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:

Marie Arana’s Lima Nights

Arana, M. (2009). Lima nights: A novel. New York: Dial Press. 978-0-385-34258-2

I happened to read part of a short book review in O Magazine on Lima Nights. My interest piqued by what I read and the author’s name (similar to that of a friend) led to seeking out the book at my local library branch. Fortunately, I found the book on the new fiction shelf.

Carlos Bluhm, an upper-class man of German descent, lives in Lima, Peru in 1986. By all outward appearances, Bluhm leads a charmed life. He’s married to the refined Sophie, also German, and has two sons. He and his best friends have a strong bond. Life seems goods. When visiting a tango bar in a bad part of town, he meets the young, indigenous Maria Fernandez. This sixteen year old chola turns Bluhm’s world upside down. Bluhm and Maria fall into an illicit affair which alters both their realities. Alternating between the views of Bluhm and Maria in 1986 and 2006, the reader sees how their lives unravel and knit together.

The unsatisfactory plot finds salvation in Arana’s style. Her clinical, psychological understanding of the characters as well as her clearly detailed scenes transform the pages into film. Also, Arana’s straightforward way of describing character prejudices between Caucasian and Pre-Columbian races transcends. Ultimately, she tells a story of doing the right thing. The complexity of Bluhm and Maria, in particular, amaze. These characters are multifaceted and breathing! Bluhm is described by a friend as the most lacking in racism. Yet, Bluhm knows otherwise. He knows better than to pursue a relationship with Maria but goes forth. When the time comes to take responsibility, he actually does.

However, this plot made me unhappy. Why? I saw a lot of wounded souls in this book and very little happiness. While only around 250 pages, this was no light read. I’m willing to give Arana another chance but this was not my favorite book.

Three Out of Five Pearls

Word Bank: bandoneón, butifarras, ceviche, chifa, Cholafraulein, habitués, hacienda, hosta lilies, jitneymestiza, Mutti, Peugeot, Pilsener, pisco, Riesling, Schätze, schnapps, Shining Path, spaetzle, telenovela, Teuton, vidente


Places: Lima, Peru; Germany; Switzerland; Amazon Rainforest

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