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My Invented Country: A Memoir

By Isabel Allende


224 pages, $13.95

Sept. 11. That date, like Nov. 22 and Dec. 7, will be forever etched in the hearts and minds of Americans.

But long before 2001, Sept. 11 was a shattering day in another country. In 1973, a coup led by Augusto Pinochet ended in the assassination of then-President of Chile, Salvador Allende. The coup sent Allende's niece, Isabel Allende, into exile, an experience that transformed her into a writer who conveys with amazing vividness and fondness the physical and emotional landscapes of her homeland.

In "My Invented Country: A Memoir," which Allende wrote with Margaret Sayers Peden (Perennial, $13.95, 224 pages), the two September 11ths stand as guideposts as Allende travels back and forth between her native home of the past and her adopted home -- the United States -- in the present.

Readers of Allende's novels -- "Portrait in Sepia," "Daughter of Fortune," "The House of the Spirits" -- know how gifted she is at portraying the charming, idiosyncratic and indomitable Chilean people, their devotion to remembering their violent history, and their dependence on religion, myth and magic.

In this memoir, readers will find the same sort of transcendent descriptions in passages as beautifully crafted and poetic as those that appear in Allende's fiction. And as her memories draw her back and forth across decades and latitudes, she reveals a struggle to merge past and present lives into a coherent whole in a time filled with chaos.

People whose physical travels will never take them as far as Allende's have carried her will recognize Allende's poignant search for her place in a world after a life in exile. Her real-life experiences illuminate the more internal struggles most of us have to find our true home.