on 2 February 2004
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.
on 1 September 2008
I can still remember reading Allende's opening lines in Liverpool's Bold Street Waterstones. 'Barrabas came to us by sea, the child Clara wrote in her delicate calligraphy.' I tingled all over, bought the book and barely managed to get off the train at Bolton Station. Literary purists always gesture knowingly towards their copies of Marquez's One Hundred years of Solitude. Leave them to it. Allende was born to write this book. She centres her story on a family's experience of Pinochet's savage regime in Chile. The House of the Spirits is as the title suggests, a family saga but a saga marvellously suffused by 'other' ways of knowing about events and futures. Part of the magic of the novel is that the 'spirit' co-exists powerfully with the 'material' in an unapologetic and finally redemptive way. The epigraph by the poet Pablo Neruda says it all for me:
How much does a man live, after all?
Does he live a thousand days, or one only?
...What does it mean to say 'for ever'?
on 14 April 2013
'The House of the Spirits' was a book that I had introduced to me through an English literature class. A blessing with a work as multi-layered as 'The House of the Spirits', where dissecting it truly helped to grapple with the purpose and principles behind Allende's writing. Stylistically, the book is a fantastic reflection of Allende's magical realism - taking reality and twisting it into something where the mystical and unnatural are intertwined with the everyday. A family saga of Soprano-like proportions (with similar levels of betrayal and violence), 'The House of the Spirits' is one that you will find yourself coming back to time and again.
'The House of the Spirits' (set in an unnamed country - but well recognised to be Chile) follows three generations of the Trueba family, opening with the story of the del Valles and their young daughters, Rosa and Clara. Clara is set-apart from the outset through her talent for clairvoyance and her prediction of the death of her sister (also fiancee of the central male character, Esteban Trueba), Rosa. It is after the subsequent marriage of Esteban and Clara that the novel truly gains momentum, following the couple as they move to the remote hacienda, Tres Marias. At Tres Marias, in his capacity as the hacienda's patron, Esteban's brutality and cruelty are brought into sharp focus. The novel introduces a number of parallel story lines, diverging most notably after the birth of Esteban and Clara's three children - their daughter Blanca and twin sons Jaime and Nicolas. Blanca's affair with the lower-class folk musician Pedro Tercero Garcia, which leads Esteban to a violent confrontation with the boy, results in a break-down of relations between Esteban and Clara (in fact, she never speaks to him again) and the introduction of our third Trueba generation - Blanca's daughter, Alba. Forming what is essentially the novel's second part, the family relocate to the city and move into the Trueba's 'House on the Corner'. The saga continues with Esteban's decision to become involved in conservative politics and Alba's simultaneous love affair with the revolutionary Miguel. Bringing the novel to its climax, the country undergoes a military coup, in which the trials, tragedies, and tribulations that have haunted the Trueba family through its three generations are brought to a head. We find Esteban forced to confront the violence of his past, question the principles of class superiority and self-interest that have motivated his actions, and realise that there is no escaping the demons that you create.
'The House of the Spirits' is a story of true complexity. It is a family saga of epic proportions, detailing not only the lives of the three Trueba generations, but doing so in a manner that explores themes of class-conflict and the cycle of violence. It provides a social narrative from personal perspective. Allende's skill undoubtedly lies in her ability to detail historical reality in a manner that makes the reader invested in its outcome. While the anonymity that Allende applies to the places and key historical figures means that you could read this novel without appreciating the historical nature of the book, missing this theme would be to miss Allende's motivation. As the granddaughter of Salvador Allende (the socialist president of Chile deposed by the military coup depicted in the plot), Isabel Allende has written 'The House of the Spirits' as a fundamentally political novel. But it is not political in the sense of affiliation, promoting a choice between socialism and liberalism. Rather, the political point is one of sympathy and solidarity. It is a point about what social conflict can do to a country - where a break-down of understanding between people can lead to a situation in which common humanity is forgotten.
