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Isabel Allende's Farewell To "Godmother" Of Spanish-Language Literature

Carmen Balcells, literary agent to some of the greatest Spanish-language writers of our time, died this past weekend in Barcelona. One of the novelists she discovered, Isabel Allende, pays tribute.

Chilean writer Isabel Allende with literary agent Carmen Balcells
Chilean writer Isabel Allende with literary agent Carmen Balcells
Isabel Allende

BUENOS AIRES — The queen of the literary world has died. The magnificent, powerful, abundant and sentimental Carmen Balcells is no longer here to look after the hundreds of writers she represented. She was the force behind Latin America's literary boom, the woman who managed to change forever the draconian contracts imposed on writers. She was no less than the soul of Spanish-language literature.

Thirty-four years ago, Balcells took me under her wing. I was a nobody from the other side of the world, who'd come with a wad of pages tied under my arms. I owe her my career. She was the godmother of each and every word I have written. One day, in 1981, she received by post the manuscript of the House of the Spirits, which nobody had wanted to read. With a stroke of her magic wand, she had it published.

The first time I saw her was in her house in Barcelona, where she organized an over-sumptuous dinner to present me to critics, intellectuals and friends. It is the only time in my life I have seen caviar served up by the spoonful — which was perfectly symbolic of Carmen, a larger-than-life character who was as generous as she was refined.

When she spoke to propose a toast, the lights went out and we were left in the dark. She immediately attributed the blackout to the spirits of my book who had arrived to celebrate with us. I am sure she meant it. For while she was eminently practical and implacable as a negotiator, Carmen believed in spirits, in karma, zodiac signs, mysteries. She was at home with magic realism, which may be why we got on so well.

I would call her my doting mother, but she would reply, "I am neither your mother nor your friend, but your agent." She said it in Catalan to make it sound less harsh, all the while spoiling me with orange-filled chocolates and extravagant gifts.

In the world of publishing she had a reputation as a tough operator. But in private, she had a big soft heart and wept at the slightest pretext. "Carmen bathed in tears," is how Gabriel García Márquez described her.

She was my counsellor and confidante, with whom I shared great moments of sadness and joy, unrequited loves, divorces, triumphs and fears. "Poor, poor little thing," she would tell me in tears, when my daughter Paula was dying.

She would arrive at the Madrid hospital like a hurricane with her neck scarf flying behind, bearing her nourishing raise-the-dead broth of sausage and chickpeas in a plastic container. That is how I remember her, as an unconditional friend and not as a shrewd agent that fought tooth and nail for her writers' contracts.

The death of Carmen Balcells brings a period to a close. Nobody could take the place she leaves in the literary universe or in the hearts of those of us who knew and loved her. Hundreds of her authors now send their affection to her son Luis Miguel and all those working at her agency. She will be greatly missed, and especially by me. Without her, I feel lost.

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Geopolitics

New Probe Finds Pro-Bolsonaro Fake News Dominated Social Media Through Campaign

Ahead of Brazil's national elections Sunday, the most interacted-with posts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Telegram and WhatsApp contradict trustworthy information about the public’s voting intentions.

Jair Bolsonaro bogus claims perform well online

Cris Faga/ZUMA
Laura Scofield and Matheus Santino

SÂO PAULO — If you only got your news from social media, you might be mistaken for thinking that Jair Bolsonaro is leading the polls for Brazil’s upcoming presidential elections, which will take place this Sunday. Such a view flies in the face of what most of the polling institutes registered with the Superior Electoral Court indicate.

An exclusive investigation by the Brazilian investigative journalism agency Agência Pública has revealed how the most interacted-with and shared posts in Brazil on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Telegram and WhatsApp share data and polls that suggest victory is certain for the incumbent Bolsonaro, as well as propagating conspiracy theories based on false allegations that research institutes carrying out polling have been bribed by Bolsonaro’s main rival, former president Luís Inácio Lula da Silva, or by his party, the Workers’ Party.

Agência Pública’s reporters analyzed the most-shared posts containing the phrase “pesquisa eleitoral” [electoral polls] in the period between the official start of the campaigning period, on August 16, to September 6. The analysis revealed that the most interacted-with and shared posts on social media spread false information or predicted victory for Jair Bolsonaro.

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