Perfect, Sarah, You Are A Genius!

Isabel in one of her debutante dresses, getting her high school degree.

Isabel in one of her debutante dresses, getting her high school degree.

I made the title of this blog “Perfect, Sarah, You Are A Genius!” because ordinarily when Isabel speaks to me, even in email, it goes more like: “Sarah, you look like a hippie! At least make an effort!”

Here is why I am a genius, at least according to Isabel. During a recent research mission, Isabel asked me to find out about debutantes in San Francisco, circa 1950. After Googling the subject and making a few phone calls. I dug up some vintage photos and a fine place to hold a ball—both in terms of history and style—and it made her happy. Not my appearance, mind you, but my work. That was a nice moment. Perhaps to reward me, Isabel included this debutante story:

I was a debutante once. I am not kidding. And I had the most gorgeous white satin gown. For my second ball I had an aquamarine gown with rubber lining for fake breasts because mine were too small. When dancing, the boy held me tight and the rubber things were pushed in and became concave. I looked at my chest in horror. I took a deep breath, trying to push them out. And out they came—with the most embarrassing POP!

Occasionally you need to pat yourself on the back. I learned this from hanging around my daughter’s third grade classroom. When the kids know the answer to a question, they pat themselves on the back to acknowledge their feat, all without interrupting the lesson. I know I am interrupting myself here, but oh well…At least you get a charming story from Isabel that otherwise would not have been told!

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Sweet Guest Blog

Today I have a treat for you: a blog post written by Isabel’s new assistant, our very own Chandra Ramirez! Chandra recently spent a day in San Francisco with Isabel, who was filming an introduction to Dulce Rosa, an opera based on one of her short stories. After they returned to the office and Chandra began to fill us in on the day’s events, I had an idea: “That sounds like a blog post, Dapper Dan!” Here, then, is the story of their adventure, direct from Chandra:


As you may remember, an opera based on “Una Venganza” (“An Act of Vengeance”), one of Isabel’s short stories, saw its world premiere May 17, 2013, at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. Entitled Dulce Rosa, the two-act opera by composer Lee Holdridge and librettist Richard Sharp was directed by Kenneth Shapiro and—very exciting!—conducted by Placido Domingo. (Read about Isabel and Willie’s attendance at the opera’s premiere here.)

After Dulce Rosa’s three-week run, the producers requested that Isabel film an introduction to the opera that they could take on the road. (Think Laura Linney introducing Downton Abbey on PBS.) So a couple of weeks ago Isabel and I were picked up in a fancy black town car and driven across the Golden Gate Bridge to a very hip film studio in San Francisco. There was a green screen, a best boy, a gaffer, sound guys, camera people, etc. You get the picture: a whole lot of running around and yelling of action, cut and the like.

There was also Miles Berdache, Isabel’s make-up artist of choice, whom I got to meet for the first time. He is brilliant with his brushes, pots and potions, but more important, he is a genuinely nice guy. Not only is he active with the Soroptimists, an organization that helps women and children around the world, but he also volunteers at a local hospital by giving free massages to oncology patients. Miles was on the ready the whole afternoon, dashing in to take the shine off of Isabel’s nose or freshen her lipstick. As you can imagine, Isabel adores him. If you have an event coming up and need some fancy make-up done, check him out here

That is Miles taking off the shine. He's a sweetheart.

That is Miles taking off the shine. He’s a sweetheart.

The whole shoot took about three hours and Isabel was as charming and gorgeous as always, summarizing Dulce Rosa on film for people like me who go to the opera and have no idea what’s going on. She did the scenes in both English and Spanish and kept the crew laughing with her self-deprecating humor. Isabel insisted she was not an actress, but those of us in the office know better. She is a consummate performer.

If you’re lucky, Dulce Rosa will be coming to a city near you. We’ll post dates and locations once we know them. 


And here we are Chandra and me enjoying a nice Summer day.



