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on April 9, 2016
Passions, Politics and Psychic Powers over Three Generations of Chilean Family

Isabel Allende's stunning saga, The House of the Spirits, spans three generations of the Chilean Trueba family ending a few years after the government overthrow led by General Pinochet, the abhorrent right-wing dictator who, with the support of the US gov't, seized the chance opened by fears that the country would be taken over by Marxists.

Ms. Allende', who should soon be Chile's 3d Nobel Laureate in Literature, wrote the novel based loosely on her own family and nation. The novel's fictional characters and events follow closely the lives and times of Chile, Pinochet and Salvadore Allende, her first cousin, once removed, and Chile's socialist president at the time of the coup d'etat. Reports conflict over whether he was assassinated or committed suicide shortly after the coup commenced.

Incidentally, Chile's last Nobel Laureate (1971) was the famous poet Pablo Neruda, who died from poisoning 2 weeks after the coup, as some believe upon Pinochet's orders due to Neruda's support of Marxist politicians. Allende's fictional Neruda counterpart died under suspicious circumstances and his funeral is a significant event in the novel, as civilians on both the left and the right were severely shaken by his death, which foreshadowed several more years of a ruthless, murderous military regime.

Ms. Allende's prose is both graceful and readily comprehensible, as she chronicles a captivating, concinnous tale chiseled in history and filled with passions inflamed by family, politics and power, love and lust, malevolence and mysticism.

Highly recommended.

PS: I've never seen the film starring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons, but I know it received bad reviews. Little wonder though, this novel is too broad in scope to satisfactorily cover in a 2, 3 or even 4 hour film. I won't be at all surprised if someone like Netflix or AmazonPrime picks up the rights and makes The House of the Spirits into a mini-series like Narco, House of Cards, and The Man in the High Castle. If it doesn't happen, it should. The divergence of South American mysticism, the time (the early 70s), the passion of 2 love affairs and the politics (communists v. a right-wing military takeover/dictatorship) is just too fertile not to captivate an even larger audience in video form.
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on February 23, 2016
The House of the Spirits was a wonderful read. Allende's description of the viewpoint of the old Chilean aristocracy via Estanban Trueba was fascinating and insightful. Her plot line was complex; it didn't necessarily go where I expected, yet it always made sense. Her depiction of the devastating reaction of the aristocrats to the election of her uncle (lightly disguised) was remarkable and terribly sad - their willingness to destroy the economy and let people across the country suffer rather than lose their grip on power. With the election and then the military takeover, history had a tendency to take over from the novel's story line, but her characters stayed believable and followed their paths in the characters she had given them. Allende doesn't necessarily believe in giving everyone a happy ending, but her ending was appropriate and satisfying for me. I enjoyed the story tremendously, and continue to think about it every now and then.
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on January 24, 2017
A gripping narrative from a feminine (and feminist) perspective that weaves magic realism with social and political commentary and history. As a Latino, there were threads that resonated with my own experiences growing up in México, though I was struck by the lack of likable male characters. Still, this is a book that I will most likely re-read several times in the future. A truly human story that gained relevance given the Trump election and some of the eerily similar practices from the despots Allende describes.
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on April 21, 2017
It was a difficult read, especially in the last 80-90 pages. A real lession in Political Science and how the world works.
I am no novice to the world, I am 81 years old.and have been a reader all my adult years. I enjoyed the development of the characters, Clara was other wordly and a positive force on everyone, Estaban Truba was the epitomy meaness, inflexibilty, brutality and only interested in his own views. and as usually happens, he live a long life and died in his own bed. I took not pity on his suffering, he brought it all on himself.
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on March 30, 2017
AMAZING. I absolutely love this book. The alternating persons narrating really lets us see others perspective. I would have loved to see the perspective of the general; however, I feel that the narration is reserved for the family members, and we pretty much understand where his stance is coming from.

