"A country, like a husband, is always open to improvement."
If you were a librarian, where would you shelve My Invented Country: A Nostalgic Journey Through Chile by Isabel Allende? Various libraries in my area have it in the Dewey 800s because it reflects on her fiction, 900s because it is about her country of birth, and biography because she tells how grew up in and left Chile after 1973 military coup d'etat. I would choose the 900s because much of the text is about Chile and the title seems to say that the country is the focus of the book. Someone might counter that the title also says that it is the Chile of Allende's imagination, much like William Faulkner's fictional Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, and thus should be an 800. It may also be argued that My Invented Country is a memoir, though one that is only lightly self-revealing. Our book group may have tended toward calling the book a country description, but we were in by no means unified.
Is it fair to say the book is only lightly personally revealing? Allende tells numerous short stories about her life and admits to many faults, but it seems to me that Chile is really her main focus.
Does all this matter? Readers mostly want good reading and do not worry about classification. We were not agreed whether My Invented Country passed that test. Several members of the club who had read Allende's novels were unsatisfied. They thought her voice was very different, somewhat arrogant, not engaging. Others enjoyed her alternately witty and serious assessment of her country and life.
I enjoyed what might just be called "encyclopedia facts," the sections in which Allende describes the country. She is, of course, more entertaining than most encyclopedias. I'd now like to travel through the country, something that none of us had done.
My Invented Country is an imperfect book in that its perceived message clearly is not the same to every reader. Ironically, that makes it a good candidate for book discussions. Discussion leaders should also prepare to discuss what has changed in the ten years since it was published.
Allende, Isabel. My Invented Country: A Nostalgic Journey Through Chile. Harper Collins, 2003. ISBN 006054564X.