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Isabel’s Summer Reading List

Book Passage, in Corte Madera, Calif., has been Isabel’s favorite bookstore for 26 years. It’s like an extension of her home and office: there she has a mailbox, she does press interviews, she meets readers and other writers, and she teaches at conferences. All her book tours start with an event at Book Passage. The staff knows her well and chooses the best books and audiobooks for her. I try to order books from Book Passage before I look elsewhere—before I look to the “river in Brazil,” for instance. Here is Isabel’s summer reading list, which was compiled with help from Book Passage owners Elaine and Bill Petrocelli.


All the Light We Cannot See

Anthony Doerr

After she lost her sight at age six, Marie-Laure’s father made her a scale model of their pre-World War II Paris neighborhood. She learned every nook and cranny with her fingers, knowledge that enabled their escape a few years later when the Germans occupied the city. At the seaside village where she and her father fled, Marie meets Werner, a German officer trained to be merciless as he searches for members of the French Resistance. Their story shows what can happen when good people encounter evil.


Love and Treasure

Ayelet Waldman

As Jack is dying, he shows his lawyer granddaughter a jewel-encrusted pendant and begs her to find the rightful owner. Jack was an Army officer in charge of guarding the so-called Hungarian Gold Train at the end of World War II–a train filled with treasures taken from Hungarian Jews on their way to concentration camps. Grounded in history, this exciting novel is full of twists and compelling characters.



Ruth Reichl

A food critic, memoirist, editor, and now novelist, Ruth Reichl brings us Billie, a young woman who lands her dream job at the revered food magazine, Delicious. When the magazine suddenly closes (remember the day Condé Nast killed Gourmet?), Billie is asked to stay on to answer questions from readers. Exploring the defunct magazine’s library, she finds a trove of old letters from a reader to the late James Beard, famous chef and food writer, and a mystery is unlocked.



Lily King

It’s the 1930s and Nell Stone, who has already written a famous book on the erotic habits of the children of a New Guinea tribe, returns to the island continue her research. The fictional characters are loosely based on Margaret Mead, Reo Fortune and Gregory Bateson. Anthropology, sex, a bullying husband and an irresistible lover make King’s Euphoria a treasure.


We Are Called to Rise

Laura McBride

Contemporary Las Vegas is the setting for this outstanding first novel told in the very different voices of two women, an immigrant boy in elementary school and a damaged veteran of the Iraq war. A marriage falls apart, the boy’s Albanian family can’t figure out how to exist in an alien environment and the veteran must confront his demons. These unforgettable characters refuse to go away even after you finish the book.


China Dolls

Lisa See

As World War II begins, three friends find themselves competing for one showgirl role at San Francisco Chinatown’s exclusive nightclub The Forbidden City. Ruby is Japanese and desperate to pass as Chinese so she won’t be sent to a Japanese internment camp, Grace has fled her abusive Mid-western family, and Helen, who grew up in Chinatown, hides her own secret. The author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan beautifully explores the intricacies of friendship.


We Were Liars

E. Lockhart (written for teenagers but adults are loving this gem)

A distinguished family is vacationing on a private Massachusetts island when something happens to the teenage daughter. Each morning when she wakes up, she can’t remember anything that happened before. One thing becomes clear: this family is living in its own mythology. We Were Liars is mystery page-turner that will keep you up all night.


Under the Egg

Laura Marx Fitzgerald  (For 8 to 12 year olds but adults will enjoy it too)

Theodora lives in a 200-year-old townhouse with her fragile mother and her grandfather’s legacy: $463 and a rather mundane painting of an egg. When Theo discovers that there is a masterpiece hidden behind the picture of the egg, she realizes grandfather, who was a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, wasn’t who she thought he was. This adventure into the secret world of art will fascinate kids and make them want to take you to the museum.


