Controversy: Isabel Allende and the National Prize for Literature

Perhaps it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone who follows Latin American literature that there would be some controversy about Isabel Allende and Chile’s National Prize for Literature. I haven’t heard a kind word for her in a while, usually it is wrapped up in criticisms of popularity, but none of her recent books have really interested me. She doesn’t have to spend all her time writing magical realism, but I just don’t trust her when she writes about the US. Global Voices has a quick run down on some of the chatter that is accompanying her nomination. You can decide if it is petty or warranted.

Isabel Allende, author of The House of Spirits and the recently published Island Beneath the Sea, among other novels, is one of the best-known and most-read Latin American writers. This year, she is a candidate for the Chilean National Prize for Literature, a prize given by the government, the Ministry of Education, and the National Council of Culture and the Arts. Her candidacy has sparked debate among literature critics, writers, and average Chilean citizens.

Isabel Allende was born in Peru while her father worked there as a diplomat; her father’s cousin was Salvador Allende, the president who was ousted by a coup d’état led by Augusto Pinochet in 1973. Isabel Allende now lives in California. As reported by the Latin American Herald Tribune, “Her books have been translated into more than two-dozen languages and 51 million copies of her novels have been sold.” However, some critics, and even some readers, think her popularity is not enough reason to give her the prize.