The summer of 2005 seems to be one for back stories. We’ve had the origins of Darth Vader and Batman in Star Wars: Episode III and Batman Begins, and now we have Zorro, the novel by Isabel Allende. We could call this summer Men In Black 3 or the Birth of Mask but the copyright implications would be staggering. (I also think the pun police will kill me for it)
Isabel Allende is probably the best known female writer to come out of South America. While House of Spirits remains one of her best known books (also made into a movie featuring Winona Ryder), she has written a number of novels, memoirs, and a young adults trilogy. On her web site Isabel Allende freely admits that the majority of her work is semi-autobiographical.
She is not a stranger to personal tragedy and injustice. In 1972, her uncle Salvador Allende’s government of Chile was overthrown by the C.I.A. backed coup led by Auguste Pinochet. Both her political leanings (she wrote feminist articles for magazines) and her family connections forced her into exile for thirteen years. Settling first in Venezuela, she then travelled through Europe for a while before returning home to Chile.
Perhaps because of her tendency towards the semi-autobiographical, her life at times resembles her novels. She presents a larger- than-life figure (down to the author’s photo in Zorro, where she has represented herself as a line drawing dressed as a female version of her book’s hero) with her world travelling and her family connections.
Even the death of her daughter took on the proportions of myth in her memoir, simply titled Paula. For the year that she lingered in a coma, Isabel remained at her daughter's bedside debating with herself about her own life; examining her own contradictions.
”I'm lost, I don't know who I am, I try to remember who I was once but I find only disguises, masks, projections, the confused images of a woman I can't recognize. Am I the feminist I thought I was, or the frivolous girl who appeared on television wearing nothing but ostrich feathers? The obsessive mother, the unfaithful wife, the fearless adventurer, or the cowardly woman? Am I the person who helped political refugees find asylum or the one who ran away because she couldn't handle fear? Too many contradictions...”
In Zorro, she seems to be deliberately displaying the contradictions of her character while having an incredibly good time. The characters abound with silly romantic ideals while all around them reality is bleak and ugly. Allende seems to be purposefully bursting the balloons of nobility, heroism, romance and idealism in telling the tale of a wildly-romanticized hero.