The Chilean-American novelist Isabel Allende has won fans around the world with her magic-realist family sagas. Her new novel, The Japanese Lover, is a tale of desire and displacement that unfolds in an alternative nursing home in California.
In a wide-ranging interview with BBC Culture contributor Hephzibah Anderson, Allende discusses how she researches her characters. To create the protagonist of her crime novel, Ripper, Allende spent several days with an ex-Navy Seal who was part of the operation that killed Osama Bin Laden. She interviewed him about his training while closely studying his mannerisms and behaviour.
Allende says she is always watching and listening – in her house is a sign, given to her by her children, that reads “Beware: Anything you say will end up in a novel”.
Speaking on stage at the Frankfurt Book Fair, Allende also discusses the problems of translation and how writing has helped her make sense of difficult chapters in her life.