In Inés of My Soul, Isabel Allende has written her finest novel, and I read it in one sitting, so impressed by it and so drawn into it was I. The lushness of her prose and her descriptive abilities have never been used in quite this way, and as Allende describes the virginal South American wilds, I was left in amazement at her accomplishment. I have always admired Allende as a writer, but I have been frustrated in the past at what I have seen as her unnecessary and detracting forays into the supernatural, which has intruded (as in House of the Spirits) into an otherwise rational plot. Nothing precisely like that comes to pass in this book, and insofar as it does, it seems less an affront in its setting here than it had at other times, and that also impressed me.
Inés of My Soul tells the story of a real life sixteenth-century figure, the bold and enterprising survivor, Doña Inés Suárez, who, along with her lover, the dashing Don Pedro de Valdivia, founds the great city of Santiago, Chile. Writing a remembrance from the vantage point of extreme old age (seventy years and near death) Doña Inés tells of growing up in Spain, then of course the world's most powerful and wealthy nation, and also describes to the reader her eventual voyage to Peru, in search of her husband, Juan, who had traveled to the New World before his wife, as one of Pizarro's conquistadors. Upon learning that her husband has died in battle (and finding that the man was not all she had once thought him to be) Doña Inés, left there in Peru with initially limited options, eventually is swept away by a dashing warrior and lover named Don Pedro de Valdivia. Together the pair go on to make the journey south to the wilds and are afterward remembered as among the founding figures in the modern nation of Chile. From her antiquity, Doña Inés tells the story of all this, and does so in a way that mesmerizes the imagination even as she---or more accurately Allende---teases the intellect and almost makes one forget until reminded of the human toll that was inextricably part of wedding together the distant lands of Chile and Spain.
I found this to be an enjoyable and visually-powerful work of fiction. It impressed me in a number of ways, and I recommend it to those who admire this gifted South American writer, who feel drawn to its historical and geographical setting, or to anyone looking for a good read this season.