Cathedral of the Wild

Boyd Varty

A story of transformation that inspires a great appreciation for the beauty and order of the natural world. With conviction, hope and humor, Varty makes a passionate claim for the power of the wild to restore the human spirit. A memoir about growing up in a wildlife conservation park in South Africa and in the Varty family, who are as wild as the wonderful animals they protect.

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First Graduation

Isabel sent me this note from Southern California where she attended her first grandkid’s graduation:


Andy Frias (or Mana, as I have always called her) is the first of my grandchildren to graduate. And she did it with honors! The rest of the family and I were very proud of Mana and happy to be together after months of separation. The whole tribe met at the ceremony in Pitzer. Alejandro and Sabrina are also studying in the area, Nicole traveled from New York, Lori, Nico, Celia, Sally and I from Marin County, etc. Cali, Alejandro’s girlfriend, and Devin, Nicole’s boyfriend, also attended. Devin interrupted for a day and a night his hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, from Mexico to Canada; he has already walked 500 miles and will be hiking until the end of September. The extended family and friends filled two rows of chairs and screamed to their hearts’ content when Mana, with her white and orange gown and her bright pink hair (not a wig) received her diploma.


The speaker, Van Jones, environmental and civil rights activist was absolutely great. He was profound, funny and inspirational. He talked about facts versus truth; ego versus soul; and fate versus destiny. As an activist, he has been in situations in which all the economic and political facts were against him, but he fought for the right cause – truth – and he won. He said that his ego got very big when he was working with Obama at the White House, and then it was smashed by hateful press from Fox News; but he recovered his energy and his vision when he could do his work from the soul. The soul cannot be smashed. He explained that fate is what we are given at birth, like race, gender, nationality, health or disabilities, etc. and often we cannot change it. But each one of us also has destiny. A tiny acorn’s destiny is to become an oak tree. Like the acorn, we can fulfill our destiny or not. That is our life’s work. At the end he told the graduates: don’t let the facts discourage you, search for the truth; keep your ego small and your soul big; whatever your fate may be, go out in the world and fulfill your destiny.

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Roses for Paula

I just received the following note from Isabel and it is so sweet that had to share it with you all:


Dear Sarah,

Twenty years ago my friend Pia Leiva planted a rose tree in her garden in Chimbarongo, in Chile, in memory of my daughter Paula. She gave me a graft and I planted it in my garden in California, where it grew into a healthy and lovely tree. Every year, when the first rose blooms, she dries the petals and sends them to me for my altar. Now it is autumn in Chile and her roses are dormant, but mine are coming out, so in every season there are pink roses for Paula somewhere in the world. Thank you, Pia…


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Random Q+A for Isabel

Isabel in Garden of Hope, San Dominican School May 1st 2014

Isabel in Garden of Hope, San Domenico School May 1st 2014. We got to dine with a sister and feasted on food from the garden!

I recently asked Isabel to tell me about the last three books she read and loved. Here are her answers:

Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine Prose is a fascinating historical novel set in Paris before and during the Second World War. I liked the way Prose weaves several different stories and characters to create a rich tapestry of a very interesting time.

Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 11.01.26 AM

Another book I loved is Dirty Love, by André Dubus III. Disturbing and sexually explicit stories by a great writer. Each story is haunting; I couldn’t get them out of my mind for weeks.


The third book I have to mention is El héroe discreto by Mario Vargas Llosa (in Spanish). As a matter of faith, I read everything that Vargas Llosa writes and I am almost never disappointed. Set in Peru, this is a story of blackmail, betrayed love, courage and fate.


(It’s hard to get Isabel to sit still more than once in a great while, so since I had her in front of me, I decided to throw in a few more questions):

What’s your favorite fan story? Can you tell me about a memorable fan/reader experience?

I have been writing for 33 years and I have very loyal readers who write to me frequently. Every day I get dozens of messages from all over the world. It would be impossible to choose a favorite story.

If you could spend a week with any writer, living or dead, who would it be and why?

