The unvoiced thoughts and ideas of a septegenarian.


on March 3, 2012


Those of us who read have favorite authors, certain books we particularly enjoyed and would recommend to other readers.  I have found some recommended to me were precisely the kind of literature I prefer; others I discarded at about page 50.  I don’t recall how I came upon this book but I am grateful for having discovered it.

The author is Isabel Allende (yes, that Allende) – one of the bright stars on the stage of contemporary fiction. Her most notable works of fiction are The House of Spirits and City of the Beasts.  She often weaves together elements of myth and realism and some of her novels are based on her own childhood and experiences in Peru. In addition to her fiction, she wrote Paula, a memoir of her childhood in Chile and subsequent exile, written as a letter to her daughter, Paula: a heartwarming account of both her childhood and the death of her daughter.

A second exception to her fiction is Aphrodite – A Memoir of the Senses – truly an unusual book. It is, in a sense, a guide to gastronomic delights as related to the senses – with particular emphasis on sex and contains, as well, several recipes thought to be tasty additions to an orgy.  I have read this book several times, not to be titillated but to enjoy its many historical anecdotes and her excellent use of descriptive language:

“fire the lust of even octogenarians” or “. . . they (truffles) are so rare and so prized   . . . that . . . a mere breath of their intense perfume is enough to overcome a surfeit of love and to uplift an appendage that may simply have fainted.”

One such historical anecdote concerns Catherine the Great who, she says, still had enough vitality at 77 years of age to indulge herself with vodka-laced tea and a caviar omelet for breakfast.

I find this one statement of Isabel’s is especially provocative.  “Appetite and sex are the great motivators of history: they preserve and propagate the species, they provoke wars and songs, they influence religions, law and art. All of creation is one long uninterrupted cycle of digestion and fertility……..” 

It may be true that appetite and sex are the great motivators of history at least in terms of contributing to the preservation and propagation of the species but I also think they have less influence on wars than things like greed and power seeking.  On the other hand, aren’t those characteristics just facets of appetite?

Isabel describes foods thought to be aphrodisiacs in a manner that comes close to poetry. Add to that a collection of recipes and you have a tasty pudding in which to dip your fingers.

She also offers a view of the art of writing I‘ve never heard elsewhere: a view that is a catalyst for reflection.  She calls writing  “a journey into memory and the soul,” and “After a few months without writing . . . I fear going deaf, not being able to hear the silence.”  I rarely call upon memory when I write so that statement does not ring true for me although I understand it might well be accurate for many writers.

What do you suppose she means by journeying into the soul and hearing the silence?

Julie Rose


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