Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits


* 1001 Books Book

Allende, I. (2005). The house of the spirits. New York: Dial Press. 9780553383805

Allende, I. (1985). The house of the spirits. New York: A.A. Knopf. 9780394539072

Having enjoyed Allende’s writing in the past, I checked out The House of the Spirits from HCPL. Before I proceed, I must state that I’ve never read anything by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. From what I’ve seen online, this will color the reader’s opinion of The House of the Spirits.

This work is the saga of the Truebas, a family living in an unnamed South American country (presumably Chile). It follows the Trueba family for  four generations against a backdrop of political definition, struggle, and upheaval of the twentieth century. There’s also a talk of The Politician (Salvador Allende) and his fall from power.

Allende tells the story through two different voices – a third person narrator and Esteban Trueba, the elderly patriarch. The latter was engaged to Rosa del Valle, also called Rosa la Bella. When Rosa dies from an accidental poisoning, Esteban throws himself into the reconstruction of his family’s hacienda, Las Tres Marias. Esteban takes out his rage on the peasants, raping many of the females.

The matriarch of the House of Trueba is Clara del Valle, who is introduced in the first line of the book. Clara possesses all sorts of ESP and she’s sister of Rosa the Beautiful. Inadvertantly, she predicts the death of Rosa. When this happens, Clara falls silent for years. She only communicates through writing while maintaining a family history.The next time Clara talks, she announces that she’ll marry Esteban Trueba.

When they do marry, they reside in the house on the corner. Soon, they have children (Blanca, twins Jaime and Nicolas) in this house. The house  where many gather around Clara. This group includes both living and dead folks. Among the living are the Mora Sisters and the Poet (thought to be Pablo Neruda).

I was amazed by this work. As I’ve mentioned in reviewing Island Beneath the Sea, Allenda is a gifted storyteller. These characters are so real that I can almost see them. The magical elements almost offer the book the feel of fairy tale. For example, Rosa the Beautiful has green hair and yellow eyes. Esteban and Clara’s granddaughter, Alba, also has green hair. Yet, Allende gets down to business such as Pinochet’s coup on September 11, 1973. Of all of her works I’ve read, this one is the best.

Four Out of Five Pearls

Places: Chile, Peru, Europe, United States, Canada, China

Literary Ties: Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz, Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros

For more reviews of Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits, please click on the following links:

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Isabel Allende’s Island Beneath the Sea


Allende, I., & Peden, M. S. (2010). Island beneath the sea: A novel. New York: Harper. 9780061988240

A few years ago, I picked up Isabel Allende’s Daughter of Fortune. Allende cast her spell on me with her characters and her storytelling. Oddly enough, several years passed by before I read another Allende work. As it happened, I chose her latest work Island Beneath the Sea which I requested through HCPL.

Allende tells the stories of numerous people living on 1700s Saint-Domingue (Haïti). First, she introduces readers to the young Toulouse Valmorain. He and the female Valmorains live comfortably in France thanks to his father’s sugarcane plantation, Saint Lazare, in Saint-Domingue.

His planter father sends a letter, requesting Valmorain to come the island in 1770. Valmorain arrives on the island, receiving a rude awakening. The elder Valmorain can no longer run Saint Lazare. So, it falls to Valmorain to make a go of it, turning Saint Lazare into a profitable plantation. Settling into Saint-Domingue, Valmorain marries a Spaniard Eugenia living in Cuba. In the midst of all of this, Valmorain purchases a slave to serve Eugenia.

This slave is a child named Zarité – called Tété. She’s the daughter of an enslaved African woman and a sailor. Tété leads a harsh existence and discovers comfort in voodoo and the slave community. Numerous passages in the book are related by an adult Tété. The rest of the novel told in third person.

Tété endures many abuses and hardships at the hands of Valmorain, who aims to be a “benevolent slave owner.” Yet, they later flee to New Orleans – together.

All I can say without further spoiling the plot is that I found the storytelling and character development of Tété mesmerizing. I also enjoyed learning about the enterprising courtesan Violette and Dr. Parmentier, the man of science with twenty-first century ethics. I even appreciated the complexity of Valmorain. Characters such as Gambo, Maurice, Rosette, Zacharie, and the Murphy family seemed unrealized, though. I could’ve easily done without Hortense! Nonetheless, I guess there was need for such a catalyst.

I also felt Allende did well with the rising action and then slammed the reader into a wretched nightmare that was Tété’s early life. Then, in the New Orleans part, the novel seemed rushed. I wanted to find out more about New Orleans life as well as denouement for Tété and her family. Overall, it was good storytelling but the plot needed help.

Three Out of Five Pearls

Places:

France, Saint-Domingue (Haiti), Cuba, New Orleans

For more on Isabel Allende’s Island Beneath the Sea, please check out the following links: