“The Soul of a Woman”

Last Saturday, while visiting Aurora Books, Kim Malcolm’s new English-language bookstore here in San Miguel de Allende, a newly stocked, large-print book jumped out at me, and I had to buy it. The title alone grabbed me: The Soul of a Woman. And seeing that the author was now-eighty-one-year-old Chilean-American writer Isabel Allende, whom I’ve always admired, sealed the deal. I read it from cover to cover this week on one rainy afternoon.

But first, a word about the large print. It could be that my mother’s prophesy about my ruining my eyesight by reading by flashlight under the bedcovers during my formative years came true. Or, more recently, I burnt out my eyes from too much close reading and editing during my writing/editing career. Or maybe it’s just that book publishers are now using much smaller typefaces for their paper books – to save trees, perhaps?

Whatever the reason, I now have only two book-reading choices: Kindle books, where the type size can be easily increased, or large-print books. And I’ve already read all of the large-print books that interest me on the shelves of our city’s wonderful Biblioteca (public library) in centro.

The Soul of a Woman spoke to me this week, and I urge all of my women friends and WOW readers to read it. This book – Isabel Allende’s fifth nonfiction book; she’s also authored twenty-two novels and won many literary awards – is what she refers to as “an informal chat.” In it she shares her thoughts about just about all the issues that concern us women today: family, patriarchy, religion, feminism, equality, beauty, love, passion, aging, ageism, assisted death, and more. She is clear, honest, down-to-earth, and as straight-forward as a dear old friend.

Isabel Allende at eighty

On the subject of aging, for example, she writes: “While my body deteriorates, my soul rejuvenates. I suppose my defects and virtues are also more visible. I spend and waste too much and am more distracted than before, but I also have become less angry; my character has softened a little. My passion for the causes I have always embraced and for those few people I love has increased. I do not fear my vulnerability because I no longer confuse it with weakness. I can live with my arms, doors, and heart open.”

Elsewhere, she adds: “I have chosen a simpler life, with fewer material things and more leisure, fewer worries and more fun, fewer social commitments and more true friendship, less fuss and more silence.”

At one point she tackles the seemingly age-old question, What do women want? Her response is simply: “This is what women want: to be safe, to be valued, to live in peace, to have their own resources, to be connected, to have control over their bodies and lives, and above all, to be loved.”

At only 225 pages (in the large-print edition), this is a book to curl up with on a rainy afternoon when you feel you need some wise words from an old woman friend. Following is an excerpt that I found particularly poignant and important.

Yes, I agree with her that we need “to give the world a formidable shake.” But how, exactly, do we do that? I’d love to know. I invite your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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According to the Dalai Lama, the only hope for peace and prosperity lies in the hands of women in the West. I suppose it’s because they have more rights and resources than others, but I would not exclude the rest of the women in the world. The task belongs to all of us.

For the first time in history there are millions of educated women who are informed, connected, and determined to change the civilization in which we live. We are not alone; many men are with us in this, almost all young – our sons and grandsons.

This is the era of emboldened grandmothers, and we are the population’s fastest-growing group. We are women who have lived long lives; we have nothing to lose and therefore are not easily scared; we can speak up because we don’t care to compete, to please, or to be popular; and we know the immense value of friendship and collaboration. We are anxious about the situation of humanity and the planet. Now it’s a matter of agreeing to give the world a formidable shake. (pp. 108-9)

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24 thoughts on ““The Soul of a Woman””

  1. Wonderful. I’ve read many of her books from La Biblioteca’s bookshelf of “originally published in Spanish books translated to English”. Thank you. New Aurora Books store is a gem.

  2. Oh, Bonnie, as a long-time fan of books by Isabel Allende, I loved your post. I particularly liked the following:
    “While my body deteriorates, my soul rejuvenates. I suppose my defects and virtues are also more visible. I spend and waste too much and am more distracted than before, but I also have become less angry; my character has softened a little. My passion for the causes I have always embraced and for those few people I love has increased. I do not fear my vulnerability because I no longer confuse it with weakness. I can live with my arms, doors, and heart open.”

