About two months ago, I ran into Isabel Allende’s novel, Paula, which I began to read almost immediately. It was the first time I had encountered Allende’s book. I’ve heard of House of the Spirits, her first novel, but I have never read it. I was captivated by the first line of Paula. And it was after I was halfway into the novel that I realised how instructive it was for Isabel Allende to have begun her novel this way:
“Listen Paula, I am going to tell you a story so that when you wake up you will not feel so lost. The legend of our family begins at the end of the last century…”
For me, there is no better way for a great writer to start a novel of this nature, especially when the writer is in such a great despair.
It was a true-life story about the anguish of the author whose daughter, Paula, fell gravely ill and thereafter sank into a coma. The book was written during the interminable hours the author spent in the corridors of a Madrid hospital (which she called the corridor of lost steps) and in the hotel room where she lived for several months, as well as beside her daughter’s bed in their home in California in the United States during the summer and fall of 1992.
It was an agonising period for Isabel Allende who had passed through so much in life in terms of marriage and being born into a family which was at the centre of the political turmoil in Chile in the 1970s.
The narrative, for me, is more than a memoir. It is a tender, moving and vivid record of a mother’s agony at the bedside of her daughter. It’s a long letter written by a mother to a dying child as a way of giving her back her life that is ebbing away. The author shares with the readers her most intimate feelings which results in an emotionally charged, spellbinding memoir.
Life throws all sorts of things our way and for some people the best way to pour out the anguish lurked in the inner recesses of their souls is to write. Through their writings many authors have climbed impossible mountains and surmounted great challenges. For most authors and musicians, the deeper the wound, the more private the grave until they let it out through their music or book.
All they needed was a medium that would enable them to pour out that emotion, the feeling that has been bottled up in their minds;
and writing provided the veritable platform to do so. Hence writing, like music, is an escape from emotion for most people at a time when they are alone, when the days are longer and the nights are darker; when solitude has embittered them. They have more than enough to write once they are blown on all sides by the strong wind of hopelessness. Therefore, they have nothing more to do but remember. Remember the dark days.
Their unvoiced wail is usually so intense that readers of their books could read it or listeners of their music could hear it. Little wonder why Paula is a pretty lengthy narrative full of a lot of weariness and pain. It’s a combination of long periods of angry silence of the author’s childhood and adolescence.
In the long silent hours of writing, authors trample on memories, all that happened in an instant of their lives, as if their entire lives are a single, unfathomable image. The child, boy or girl they were, the woman or man they are, the old man or woman they shall be, are all water in the same rushing torrent. Their memories are like a Mexican Mural in which all times are simultaneous.