Friday, April 23, 2004
From an interview with Isabel Allende in the 1994 May/June issue of Common Boundary  entitled, “Writing from the Belly.”
I recall a story you told about one of the accounts in one of your books. You wrote about a mine where peasants had been murdered. There was a kind of psychic thread that moved through your writing process.
That story is from Of Love and Shadows…The story you are referring to is of a political crime that happened in 1973. Fifteen peasants were murdered, and their bodies were never found. Five years later the Catholic Church opened an abandoned mine and found the bodies. No one knows how they got the news and how they opened it before the police could stop them. It was in the media, and there was a trial; that is how I learned about it.
When I wrote the story, I had some partial information, but only what the Chilean government released. I had to fill in the gaps with my imagination. When I finished the story, my mother read the book and she said, “This is totally unbelievable. The fact that a priest learns in confession that the bodies are in the mine, takes his motorcycle, goes to a place that has been closed by the police during curfew, opens the mine, finds the bodies, photographs them, and brings the photographs to the cardinal – that’s impossible!” And I said, “Well, Mom, it’s a literary device. I have no other way of solving the plot”
The book was published in 1984. In 1988, I was able to return to Chile. While I was there, a Jesuit priest came to speak with me, and he said he had learned in confession that the bodies were in the mine. He had gone there during curfew on his motorcycle; he opened the mine, photographed the bodies, and took the photographs to the cardinal. That’s how the Catholic church opened the mine before they were stopped by the authorities. He asked me how I had known, because the only people who knew about this were the cardinal and himself. I said, “I don’t know. I thought I had made it up – but maybe the dead told me.”