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An author shares the real drama in her life

Isabel Allende tells her own story of politics, heartache, and the joy to be found in a large and loving family.

April 20, 2008

"There is no lack of drama in my life," Chilean author Isabel Allende writes in the opening of her new memoir The Sum of Our Days. As readers of her acclaimed earlier memoir, "Paula," know, this is a little like saying there is no shortage of 9-year-olds at a Hannah Montana concert.

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Allende, author of eight novels including "The House of the Spirits," is one of the most famous writers to come out of Latin America. She wrote "Paula" as a love letter to her daughter while the latter was in a coma from which she never recovered.

In it, Allende chronicled her childhood as a diplomat's daughter in a family of strong personalities, her first marriage and career as a journalist, the military coup in 1973 that deposed President Salvador Allende (her father's cousin) and brought Gen. Augusto Pinochet to power, and her flight from Chile and 13-year-exile.

Today, Allende lives with her second husband, Willie Gordon, and an extended "clan" of family and friends in California. That clan is at the heart of her new book, and their personalities, conflicts, and foibles move the memoir forward through 13 years. (Allende writes her mother, who lives in Chile, daily. That correspondence forms the backbone of her memory, and gives "The Sum of Our Days" a level of detail only wished for by the James Freys of the world.)

As in "Paula," Allende is once again writing to her daughter with a loving, newsy tone that envelops a reader as well. "The Sum of Our Days," picks up immediately after the death of Paula.

"I will begin by telling you what has happened since 1993, when you left us, and will limit myself to the family, which is what interests you," Allende writes.

That grief is just one of the challenges Allende and her husband, Willie Gordon, face during a turbulent 1990s. "Many years would go by before you became a gentle, constant friend. In those days, I felt your absence as a sharp pain that at times brought me to my knees."

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