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The House of the Spirits Hardcover – April 12, 1985
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"Children of Blood and Bone"
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut. Pre-order today
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Text: English, Spanish (translation)
From the Inside Flap
A best seller and critical success all over the world, The House of the Spirits is the magnificent epic of the Trueba family -- their loves, their ambitions, their spiritual quests, their relations with one another, and their participation in the history of their times, a history that becomes destiny and overtakes them all.
We begin -- at the turn of the century, in an unnamed South American country -- in the childhood home of the woman who will be the mother and grandmother of the clan, Clara del Valle. A warm-hearted, hypersensitive girl, Clara has distinguished herself from an early age with her telepathic abilities -- she can read fortunes, make objects move as if they had lives of their own, and predict the future. Following the mysterious death of her sister, the fabled Rosa the Beautiful, Clara has been mute for nine years, resisting all attempts to make her speak. When she breaks her silence, it is to announce that she will be married soon.
Her husband-to-be is Esteban Trueba, a stern, willful man, given to fits of rage and haunted by a profound loneliness. At the age of thirty-five, he has returned to the capital from his country estate to visit his dying mother and to find a wife. (He was Rosa's fiance, and her death has marked him as deeply as it has Clara.) This is the man Clara has foreseen -- has summoned -- to be her husband; Esteban, in turn, will conceive a passion for Clara that will last the rest of his long and rancorous life.
We go with this couple as they move into the extravagant house he builds for her, a structure that everyone calls "the big house on the corner," which is soon populated with Clara's spiritualist friends, the artists she sponsors, the charity cases she takes an interest in, with Esteban's political cronies, and, above all, with the Trueba children...their daughter, Blanca, a practical, self-effacing girl who will, to the fury of her father, form a lifelong liaison with the son of his foreman...the twins, Jaime and Nicolas, the former a solitary, taciturn boy who becomes a doctor to the poor and unfortunate; the latter a playboy, a dabbler in Eastern religions and mystical disciplines...and, in the third generation, the child Alba, Blanca's daughter (the family does not recognize the real father for years, so great is Esteban's anger), a child who is fondled and indulged and instructed by them all.
For all their good fortune, their natural (and supernatural) talents, and their powerful attachments to one another, the inhabitants of "the big house on the corner" are not immune to the larger forces of the world. And, as the twentieth century beats on...as Esteban becomes more strident in his opposition to Communism...as Jaime becomes the friend and confidant of the Socialist leader known as the Candidate...as Alba falls in love with a student radical...the Truebas become actors -- and victims -- in a tragic series of events that gives The House of the Spirits a deeper resonance and meaning.
It is the supreme achievement of this splendid novel that we feel ourselves members of this large, passionate (and sometimes exasperating) family, that we become attached to them as if they were our own. That this is the author's first novel makes it all the more extraordinary. The House of the Spirits marks the appearance of a major, international writer.
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One of the things that gives House of the Spirits its charm is the swapping of point-of-view characters, and not even always that- the ‘narrator’ in a sense, is always the same, Esteban Trueba, who has given me quite a challenge when it comes to being able to read this book. However, his story is not the only one being told- Allende swaps his point-of-view several times in the story, using it to great effect to detail her characters’ lives in their entirety. For example, we are introduced to the book with Clara (the common choice for a point-of-view switch in this novel, as she writes down everything in her life), which we can tell from the line “the child Clara wrote in her delicate calligraphy.” (1). It is very hard to tell when one character’s point of view begins, for is it simply Clara writing down the story she has seen unfold?
However, this is a review section, so I’ll get straight to the point- this is not a happy book. While it is fascinating, it is also filled with all sorts of violence, which is understandable, given the setting. One thing that is so incredibly interesting about this book is that if you don’t know, going into the book, what event surrounds this novel, you will be understandably surprised when you finally understand that this book builds up to- the Chilean coup d’etat, in 1973. However, if you already know two key pieces of information- the name of the overthrown President, Salvador Allende, and that this book was originally published in Chile, you will finally understand from what point of view Allende finds herself in- the niece of the assassinated President.
The novel, in itself, can feel at times like a dream- a dream which contains some of the most fascinating parts of the book. Clara’s magic is not always overt, but in the ways it shows itself, it is incredibly interesting. One incident mentioned is that Clara believed “that just as the power of her mind could move the saltcellar on the table, she could also produce deaths, earthquakes, and other, even worse catastrophes. In vain her mother had explained that she could not bring about events, only see them somewhat in advance.” (42). Details like this are what make the magic not feel forced- it feels real, like how a real child would react to something horrible they predicted coming true. While they aren’t always the most significant parts of the book, I find these little pockets of incredibly well-chosen detail and fantastic magical realism incredibly enjoyable.
I enjoyed this book, but I should say a warning- it is not for everyone. It is fascinating, it is incredibly written, but it is also rather bloody, and, to be frank, Esteban Trueba (the main character) is a rapist. There is murder, there is domestic abuse, and there is torture. However, the most important part of this book is that the characters who are forced to deal with this can still manage to get up and keep going. They are kept alive by sheer determination and the incredible forces of their wills, and no Estebans can change that.
To a large extent, Allende "out-Marquezes" Gabriel Marquez. His One Hundred Years of Solitude (P.S.) follows a similar theme, and is written in a similar genre (magical realism.) However, I found _The House of the Spirits_ both easier to read and much more interesting. There are supernatural elements of the story, especially within the house of which book is titled, as Clara (a del Valle daughter, and wife of Trueba) sees and speaks to spirits. But the book is much more than a genre piece - it is the narrative of continent, as the del Valle's (and Trueba's) struggles are a microcosom of Latin America: the conflict between liberals and conservatives, the endemic generations of fatherless children, the passion of youth and forbidden love across social classes, the tendency (especially in the 20th century) towards fascism and dictatorship. It is both beautiful and tragic, much like South America itself.
The scope and scale of the book alone would warrant high marks; that it is so lyrically written gives it 5 stars. A lesser story written with such ardor would also earn 5 stars from me. For example, writing of the political chaos that so often wracks that part of the world, she writes, "She did not understand the state of civil war, not did she realizt that war is the soldier's work of art, the administration of all their training, the gold medal of their profession. Soldiers are not made to shine in times of peace. ..." Allende, however has a messge for her countrymen, and finishes the book on a positive note with hope for the future, although perhaps with a bitter-sweet tone. Without spoiling the story, Allende tells us "It would be difficult ... to avenge all those who should be avenged, because ... revenge would just be another part of the same inexorable rite. (We) have to break that terrible chain."
_The House of the Spirits_ was the first book about the del Valle family, the saga which continues (through other branches of the family) in Daughter of Fortune: A Novel (P.S.) and Portrait in Sepia, although these are set earlier in time. While I immensely enjoyed these others, far and away _The House of the Spirits_ is my favorite. Enthusiastically recommended.