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Isabel Allende: La casa de los espíritus (The House of the Spirits)

Allende’s first novel is the story of three generations of a Chilean family, headed by Estebán Trueba who gets engaged to Rosa, the beautiful elder daughter of a well-to-do family. Her sister, Clara, has psychic powers and has a premonition that Rosa will die. When she does, Clara feels that it is her fault and vows not to speak again. Estebán has made his fortune as the owner of Las Tres Marías farm and when he comes back, he marries Clara and they have a daughter, Blanca. Blanca’s love for Pedro, the son of her father’s foreman, is opposed by Estebán, not least because of Pedro’s left-wing views. Estebán, meanwhile, has become a congressman in the more conservative party. As in the real Chile (this country is unnamed), the socialists gradually assume power but are overturned by a violent uprising by the conservative forces, including Estebán. However, when his granddaughter, Alba, is arrested and tortured, Estebán changes his tune.

This brief summary does not begin to give a true picture of what this novel represents. It is, of course, first and foremost a chilling indictment on Pinochet and the Chilean conservatives who overthrew Allende. It is also a first-class portrait of a succession of women who suffer but ultimately come through in a male-dominated society, where cruelty and violence predominate. Allende’s women not only offer hope and love but also offer a spiritual element that the men cannot offer and cannot see, even the good men, focused as they are on the more earthly things of life. Allende uses elements of magic realism as well as many actual events and characters (both Salvador Allende and Pablo Neruda appear in thin disguises). The novel is often violent and disturbing but then the period and the people that she is describing are often violent and disturbing. It remains one of the most powerful novels to come out of Latin America.

Publishing history

First published in Spanish 1982 by Plaza & Janés
First published in English 1985 by Knopf
Translated by Magda Bogin