I would not want to spend a week with anybody except my husband and my dogs. A dead writer in his or her coffin would be my choice, but if I name the person it might bring bad luck. Evil eye, as they say. Wow! I just remembered Mark Twain. I could spend several weeks with him, he was funny, exuberant, great storyteller, handsome and sexy.

What are some of the best questions you have been asked either by journalists, fans or readers?

Some of the best questions I have heard over the years:

1)    Are you going to keep writing? Why? Isn’t it time to retire?

2)    Why don’t you write an erotic novel before it’s too late?

3)    Could you give me an idea for a novel and introduce me to your publishers?

What does success mean to you? Do you think you are successful?

I think I am successful as a writer and not so much as a person. I still have much to learn and grow emotionally and spiritually.  I wish I could also grow physically….Success for me means that I don’t have to worry about being published, that nobody edits my books or tries to tell me what to write, that I am my own boss, that I can make a living and support many people with my work. Success happens in an external circle.  Inside, I am the same person I was before. I know who I am, I am still in my skin, I do not rest on my laurels.

When are you happiest?

My happiest moment of the day is at dawn, meditating in bed (“beditating”) while scratching Dulce’s belly. (Dulce is one of my dogs.)

I am happy when I write, when I make love and when I have the feeling that I have done something good for somebody. Being generous makes me happy.

Dulcinea the beauty

Dulcinea the beauty

Recently, when I was with you on a book research mission, we met some dear older people at a retirement community. I was so touched at the end of our meeting when one of the women said, “Find what makes you happy and feed it.” What is it that you are feeding?

Storytelling. I was at the senior community researching a novel—that is, I was feeding what makes me happy.

What gets cut when you write? Is there a big pile on the floor of paragraphs and passages that don’t make the grade…and can I have them??

Sarah, don’t be silly. I write on a computer. How would I know how much is changed, cut, pasted, moved, etc.?  Only when I have told the whole story do I print it; then I correct on paper and go back to the computer. There are very few printed drafts, but thousands of virtual ones.

Just for fun, if you were to choose the cast for a movie adaptation of Ripper, who would you pick to play the part of Amanda? What about Ryan? Indiana? Blake?

Please ask somebody else this question.

So, if you are reading this I will ask you. Who should be cast for the movie Ripper? I have some ideas. It’s fun to think about, send your suggestions in a comment.

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I learned about the Center for Early Intervention on Deafness (CEID) from my 8-year-old daughter, who spent the fall visiting the school with her 3rd grade class. I was so impressed when I realized she was learning a lot of sign language, and was curious to learn more. So when I heard that CEID was hosting an informational open house one Saturday, my daughter and I, along with Lori, headed over for a visit.

CEID is a beautiful little school. Located just across the Bay in a sunny pocket of Berkeley, CEID teaches communication skills to children who are deaf or who have profound hearing loss, as well as to their families. Early intervention—within the first five years—is crucial in maximizing the communication potential of hearing-impaired children, and gives them a foundation that can set them up successfully for the rest of their lives.

CEID is pretty holistic in that it provides a mix of services, from the Outpatient Newborn Hearing Screenings to parent and child classes that enhance communication and sign language skills. If you have a minute, take a look at their site and see the work they do; you might also want to check out the link to their donation page and the link to their wish list.

Nan, the beautiful service dog and helper, at CEID with a few of the kids.

Nan, the beautiful service dog and helper, at CEID with a few of the kids.


Here are some photos I took of our recent visit (our second one; my lucky daughter got to take the morning off from school to revisit this bright little spot in the world!). We had a great time and fell in love with the staff and the kids. That pretty yellow lab is Nan, a service dog/staff member at CEID and a recent graduate of Canine Companions for Independence (another organization we LOVE!).

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The crew at ScholarMatch.

The crew at ScholarMatch.

