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 â€" 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 â€" 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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Preparing a COVID-19 vaccine booster in Huzhou, China.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Ciao!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's senate backs "crimes against humanity" charges against Jair Bolsonaro, the UN has a grim new climate report and Dune gets a sequel. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt explores "Xi Jinping Thought," which is now being made part of Chinese schools' curriculum.



• Senators back Bolsonaro criminal charges: A Brazilian Senate panel has backed a report that supports charging President Jair Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity, for his alleged responsibility in the country's 600,000-plus COVID-19 deaths.

• Gas crisis in Moldova following Russian retaliation: Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has for the first time challenged Russia's Gazprom following a price increase and failed contract negotiations, purchasing instead from Poland. In response, Russia has threatened to halt sales to the Eastern European country, which has previously acquired all of its gas from Gazprom.

• New UN climate report finds planned emission cuts fall short: The Emissions Gap Report 2021 concludes that country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren't large enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C degrees this century. The UN Environment Program predicts a 2.7 °C increase, with significant environmental impacts, but there is still hope that longer term net-zero goals will curtail some temperature rise.

• COVID update: As part of its long-awaited reopening, Australia will officially allow its citizens to travel abroad without a government waiver for the first time in more than 18 months. Bulgaria, meanwhile, hits record daily high COVID-19 cases as the Eastern European's hotel and restaurant association is planning protests over the implementation of the vaccination "green pass." In the U.S., a panel of government medical advisors backed the use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.

• U.S. appeals decision to block Julian Assange extradition: The United States said it was "extremely disappointed" in a UK judge's ruling that Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, would be a suicide risk of he traveled across the Atlantic. In the U.S., he faces 18 charges related to the 2010 release of 500,000 secret files related to U.S. military activity.

• Deposed Sudan prime minister released: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been released from custody, though remains under heavy guard after Sudan's military coup. Protests against the coup have continued in the capital Khartoum, as Hamdok has called for the release of other detained governmental officials.

Dune Part 2 confirmed: The world will get to see Timothée Chalamet ride a sandworm: The second installment of the sci-fi epic and global box office hit has officially been greenlit, set to hit the screens in 2023.


Front page of the National Post's October 27 front page

Canadian daily National Post reports on the nomination of Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist, as the country's new Environment minister. He had been arrested in 2001 for scaling Toronto's CN Tower to unfurl a banner for Greenpeace, which he left in 2008.


Chinese students now required to learn to think like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university, reports Maximilian Kalkhof in German daily Die Welt.

🇨🇳 It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader. Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself.

📚 Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

⚠️ But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation? The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

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"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."

— Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo said in a video accompanying a tweet in which he revealed his homosexuality, becoming the first top-flight male professional player in the world to do so. The 21-year-old said he was tired of living "this double life" and hoped his decision to come out would help other "players living in silence."


Why this Sudan coup d'état is different

Three days since the military coup was set in motion in Sudan, the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Reuters reports this morning that workers at the state petroleum company Sudapet are joining a nationwide civil disobedience movement called by trade unions in response to the generals' overthrow of the government. Doctors have also announced a strike.

Generals in suits At the same time, the military appears firmly in control, with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok allowed to return home today after being held by the coup leaders. How did we get here? That's the question that David E. Kiwuwa, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, takes on in The Conversation:

"Since the revolution that deposed Omar el-Bashir in 2019, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

Economy as alibi For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council. This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.

True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse."

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471 million euros

Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, will be put up for auction in January for 471 million euros ($547 million). The over-the-top price tag is thanks to the villa having the only known ceiling painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Who wants to start the bidding on the Caravaggio villa? Otherwise, let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!!

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