” Why did you choose to place the characters in this landscape?

A: By the time he became President, I had finished the book. Yet the issues he gave a megaphone to — xenophobia, racism, misogyny — all that was in the air, it was there … He didn’t invent anything, he just harvested sentiments that were there always. And they’re there in every society. We are no exception. The thing is that as we evolve to a better world, these things are kept under control, these sentiments and this hatred. And then sometimes given the wrong circumstances it emerges. But the tendency is toward more comprehension, more understanding, more inclusion, more democracy.

Q: As such a prominent Latin American writer living in the United States, do you feel a greater urgency to comment on these issues?

A: Not in my books ... I don’t try to preach in my books or to give a message, but I write about the things I care for.

Q: The prototypes for Trump’s wall were just built in San Diego, I don’t know if you were planning to visit them?

A: No.

Q. What are your thoughts on the wall we have in comparison with the one that is being planned?

A: It’s interesting that in the world we live today, everything is global: technology, communication, information, drugs, guns — everything except people. People are contained. People have to be within borders, nothing else is.

Q: Your book touches on the role the U.S. has played in the violence of Mexico and Central America. You write about how “stricter border controls” make criminal organizations more rich and ruthless. Do you think elected officials have done enough to recognize and repair the havoc that the U.S. has historically helped wreak in Latin America?

A: No ... For decades, when we were in the middle of what was called the Cold War and the world was divided between the area of influence of the Soviet Union and the area of influence of United States, the CIA provoked and supported terrible dictatorships in different part of the world. The circumstances have changed, the Cold War ended and now the role of the CIA is different but still intervenes in other countries ... Let’s talk about Guatemala, for example — my character is from Guatemala. Guatemala suffered 30 years of genocide against the indigenous people, perpetrated by the ruling class supported by the CIA with the excuse of fighting Communism ... this created havoc in the infrastructure of the country, the social network of the country, and then the gangs came.

Q: (Your book) is this really original exploration of morality. One of your characters finds a body in the trunk of car and they deal with it in a less-than-legal way … You write that justice is cruel and the law is blind. Your characters really play with boundaries of that. What inspired you to explore these ideas?

A: I’m always interested fascinated by poetic justice, organic justice, natural justice, which is very often the opposite of the legal system, the judiciary system that always punishes the weak and the poor and doesn’t make the rich and the powerful accountable. And we’ve seen this in this country, we’ve seen it everywhere — that the rich get away with everything and the poor pay. Who are the people filling up the prisons in this country, the private prisons by the way? Black people and brown people and the poor. So I don’t trust justice but I do believe in the justice of the heart — of what we know is right in our hearts.

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