Last week Lori and I visited 826 Valencia, which is one of our favorite organizations. The brainchild of writer and philanthropist Dave Eggers, 826 Valencia is a nonprofit writing program devoted to supporting the creative and expository writing skills of children age 6 to 18. Driven by the belief that writing skills are paramount to a child’s future success, 826 Valencia provides kids with one-on-one writing support. It also works with teachers to help them inspire their students to write. (To say that Dave Eggers is one of Isabel’s favorite people would be a gross understatement.)

Although best known for its writing programs for younger kids, 826 Valencia also offers Bay Area students help with college application and financial aid essays. It also awards a limited number of college scholarships. The problem, however, is that the need for scholarships among high-achieving but under-funded kids is far greater than the supply. Frustrated at seeing so many qualified kids unable to attend college due to a lack of financial aid, Dave launched an offshoot program in 2010 called ScholarMatch. Dedicated to helping kids attend college by connecting students with donors, ScholarMatch uses the power of the Internet to link individuals interested in investing in the academic future of promising students with high-achieving kids in need of financial support. The organization also offers free college support services both during the application process (including help filling out all those pesky forms) and after, when students are figuring which college to attend.

I like to think of ScholarMatch and the 826 Valencia college prep programs as offering an alternative to high school counselors—except these counselors aren’t burnt out and aren’t having an illicit affair with the P.E. teacher while suggesting you become an airline hostess. (Not, of course, that there is anything wrong with becoming a flight attendant!)

[Side note: The P.E. teacher and the counselor did eventually end up together and are seemingly very happy.]

Since 2010, ScholarMatch has awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships and helped many students and parents navigate the difficult college application waters. Thanks to its evolving program, a great staff and a stable of trained volunteers, ScholarMatch has some pretty impressive statistics:

•   60.5 percent of ScholarMatch students live in a family whose annual income is less than $25,000.

•   93 percent of ScholarMatch students will be the first in their family to attend college.

•   79 percent of ScholarMatch students attend four-year institutions.

•   100 percent of the students overcome incredible challenges and are dedicated to pursuing higher education.

ScholarMatch is currently limited to college-bound students living in the Bay Area, but the organization plans to expand the program nationally in the future.

We try not to get all teary eyed when visiting sites we support but we couldn’t help it this time around. ScholarMatch is doing really great work, and if you’d like to help out, here is the donation page. You can also learn more about 826 Valencia at here.

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Finally, About

I’ve had a lot of questions lately about how the blog got started, so I decided to update the About page. Here’s what I wrote:

I love this photo of Isabel and me. The picture just to the right is a group shot (from left, Elizabeth, Lori, me and Juliette) taken at the Center for Reproductive Rights inaugural gala in 2012. Just below is a photo I snapped of Isabel and the photographer Mary Ellen Mark. I took it when I was in New York City with them and it’s one of my favorites. I admire both women so much. Finally, that card at bottom right is Isabel’s press ID from 1969!



My Invented Isabel is the official Isabel Allende blog. Other (unofficial) blogs about Isabel exist, but rest assured I actually KNOW her and she sort of approves of what I write. I say sort of because sometimes I am not sure what she is saying when she yells at me in Spanish…

I have been told I have the best job in the world, and I admit I am very lucky. As I mentioned on the main page, Isabel asked me to write this blog for her. I work with Isabel at her foundation and get to help out on occasional research missions. As a result, it isn’t hard to write observations on Isabel’s life and extended family, especially since I am very fond of all of them and have access to the tribe’s inner workings.

So, after taking over a blog supposedly written by her (it wasn’t) and coming up with a name—savvy fans will recognize that My Invented Isabel is a play on the title of Isabel’s memoir My Invented Country—I signed a several-hundred-page non-disclosure agreement and quickly set out to expose Isabel and the family…Wait, that isn’t right. The truth is, I really do adore everyone and the blog, albeit voyeuristic, is just a small glimpse into Isabel’s world. Basically, I was just in the right place at the right time. Isabel decided she needed a blog and just happened to look over at me. Had Olivia, one of Isabel’s dogs, or the UPS driver (of whom we are all very fond) been sitting there, it’s likely one of them would have gotten the job. (In my defense, Olivia does NOT have thumbs and the UPS driver doesn’t stay long enough at the office to really get a sense of the color and culture.)

