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The House of the Spirits: A Novel Paperback – August 30, 2005
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“Spectacular.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Nothing short of astonishing . . . In The House of the Spirits Isabel Allende has indeed shown us the relationships between past and present, family and nation, city and country, spiritual and political values. She has done so with enormous imagination, sensitivity, and compassion.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“A vivid, absorbing work of art . . . [Allende’s] characters are fascinatingly detailed and human.”—People
“Extraordinary . . . powerful . . . sharply observant, witty and eloquent.”—The New York Times
“Mesmerizing . . . a novel of force and charm.”—The Washington Post
About the Author
Born in Peru, Isabel Allende is Chilean. She was a journalist for many years and began to write fiction in 1981. The result was the worldwide bestseller The House of the Spirits, which was followed by the equally successful Of Love and Shadows, Eva Luna, The Stories of Eva Luna, and Daughter of Fortune. Long a resident of Caracas, she now makes her home in San Rafael, California.
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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.
The novel revolves around three generations of the Trueba family, a well to do clan anchored by an irascible patriarch, Estaban. The story tracks the political metamorphosis of the South American country of Chile, from autocratic conservative democracy through a period of Socialist revolution and finally to Fascist military dictatorship. Inasmuch as the author of this work is Isabel Allende, a close relative of the former President of Chile before the military junta led by Augusto Pinchet took control of the country, perhaps we can read this as something of a thinly veiled historical account.
Alternating between the first person account of the aforementioned Estaban and the more prevalent third person narrative, the reader is introduced to a procession of highly interesting characters, including successively more liberal and independent generations of the Trueba family, both legitimate and the bastard offspring of his country estate. The prose is sprinkled throughout with foreshadowing and brilliant imagery.
This is an absolutely top class piece of work, both in the quality of the writing and the history and political lesson contained therein. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in South America, politics or who has enjoyed the writings of Marquez.