Thursday, February 24, 2011

The House of the Spirits

The House of the Spirits
by Isabel Allende, translated by Magda Bogin, Dial Press Trade Paperback; Later Printing edition (August 30, 2005)

This is one of the better family saga/historical fiction books that you'll read.
The House of the Spirits, published in 1982 is probably Isabel Allende’s most famous work. I had read and enjoyed some of her later books (Daughter of FortuneThe Sum of Our Days) but had never read this one. What a wonderful novel. She tells a family story with the history of 20th century Chile as the background. The story is told primarily through the words of Estaban Trueba and his granddaughter Alba. Trueba is present throughout the story growing from a young child to an elderly patrone who develops into an anti-Communist politician. His family is composed of the most interesting characters -his wife Clara a somewhat mystical presence with the ability to see and influence future events- his twin sons Jaime, a physician and Nicolas a dilettante and his daughter Blanca. The overriding theme of this novel is the political and class struggle between the wealthy (Trueba) and the lower classes. Trueba is a multi faceted personality; he rapes women on his estate but obsesses over the welfare of his workers and happiness of his family. Trueba’s daughter Blanca falls in love with Pedro Tercero, a peasant on her father’s estate. Marriage is out of the question even though she is pregnant with his child. Their secret relationship is maintained for over 30 years. Alba their daughter is the present day face of Chile. Where her grandfather is both good and evil, she is all good.

The story contains a number of minor characters that lighten the mood of the narrative; the Mora sisters, spiritualists who regularly provide a communication conduit from the recently dead to the living and Transito Solo a bright business woman/prostitute who sets up a union for prostitutes in Santiago.

The saga culminates in the election of a socialist president in 1973. The events that follow mirror closely what happened in Chile at that time. The president is not able to successfully rule because the right wing essentially shuts down the country; there follows a military coup. After military rule is installed all basic rights are gone and dissidents and others are taken and often killed (“the disappeared”). Trueba initially supportive of the overthrow of the government comes to see the disaster that his country has become when his own son Jaime and Alba suffer terrible violence at the hands of the military. While this sounds like a depressing and off-putting story, it really isn’t. Allende infuses the narrative with hope, understanding, forgiveness and the ability for love to overcome the most horrid circumstances.

This novel was autobiographical for Allende, she is the niece of Salvatore Allende, the socialist president of Chile in the 1970s who was deposed in a CIA sponsored coup. She clearly put her heart and soul into this novel and it you can feel her dreams and hopres for Chile in this story.   This is one of the better family saga/historical fiction books that you'll read.
I read a copy of this novel that was a gift from a fellow book blogger.


Zibilee said...

I have never read a book by Allende, and I totally feel like I am missing something. I do have this one on my shelf though, and after reading your excellent review I think I am going to have to pick this one up. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me!

bermudaonion said...

I listened to an interview of Allende and found her to be fascinating. I'm glad to see her books are too. I think I need to read one.

Lisa@Pickles and Cheese said...

I just came across your blog today and I read this book back when I was in college and I loved it. I just found a copy recently and bought it to re-read. I read a few of her other books but never felt they were as good as this one.