Speaking of color and culture, in addition to stories and insights about Isabel, I like to use the blog to talk about the organizations the Isabel Allende Foundation supports, especially after Lori (Isabel’s daughter-in law, who runs the foundation) and I have had a chance to visit them to see firsthand the amazing work they do. I also like to relay the stories Isabel tells—the ones that make us all laugh and leave the office happy just about every day—stories about a bar of soap’s mistaken identity or Dulce’s frequent attempts at suicide.  (Dulce, whose full name is Dulcinea, is Isabel’s other dog.) Whenever Isabel sits down with us, we are guaranteed a tale so wild and unpredictable we can only assume it is fiction—though we are never sure either way.   

If you’re a regular reader of the blog, Isabel’s Facebook page (which now has over 1 million “Likes”!) or her Twitter account, you already know that Isabel is a whirlwind of energy. I have described her as a “ferret on Cocoa Puffs” and I stand by that. Her tours are grueling and her writing is equally consuming. There are days when she is locked away in her writing tower for 10 hours at a time. Occasionally I slip some crackers under the door on a thin silver tray and when I go back to check there are only a few crumbs and a note that says something to the effect of “Put on a skirt!” or “Why is your hair so flat today?” That’s just Isabel’s way of letting me know that she is alive and fine and writing. 

I should also mention that I am a very spoiled blogger. I have my own editor! Her name is Lauren Cuthbert. Without Lauren, nothing would be in proper linear order, none of my facts would be accurate and as for my spelling…well, it’s generally atrocious! (I tried to spell that “atroshus”—yes, as a joke—but Lauren wouldn’t let me keep it.) I also rely on various amazing people who translate the blog into Spanish. Two of our most valued and frequently used translators are Gabriela and Adriana, who deserve kudos for working so quickly and efficiently. So you can see I get a lot of help—a lot of ideas from the crew here, and technical support as well, I am indeed very spoiled.

Thanks for reading!

P.S. One downside to having an editor is that editors tend to be bossy. As one of those bossy editors, Lauren insists that I mention here that My Invented Isabel once got a nod from the New York Times. She also wants me to mention that one time when I was at a book signing with Isabel, one of her fans asked me if I was the author of My Invented Isabel. When I admitted I was, she explained she was a fan of the blog and had always wondered if I was real. She was so happy to meet me! It was my fifteen minutes–okay, thirty seconds! 

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There’s No Free Dog


I got so many emails and calls I thought I would post this just to let everyone know Dulcinea is just fine!


Isabel having tea with Dulce.


Little Dulcinea already sees a specialist for her skin condition, she required a delicate surgery to fix her eye, Isabel had to hire a personal trainer to curb her…well, her erratic behavior, and let’s not forget the time she ate a pound of dark chocolate and had to have her stomach pumped. Since I found Dulce at a rescue service in Berkeley and convinced Isabel to adopt her, I don’t even want to think about how much the little pip has cost. Let’s just say that when I was washing her on Sunday in preparation for Isabel’s return from New York and Chile, and suddenly noticed something horribly wrong with her paw, I didn’t hesitate to take her to the animal ER in San Rafael. The poor little thing’s toenail had come clean off the quick and she was in a lot of pain. The timing was horrible; I felt really bad for Dulce, as well as for Isabel, who came home to find her little lamb with a bandaged paw and wearing a cone.

At a follow-up appointment recently, the vet said to Isabel, “There’s no free dog, Isabel!” That’s the truth!

Here is Dulce looking pitiful and Olivia reminding me that I still need to feed her lunch, even if her (forced) sister is in distress:


Poor Dulce, all bandaged and in the dreaded cone.


Olivia giving me her “I WANT LUNCH NOW!” face….

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