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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 October 6, 2017
Wow! A timely read. I first read this when it came out, and again in the 90s when the movie came out and have always loved Allende's magical storytelling. But this time, it really blew me away. Talk about timely and prophetic. The turmoil that sweeps through the unnamed South American country (Chile) as liberal and conservative ideology clash is eerily familiar. I'm pretty sure I've heard a few of today's politicians spout some of the same inane nonsense that Esteban Trueba and his cronies do in the book. Everyone who thinks "It can never happen in our country" should read this as a cautionary tale for our times. It can never happen here. Until it does.
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on May 16, 2010
Isabel Allende's masterpiece _The House of the Spirits_ follows several generations of the del Valle family through the twentieth century in an unnamed South American country. The story is told through 3 narrators: an unknown omnicient narrator, Esteban Trueba, a conservative patron, and (until the end of the book), an unknown woman. These three narrators relate the political and social happenings of their country, as well as the personal details of the family. I was consumed by the story.

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.
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on July 1, 2017
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Magical realism was delightfully refreshing in a way while the descriptions of revolution and political upheaval were shockingly grounding. Great characters and great story with decent writing too.
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I came across this novel after having read several works by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, most notably Love in the Time of Cholera. I found this novel to be so similar in style and substance to the aforementioned work as to be remarkable. Inasmuch as I enjoyed LitToC immensely, that is a good thing. Both novels are set in early 20th century South America and feature aspects of magical realism for which Marquez is justly famous.

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.
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on May 2, 2016
Really enjoyed the book. I started off reading the book thinking I knew more or less what it was about and boy was I wrong. You're on drawn into the characters and caring about them and then BAM, you're seeing what it must be like when a democracy is overthrown by the military. I couldn't then read it fast enough to see what happened to the characters caught up in the military coup. Isabel, you lulled me into a sweet story of a family growing one generation to the next only to throwing me into a military coup and how powerless it must be for the citizens; experiencing all the atrocities, deaths, etc. Well played Isabel.
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on January 5, 2015
This is such a rich novel. Incredible character development, descriptions of life in Chile for the haves and the have-nots. The country's internal struggle, and the Trueba family story in the middle of it all. It was Ms. Allende's first novel, and it was a tour de force. Pick up a copy - you gotta read this story.
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on July 4, 2005
The House of Spirits follows an upper class Chilean family through most of the twentieth century. By following the family's fortunes, author Isabel Allende (niece of Salvador Allende, the socialist President of Chile) examines the major social and political developments in Chile's modern history.

The family patriarch, Esteban Trueba, is a practical man and can get things done, but he is cruel and despotic. He builds a fortune through his land holdings, his mine, and later through speculation. He becomes a Conservative Senator but then, in his full maturity, painful events force him to examine some rather gaping holes in the ideology he clung to as a younger man. Trueba's wife, Clara, lives with one foot in this world and the other in a world of spirits and supernatural forces. The couple's three children, their lovers, and their children interact with one another and with the forces of change in Chile over many decades.

Allende romanticizes the socialists in Chile, depicting them as brave and selfless. The peasants, the focus of their concern, are foolish and short-sighted, but harmless. On the other hand, the Creole elite are selfish and predatory, and the military are little more than bestial savages. This makes it sound as if Allende is a little bit ham fisted but of course she is not. In fact, her portrayal of controversial events in Chilean history is highly illuminating.

The House of Spirits is very engaging, with wonderful characters and a lot of action, and it inspired me to learn more about Chile. I think that this epic novel will appeal to many different types of readers.
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on December 3, 2015
A really interesting read. Great character development. Takes place in an unnamed South American country. Deals with trials & tribulations of three generations. Love; Political unrest; Army Coup; It's all here, plus all the Spirits.
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on June 1, 2014
This novel tells the story of the turbulent times of the Trueba Family, from a fictional country in South America, modeled after Chile. The main character is Esteban, a very forceful man, with a drive towards wealth and status, almost at any cost. He comes from modest means and strikes it rich in the mines of the north. He plans to marry the beautiful Rosa, from the upper class Liberal Del Valle Family, but before he can she dies prematurely. So instead he marries the younger sister Clara. Clara has clairvoyant powers, she can see into the future, and she can move objects with her mind. She sees the world through her fortune teller cards, and yet accepts people for who they are. She's the polar opposite of Esteban, a realist and staunch conservative, but their love is strong despite their many challenges. From them comes the daughter Blanca. Raised in English boarding schools and sheltered from the everyday people of her country. She falls in love with Pedro son of the foreman of the Trueba country estate at Tres Marias. Esteban will never approve of this union and is all about maintaining the values of the oligarchy. The question is whether Clara and the family will be able to survive Esteban's tirades, or will the family disintegrate? The story takes place in the mid 20th Century.
Allende has a gift for creating characters that seem real and ones which you won't forget. I highly recommend the book.
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