A massive book bursting at the seams with magic and fantasy and also encompassing over half a century of Chilean history veiled under the disguise of metaphor. The story may run for 500 pages but they disappear so quickly that when you read the words 'The end', you flick back to page one and begin Allende's mystically real realm of spirits all over again.
The haunting truth of this book is its realism. One feels a part of the landscapes such as the cordillera or the vineyards, even though you are never told you are in Chile. However Allende, born in Lima and now US citizen yet Chilean through her parents (indeed a niece of ex-President Salvador Allende, who crops up as the candidate in the story), is attempting to reclaim the history of her country as well as suggesting hope for the future in the female lineage of her family.
One must remember the context in which this book was written. Allende had fled her country following the 1973 coup d'etat, and was living in Venezuela. The book despite its metaphorical disguise breaks the silence of dictatorship, and demonstrates how the barbarities of the despotic Pinochet have plunged her beautiful country into turmoil. Her haunting real descriptions broadcast her experiences and those of her countrymen to the outside world, and this seemingly magical yet sadly realistic literary world aligns this novel with that masterpiece of magical realism, One Hundred Years of Solitude, by the Nobel Prize winning Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Despite the easily readable accounts of her eccentric family and her marvellously painted 'country of catastrophes', Allende blends her lyrical magic with figures of historical importance, such as her Uncle, Pablo Neruda (the Poet) and Victor Jara (the guitarist, Pedro Tercero Garcia). This book could be read as a fictional account of Chile between 1910 and 1980, but I would recommend it more simply as a masterpiece of modern fiction and a classic to be enjoyed by lovers of fiction of all ages.