The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

I had no idea what to expect with this read and had a nagging feeling that this was recommended to me, at some time, by my sister, whose advice I failed to take.  This was certainly an instance where I should have heeded the suggestion.

Set in a fictional Latin American capital, we follow three generations of Truebas through the eyes and words of a grandfather and his beloved granddaughter.  The stories are finely woven and cover an array of controversies; sexuality, class struggles, socialism, abortion, censorship, political unrest and more.  Allende manages to completely engage the reader while introducing a multitude of characters and conflicts without being overwhelming.

While initially unclear, it is eventually revealed that the story is being told by granddaughter and grandfather using the journals of the deceased mother and their own experiences to document the family’s history.

Esteban Trueba is the family patriarch who has amassed wealth and property as he vowed to do after coming from a childhood of poverty and an alcoholic father.  He falls is love with Rosa the Beautiful, but fate intervenes and he ends up marrying her sister, Clara the Clairvoyant.  He has a vile temper and looks down upon the peasants who help at his hacienda who he subjects to raping and beatings.  Once married, he turns to politics and is elected Senator and continues to grow wealthier and to have more violent outbursts.  After many years in the Senate, the Socialists win the election and Esteban begins efforts to have them overthrown, but he unknowingly initiates a military dictatorship.  This is one man’s past that most certainly comes back to haunt him.

The wife of Esteban, Clara the Clairvoyant, is a caring, but distracted wife and mother to her family.  She summons spirits in her home and they become a part of the family along with eccentric characters and those in need who come and go at random.  Her predictions prove accurate and sometimes, fatal, yet she can do nothing to prevent any of these calamities.  While certainly not a typical matriarch, her love and no nonsense approach to life keep her in the hearts of all who come to know her.

Alba, the granddaughter of Clara and Esteban, helps reunite the family after various upheavals.  She is such a loving child that the family seems to come together in her presence.  Somewhat sheltered, when she emerges into university life during student protests, she becomes involved in all her grandfather deplores.  She carries on right under her his nose and hides those being sought by the the new regime.  Unfortunately, she faces horrors as predicted by a family friend and truly pays for the sins of the (grand)father.

Mother to Alba, Blanca despises her father, but cannot leave his home or his protection.  Impregnated by Pedro Tercero, a peasant from her father’s hacienda, she is forced to marry a “count” who turns out to be a sexual deviant.  She flees to her father’s home when she discovers her husband’s secret room and eventually reunites with her child’s father.  She carries on behind her father’s back for years with the father of her child, fearing a life of peasantry, even as her lover has become a famed singer.

This author is a woman I would just love to converse with.  So much of this book seemed reflective of her own life and I’d love to ask about her time in Chile and  her uncle’s assassination.  While her training as a journalist is quite interesting, I’d still love to ask how she was able to blend so many believably human characters into a convoluted plot without losing this reader’s attention.

My rating for The House of the Spirits is a 10 out of 10.

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Next up, Jane Austen’s  Pride and Prejudice


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