Isabel Allende's latest novel, Inés of My Soul, is published in paperback by Harper Perennial in April.

All our heads full of noise

Life is nothing but noise between two unfathomable silences. We have very busy lives – or we make them very busy. There is activity everywhere. Few people know how to be still and find a quiet place inside themselves. From that place of silence and stillness the creative forces emerge; there we find faith, hope, strength and wisdom. However, since childhood we are taught to do things. Our heads are full of noise. Silence and solitude scare most of us.

We are born with a set of cards and we have the freedom to play them the best we can, but we cannot change them. I was born female, in the 1940s, into a Catholic and conservative family in Chile. I was born healthy, I had my shots as a child, I received love and a proper education. All that determines who I am. Yet the really important events in my life happened in spite of me, I had no control over them, like the fact that my father left the family when I was three, the military coup in Chile in 1973 that forced me into exile, meeting my husband, the success of my books, the death of my daughter Paula. That is destiny.

I learned about violence when I was living in Chile in 1973. Until then we had had the most solid and longest democracy in the continent, but in 24 hours it ended with a violent and cruel military coup. Thousands of people were arrested, tortured and many were killed or they simply disappeared. When they passed the Torture Bill in the United States – with another name, of course – I was horrified because this means that people have no imagination. They cannot visualize what torture really is. Most Americans have no idea of the awful tyrannies their government has supported in other countries, tyrannies that hopefully they would never tolerate in their own territory. If Americans were better aware of the atrocities that have been committed in their name and with their tax money, they would be appalled. I'm interested in these things because we learn from history; people were not very different before, we make the same mistakes over and over. It's important to look at the past and the present and see what people are capable of. This is why I'm fascinated by historical fiction: it gives a glimpse of the past.

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