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Isabel Allende is a Chilean-American author who has published 18 books, including works of fiction, non-fiction, and memoir. She is one of the best-known female writers in Latin America, and[…]

Isabel Allende fell in love with New Orleans just before Katrina, and Haiti just before the earthquake. The quake in her native Chile didn’t shake her as much.

Question: Why did you choose to write about Haiti in your new rnbook?

Isabel Allende: I wasn’t planning it.  I started rnresearching New Orleans because I went there for another book, for rn"Zorro," in 2003, and I just fell in love with the city.  This was rnbefore Katrina. And I loved the French flavor, the voodoo, the streets, rnthe jazz, the music, like we see everything was so different from the rnrest of the United States.  And much of that flavor comes from 10,000 rnrefugees that left what was then a French colony and now is Haiti, it rnwas called Santo Domingo, and there was a slave revolt.  The only slave rnrevolt that has ever succeeded in history happened there at the turn of rnthe 18th century.  And the whites that survived the revolt escaped and rn10,000 of them came to New Orleans. 

So when I was doing the rnresearch, I stumbled on this fact and I said, "Oh, I have to find out rnwhat happened there."  So, I started researching about Haiti.  And that rntook over completely because it was such an incredible story.  It had rnall the elements of everything I love.  It had the passion, the rnviolence, the brutality, and the courage and the magic and the rnspirituality and nature.  It had everything.

How did the earthquakes in Haiti and your native Chile rnaffect you?

Isabel Allende: Well, very much because the Haitian rnearthquake was a horrible tragedy.  The death toll was appalling.  And rnit was exposed the poverty of the country and the lack of infrastructurern and government.  And my foundation had been doing some work in Haiti, rnso we knew about part of that, but now it was all over in the news.  Andrn aid has been poured into Haiti, and Haitian people want to do the work rnthemselves.  They don’t want things to be given to them.  "Don’t give mern the fish, teach me to fish."  And it was very different in Chile.  rnBecause Chile is a country that has an infrastructure, a government thatrn works. There is no corruption, to speak of, and we are prepared for rnthis kind of catastrophe because we have them all the time.  Every 10 rnyears or so, we have a big earthquake in Chile, or flooding, or some rnkind of thing, so to the point that when things—when nothing happens in rnfour or five years, people get nervous.  We are, like, expecting it.  rnAnd when it happens, people know how to act. 

So right now, rnChile has thousands and thousands of people who are homeless, they lost rneverything, they are living in tents, the winter began, it's raining, rnand the government is trying to rebuild the roads and the bridges and rnthe hospitals.  So, it’s going to take a long time and a lot of money rnand a lot of effort, but there’s no sense of the despair that we saw in rnHaiti.

Recorded on May 3, 2010
rnInterviewed by Priya George