The Mother of Chile; Isabel Allende's New Novel Celebrates the Spanish Conquistadora Who Helped Create a New Nation

Article excerpt

Byline: Amber Haq

Isabel Allende is in a fiery mood, lambasting the traditional bias of history books. "When you learn about the Spanish conquest of the New World, all you read about is the conquistadors," she says sharply. "Our history is recited from a purely male perspective. There were women and children, both Spanish and Indian. And yet their voices are nowhere to be heard." Latin America's most widely read female author hopes to tip that balance with her new book.

"Ines of my Soul" (HarperCollins, 321 pages) fictionalizes the story of real-life Spanish conquistadora Dona Ines SuArez, a visionary architect of the nation of Chile. "Ines is one of the very few women that are mentioned in history books in Chile and even then she is mentioned between the lines," says Allende, 64, a native of Chile. "More than a warrior and an adventurer, she was a founding mother. She built the city of Santiago, guarded it, planted trees, dug wells, founded hospitals and businesses, and fed the poor. But because she wasn't married to her lover, and because she was an ambitious and clever woman, she was considered dangerous by many in her time." Allende asks: "Doesn't that sound familiar?"

In a powerfully evocative narrative, Allende's tenth novel transports the reader back to Spain's 16th-century conquest of South America. Ines is a 70-year-old grandmother, whose "soul and heart are still caught in the fissure of youth," Allende writes. She decides to bear final testimony to her extraordinary life by writing her memoirs. Following her humble beginnings in the Spain of the Inquisition, Ines marries a philanderer whom she eventually follows across the Atlantic--only to discover that she has been widowed. But she refuses to turn back. "What seduces me particularly about Ines is her refusal of oppression in any form," says Allende. "She won't stay where she is supposed to and she refuses to become a widow under a dark veil."

Instead Ines marches on, swinging her hips with the allure of a gypsy, captivating men everywhere with her indomitable character and earthly warmth. Her dabbling in fortune-telling and her ability to locate water in the most arid of deserts make her seem magical, almost witchlike. She exudes a raw energy and strength of character from which lesser men might flee. …