If you choose to pick up this book, you will be faced with a story of terror and fear, redemption and reconciliation. You will feel, after finishing the final pages, that you know the Trueba family as well as any other. Because they, like your own family, will make you laugh, think, despair, and grieve. This is a book that I have re-read on numerous occasions, and I find myself constantly surprised by the strength of my reaction to it. Whoever you are and whatever your situation in life when you read this book, I can promise you that it is one you will remember.
on 18 November 2013
I am not sure why this book hasn't received more acclaim. The passion and grief of the author for the fate of her beloved country are so evident. These drive the book and form a basis for the magic that emerges. I love the change of tone and meaning when Allende swaps first person for third. The family are so lovingly and clearly drawn and the generations are shown in the significance if each to the other. There is a tremendous and tragic momentum to the plot with an ending that is emotionally difficult to read. As far as I am concerned, this author is a giant of her craft.
on 19 May 2003
This is a pretty incredible book from Allende - the only thing that stops me giving it five stars is a somewhat unnecessary occasional swap in narrative from third to first person.
This Peruvian author is very much in the Marquez tradition - a cast of bizarre characters telling a story that covers generations and includes psychic abilities, ghosts and bizarre accidents.
What makes this book special is how it takes your affection for this family from the unusual to the deeply serious, as revolution ravages the country. The final 150 pages or so are harrowing stuff, and deeply affect you.
The plot is compelling, the characters brilliantly drawn, and an amazing achievement for a first novel.
on 5 February 2012
I started this book and was unable to put it down. First & foremost, the syntax of the writing style Allende imposes upon the reader is astounding. There is never a dull moment, only gripping words. The truly magnificent moments are the heart felt times regarding death and the way it is dealt with. Granted characters are killed off in a unique, almost comical manner, E.G nana frightened herself to death from an earthquake - found dead in her bed with her eyes bulging out! The characters all have a different life/different story to tell and yet all of it is combined and interlinked with the general story of the book. As ever, there is an undertone of Social critique, which is expected given Allendes upbringing and the time which the novel was written, her influences are there, the thought provoking moments are there. When you meet Trueba, you feel nothing but hatred towards him for the things he puts everyone through, however, in old age, everyone weakens, Allende has this unique ability to switch from one characters mindset to see the point of view from another. Trueba is detested by pretty much everyone who he comes into contact with, but in his own point of view, he can't seem to understand what or rather where he is going wrong!!! Democracy is a NO GO with him, the social/political critique is filled with moments of genius contained in little nutshells of magical realism. There is a constant subtext story going on regarding the social/liberal/conservative power struggle between the rich and the poor. The included define what free education & good upbringing can bring forth for a society plagued by ideology & poverty. The time zone is something of another point of interest, Allende does well including the technological advances taking place in Chile & the reception it gets from the older generation, this is a monumental point to consider, if one can not seem to adjust to technological changes, how is he/she to advance in any hierarchical changes? or shifts in society? power given to the people to vote?? The difficulties of change is what The House of the Spirits connotes, yet it maintains the story of family, love, power and loss. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, definitely would recommend to all!!!
on 21 August 2000
Similar to Garcia Marquez's "100 years of solitude" this novel mixes magic, religion, love, realism, history, political ideology, etc to tell the story of 4 generations of family history. I just kept on reading and reading, seeing how the characters change as they grow up and age, and as they face achievements and disappointments.
on 25 May 2006
Allende weaves the political and the personal together in this wide-ranging work, held together by the family relationships which lie at its core. However, if you are looking for a political novel, you may not like this book, as there is a lot of emphasis on personal relationships. It was easy to become involved in the book, despite the fact that the main character, Trueba, has some unsympathetic traits. The changes between the generations are convincingly rendered and some of the characters are attractively quirky. This was an enjoyable read because of its exuberant spirit, but you have to be prepared for the occasional acerbic comment. Allende does write about romantic relationships but she is not naive, either about love or about politics. One reservation is that the magical elements don't seem to add very much. Allende might have done better to stick to straightforward realism. The style is good, although it might be even better in the original Spanish. In general, a book to be recommended.
on 30 September 2013
a family saga which containers over more than 100 years of history of South America... but what an extraordinary saga. Sometimes you have to laugh, sometimes you have to hold breath because of all tragedies, combined with some spiritual and political issues. Amazing book, shows us also how a country is looking for its way how to be ruled, showing that both Communism as Fascism does not work...
a must read!
on 18 May 2001
I had previously read The Stories Of Eva Luna and was captivated by the authors ability to craft simple stories with a unique and perfect beauty. I was spellbound and read The House of the Spirits with childlike eyes, it was wonderful. I finished the book on an plane returning from a holiday. When I closed it I was desolate I wanted to read it forever.