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Isabel Allende

Lori Barra

Isabel Allende is an internationally bestselling author whose books, which include The House of the Spirits, Paula and Eva Luna, have sold more than 65 million copies around the world. She was born in Peru, raised in Chile and currently lives in California. Her latest novel, In The Midst of Winter, arrives in bookstores this month.

Why did you write your new book?

In 2016, when I wrote In the Midst of Winter, I was over 70 and coming out of a divorce after 28 years of marriage. My beloved agent, three close friends and my dog had died. It was a sad time, one of those emotional winters that seem endless. I stumbled upon a quote by Albert Camus: "In the midst of winter, I finally found there was within me an invincible summer. For the summer that we all have inside to manifest we need to open the heart and take risks." That's what my book is about: three traumatized characters trapped in a snow storm in New York – a metaphor for their own winters – who find themselves in a situation of life and death. By opting for compassion and solidarity, they discover their invincible summers.

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What's the best advice you've ever received?

Don't whine, don't complain, don't expect help, take care of yourself. That was my grandfather's advice and it has helped me very well in life. Now, in my later years I don't need to be so hard on myself. The worst is probably over – losses, exile, divorces, devastating deaths – and I can relax and pamper myself a little.

Which fictional character do you wish you'd created?

Harry Potter, because it captured the imagination of millions of kids and got them to read fat books without pictures. What an accomplishment!

Which fictional character do you wish you were?

I want to be Zorro. He is young, athletic, brave and irreverent; he defends the poor and fights for justice; he can use a sword, do magic tricks, dance and probably play the guitar; he is handsome and romantic and I assume he is tireless in bed. (In other words: He is the opposite of me.)

Would you rather have the ability to be invisible or time-travel?

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I would rather have the ability to time-travel because I want to see the future. (Every period of the past was way worse than the present.) Being invisible without the ability to fly is not very useful. I still would have to get around with effort or in some vehicle.

What scares you as a writer?

Losing my mind. As a writer I need concentration, attention to detail, good memory, imagination and intuition. I may lose all of the above as part of the aging process, and then I would not be able to live in my stories and I would be stuck in the real world. How awful!

Which book got you through the darkest period of your life?

The darkest period of my life was when my daughter Paula died. Her premature death broke my heart. I read many books that helped me but what really got me through was writing a memoir called Paula. Day by day, tear after tear, word by word, I was able to go through the first terrible year of mourning. And the response from readers that I have gotten for the past 25 years reminds me constantly that Paula's spirit is with me.

What's the best death scene in literature?

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Romeo and Juliet's deaths are the most memorable and probably the best known. They were two young teenagers madly in love who committed unnecessary suicide due to a misunderstanding that could have been easily avoided.

What's the best sentence you've ever written?

"Barrabas came to us by sea." That's the first sentence of The House of the Spirits, the book that launched me as a writer and changed my life. I had no idea who was Barrabas or why he came by sea but that sentence was like opening a valve and letting the story flow like a river.

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