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Isabel Allende tells a story of impossible love in 'Lovers at the Museum'

Chilean author Isabel Allende poses for a photograph in Madrid on June 5, 2017.
Francisco Seco
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AP
Chilean author Isabel Allende poses for a photograph in Madrid on June 5, 2017.

Isabel Allende has a new short story out, a delightfully ribald tale of impossible love — with plenty of sex-at-first-sight.

/ Amazon Original Stories
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Amazon Original Stories

The impossible part is because the lovers' adventure takes place in a locked fortress of a museum, Bilbao's famous Guggenheim; the lovers walk in after hours through massive doors that, well, just open for them. In the tradition of Calderón de la Barca, Voltaire's optimism of cultivation, and even Yip Harburg, Lovers at the Museum is a story of dreams, justice, and free will — and a powerful allegory of our human condition and the mystery of love.

We caught up with the 81-year-old Allende to ask her a few questions about her latest work. But first, a quick summary: Bibiña Aranda, a runaway bride, wakes up in the Guggenheim still wearing her wedding dress, draped in the arms of Indra Zubieta, a man she doesn't know. Caught by museum staff, and brought before the inspector of police Detective Larramendi — their improbable explanation of a transcendent night in the museum defies reality and his attempts to pin a rule of law, any rule, on an escapade that defines what dreams are made of.

Allende's creativity — extending to the work she pursues through her foundation, formed in memory of her daughter Paula — shows no signs of slowing down. This conversation, which took place by video conference, has been edited for length and clarity.

This story is optimistic and mischievous, a validation of optimism, really. Are you hoping your readers will find this as well?

You know, I never have an agenda. I'm not expecting the reader to get this or that out of whatever I write. I write because I love storytelling. And why do I write certain things at a certain moment? Usually because it is connected with something that is happening in my life at that point. I know what was happening when I wrote The Wind Knows My Name, that's for sure. I had a long interview about that book, and this person was talking about how the book is two tragic stories, the Holocaust and, and the horrible thing that happened in El Salvador. And it's not a tragic story. In spite of everything, it has optimism in it. For me, it's much more interesting to focus on the people who are helping, right? Not on the victim, because we all know about the victims. We have all heard about the Holocaust, but we seldom hear about that person who risked his life to save somebody. And that always touches me. So I focus on that. And maybe that's why my stories in general have a sort of redeeming quality.

In Lovers at the Museum you explore what's real and what's not, how to navigate an adventure in love vs. pragmatism. Like the inspector in this story, so pragmatic trying to figure out what he can pin on these lovers. It's a playful discourse of what it means to be investigating falling in love.

Every book is an invitation. Every book opens a conversation. When I write, I often think that I'm in the kitchen with a cup of tea, telling the story to someone, inviting them in.

And how do you see the world of storytelling we're discussing versus the new AI threats from the digital world?

I don't pay much attention because I'm not scared. I think that humanity has a need for stories since the beginning of language. The first thing that cave people did was play drums and tell each other stories. That need to hear stories will always be there. And now the media changes. Of course, before it was all oral and then we started reading books, and then we started doing audiobooks and digital books and ebooks and whatever. And now we have other media and the movies. I remember that when television came out, people said, movies are dead. No one is going to make movies anymore. And when movies came out, people said, nobody's going to read anymore, right? But whatever the media, storytelling is prevalent, it will always be there.

What's next for you?

I wrote a historical novel that will be published next year. And now I'm writing a memoir. And in the meantime, I wrote three books for really young kids. The parents read the book to the kids. I have a dog called Perla and she's a protagonist of the three little books. So I had a lot of fun doing that. But really, if I'm not writing I don't know what to do with my life. I feel that my head is full of stuff, it's always churning, you know?

Marcela Davison Avilés is a writer and independent producer living in Northern California.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Marcela Davison Aviles