En español | To chat with Isabelle Allende is to take a journey, though not in the literal sense. Rather, a journey of the heart, filled with brutal truths, exhilarating passions, and the wisdom that comes from accepting, in Allende's words, that "we have very little control over our lives."
The acclaimed author recently met with AARP Segunda Juventud at her home in Sausalito, California, to talk about her new novel for young adults, City of Beasts. Being a storyteller, Allende also wove in tales of her own extraordinary life: of her enduring Latin American roots, which continue to inspire her though she has lived in California the past 15 years; of her adored grandchildren, who "commissioned" her to write City of Beasts. And, most revealing of all, the unexpected freedoms of life at 60.
In City of Beasts, a teenage boy, whose mother falls ill, finds himself on an adventure with his thrill-seeking grandmother, a reporter for an international geographic magazine. The two travel to the Amazon, on a quest to find a legendary creature, known as "the beast." Along the way, the boy gains an inner strength he never knew he had and the grandmother watches the transformation of her beloved grandson with admiration.
Allende, who researched the book by taking a boat ride up the Amazon, says the eccentric grandma in the book is not at all like her. But, the book's protagonist, Alexander Cold, is based on a real person, Allende's oldest grandson, Alejandro. All three of Allende's grandchildren (aged eleven, nine and eight) live a short distance from her i
"My grandchildren don't think I'm famous at all. They think that I'm short and they hate the fact that I put on lipstick.” —Isabel Allende
Says Allende, "I've been telling them stories since they were born. When I tuck them in bed, each one of them gives me a theme or a word, or something, such as an elephant, a carnivorous plant, or a Martian. I'm sure they get together ahead of time and think up a subject that I couldn't possibly use, but I always come up with something. And, they're the ones who asked me to write this book."
City of Beasts is the first in a trilogy about Alexander Cold's adventures with his kooky grandma. Allende has already written the second book, which is set in the Himalayas. She has not yet begun the third, but no doubt, will count on her grandchildren for inspiration.
What do the grandkids think about having a famous grandmother? Replies Allende, "They don't think I'm famous at all. They think that I'm short, and they hate the fact that I put on lipstick. They see me making beds, getting them breakfast. I'm just their grandma. I don't think they perceive me as someone with a public life."