I highly recommend this book, and I look forward to reading more from this author.
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on August 22, 2016
Spoiler Alert!
This is an involved and intriguing tale of passion, love, selfishness, betrayal, redemption and regret. I can't help but be relieved that our society has made so many changes in the way women are treated although it needs to make more. Esteban is a disgustingly selfish and cruel man and he eventually receives ironic justice (but not enough in my opinion). Unfortunately a lot of people have suffered because of him. He rapes and impregnates a peasant girl, treats his illegitimate son and the mother like trash, crushes his workers under his iron heel, banishes his mistreated sister who dies alone, shoots at his daughters lover, beats his wife, alienates his daughter, is blackmailed by his illegitimate son, and makes dirty deals as a entitled politician. I do not think I could have forgiven him as his wife and daughter do. He redeems himself a little in the end by getting his daughter's lover out of the country at great risk to himself. However, in my opinion, it would have better served justice if he should have died alone and unloved rather than his daughter and granddaughter being at his bedside.
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on March 5, 2017
A great novel depicting a unique and dynamic family. The book is rather violent at times, so if you are easily triggered I would not recommend reading it.
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on April 21, 2017
I loved the variety of people in the book. And how the main character in the book was followed all through his life, with all his traits and that of all the people who entered his life. Anyway, I hated it to end. Great read.
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on June 19, 2006
"The House of the Spirits" is a family saga set, ostensibly, in a nameless Latin-American country. The country is clearly supposed to be Chile, but that is not a word that appears anywhere in the book. The latter part of the novel deals with a military coup which topples a left-wing government from power; possibly Isabel Allende adopted the device of concealing the identity of the country she is writing about in order to deflect possible criticism that her account of these events owed more to family feeling than to objectivity. (She is, of course, the niece of Salvador Allende, the left-wing Chilean president who was killed in such a coup in 1973). Two of Ms Allende's later novels, "Daughter of Fortune" and "Portrait in Sepia" can be seen as "prequels" to "The House of the Spirits" in that they chronicle the lives of earlier generations of the same family; both are quite definitely set in Chile.

The chronology of the novel is almost as vague as its geography, although references to the two world wars and other world events suggest that it covers approximately the period 1900-1980. It has a basic plot that owes something to Galsworthy's "Forsyte Saga". The "man of property" in this case is Esteban Trueba, a wealthy man whose wealth derives from his ownership of a large country estate. Like Soames Forsyte, Esteban is married to a beautiful younger woman whom he loves passionately but who cannot return his love. His wife, Clara, is a member of the Del Valle family who also feature in the two earlier works mentioned above. "The House of the Spirits" details the story of their courtship and marriage and the lives of their children and grandchildren, intertwining this with the wider story of their country.

Like her uncle, Ms Allende clearly has left-wing political sympathies. The book can be seen as the story of the growth of the socialist movement in her country to the point where it is able to challenge the established order, only to be frustrated by the military's seizure of power. Although Esteban is the central character, he is in many ways an unsympathetic one. He is an unthinking conservative who sees himself as a strict but benevolent father-figure not only to his family but also to the peasants on his estate. His wife, his children and his tenants, however, see him more as an autocratic bully who will tolerate no dissent from any of them. His children all rebel against him- one of his sons, Jaime, becomes an idealistic left-wing doctor, the other, Nicolas, an eccentric mystic, and his daughter Blanca has an illegitimate child by one of the peasants. Esteban- by then an old man- initially supports the military dictatorship, even after Jaime has been murdered by it, only to turn against it when he realises how brutal it has become.

Although Ms Allende seems to sympathise with the socio-economic aspects of Marxism, she does not share Marx's philosophical materialism. She may not subscribe to any organised religion (the Catholic Church generally appears in the book as a negative force on the side of political reaction) but clearly believes that there is a spiritual side to life. The book is much more "magical realist" in tone than either "Daughter of Fortune" or "Portrait in Sepia". This tone comes out most strongly in those parts of the book dealing with Clara, a clairvoyant with supernatural powers, not only to foretell the future but also to move objects by telekinesis. There are frequent baffling and unexplained events. For example, both Clara's sister Rosa and her granddaughter Alba are described as having hair that is naturally green in colour. No explanation for this strange phenomenon is given; it is simply stated as a fact, although there is nothing in the plot that turns upon their hair being green.

Ms Allende is never really able to unite the "magical" and "realist" sides of her work into a coherent whole, so the supernatural elements often seem like intrusions into what is for the most part a realistic novel. Two things she does succeed in uniting are her personal and political themes. Esteban is both a vivid character in his own right and a symbol of the authoritarian old order in Latin America. The author avoids the error she was later to make in "Portrait in Sepia", where she concentrated too much on a passive and colourless central character; Esteban may be unsympathetic, but he is never passive or colourless. Occasionally, especially in the central part of the novel, the narrative seems to get bogged down in too much family detail, but recovers its urgency in the parts dealing with the coup and its aftermath. Overall, this is generally a readable book with some memorable characters.
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on October 22, 2016
Allen's has an uncanny talent for weaving a story.
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