    At 81 years old myself, I could identify with all she said. Also, I loved the two paragraphs you included at the end. Yes, as a long-time social activist, I agree that it is on our shoulders now to urge the young women to pick up the baton of leadership and make the world a better more just one for all, a challenge made maybe even more difficult today in the socio-political morass in America where competing political forces seem to thrive on conflict and negativity.

    I purchased Allende’s book today after reading your great review!

  3. To “give the world a shake” is, indeed, a collective undertaking—and a formidable one. It’s like hoping and praying for peace. It’s not gonna work unless you can be peaceful inside. But we could absolutely guarantee a better world if women would only work together; support each other’s ideas, rights, aspirations; and share a collective vision that we think of as distinctly feminine—ethical kindness. Now that would shake the world.

  4. I’m e joying reading your posts and find then very relevant to my current experiences as a recently retired woman wanting this next phase of life to be rewarding and soulful!

  5. I loved her comment about why she wore makeup – because when she looked at the mirror in the morning, she looked like a prize fighter who lost (or something like that.) It’s also what I see in the mirror each morning.

  6. Bonnie, I read this several weeks ago and loved it just like you. Isabel Allende is an author who I try to read any time she comes out with a new tome. Can’t wait to check out Aurora books when we return. Miss you!

  7. She is and has been ever since “The House of Spirits”, one of my very favorite authors. And I have gobbled up most of her fiction ever since. I look forward to reading The Soul of a Woman very soon. Thanks for the suggestion!

  8. Thanks so much for the book recommendation. I too love Isabel Allende and cant wait to download The Soul of a Woman. Sent your blog to my Granddaughter in Canada as well.

  9. Dear Bonnie,

    I wish that I had had such mentors when I was at school. My life might have followed a different path.
    I think I disagree with the Dalai Lama about it being up to the women of the west. I know he refers to their resources and education giving them advantages, but there are so many women in this category that are comfortable in their materialistic, social media lives, and have never suffered. Therefore, motivation for change is lacking.
    COVID and isolation woke up a lot of people to their own vulnerabilities and I reflected at the time, that it was a good thing. We are all only truly responsible for ourselves. If we each did a little to change things within our own homes, and social network, then big changes follow on quietly.
    Thank you, Bonnie, for introducing Isabelle Allende to me.

    1. Thank you, as ever, for your thoughtful and insightful input, dear Loula. I agree with you that many (too many?) Western women have yet to be motivated to fight for change. Too comfy, perhaps, to empathize with others who are not? What will it take, I wonder? And when will that come about, if ever? As they say here in Mexico, “poco a poco” (little by little).

  10. Dear Bon,
    I love what you write this week, and you give us so much to respond to. What really strikes me is the mistake of confusing vulnerability for weakness. I see this as a great failing here, one that is shamefully manipulated by groups with questionable motives.
    I do believe, and this follows from my previous point, that salvation is now in the hands of women. I am grateful that women are so capable of achieving things men can’t or don’t want to or are afraid to do. The inaction of these men results from their terror of being judged by other men.
    The last thing is how age makes you less scared because those lucky enough to reach older age are no stranger to loss. Remember what Janis Joplin said (by way of Kris Kristofferson): “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to loose.” It had great meaning for me then, and it still resonates.
    So what do we do? We must engage politically to elect leaders who will carry out the will of the people and vote them out if they don’t. For many honest, right-thinking people this seems a daunting task, but it must be done. We must always have hope because the powerful have much to gain from an electorate without hope.
    And that’s my opinion.

    1. I so appreciate your opinion, dearest Paul. Yes, “the powerful have much to gain from an electorate without hope.” But I have a sneaky feeling, which I can’t articulate clearly, that “the powerful” are not necessarily the ones whom we elect. I suspect they could be those who pull the politicians’ strings, the BIG MONEY men (yes, men) of this world. This is an awful thought, but I can’t seem to shake it.

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