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Displacement in Isabel Allende’s Fiction, 1982–2000

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Mel Boland

This book explores the concept of displacement in the fiction produced by the Chilean writer Isabel Allende between 1982 and 2000. Displacement, understood in the author’s analysis to encompass social, geographical, linguistic and cultural phenomena, is argued to play a consistently central role in Allende’s fictional output of this period. Close readings of Allende’s texts illustrate the abiding importance of displacement and reconcile two apparently contradictory trends in her writing: as the settings of her fiction have become more international, questions of individual identity have gained in importance. This discussion employs displacement as a means of engaging with critical debates both on Allende’s individual texts and on her status as an original writer. After examining in detail the seven works of fiction written by Allende during this period, the book concludes with reflections on the general trajectory of her work in this genre.

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In this journey through a selection of Isabel Allende’s fiction – from 1982 to 2000 – displacement is shown to be an abiding feature of her work, and is one which serves to foreground the depth and diversity within her corpus of writing. In Chapter 2, La casa de los espíritus concentrates on Esteban Trueba’s desperate quest to achieve material, social and political success at any cost. There is a clear correlation between geographical and social displacement in Trueba’s determination to regain the role in society which his family has lost. Ideas from the field of Development Studies illustrate here the many failings in Trueba’s approach to dealings with the local community of Las Tres Marías, and expose the marginality which is a constant throughout his life, despite his apparent successes. His inability to connect with local habitants, however, is a microcosmic representation of Trueba’s strong sense of displacement in the novel. He fails to recognize the importance of community, and his ultimate eviction of the campesinos from the estate is a clear indication of his rash responses to what he sees as perceived threats. His growing awareness and ultimate acceptance of his diminished role in society is a liberating experience for him, af fording him licence to attempt some reconciliation with his estranged family. His final pleading with Tránsito Soto to secure the release of his closest family member, his grand-daughter Alba, reveals Trueba’s real dependence on the margins and this humbling experience serves as Allende’s way of...

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