House of the Spirits (Allende)

The House of the Spirits
Isabel Allende, 1985
Random House
433 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780553273915

Chilean writer Isabel Allende's classic novel is both a symbolic family saga and the story of an unnamed Latin American country's turbulent history. Allende constructs a spirit-ridden world and fills it with colorful and all-too-human inhabitants. The Trueba family's passions, struggles, and secrets span three generations and a century of violent change, culminating in a crisis that brings the proud and tyrannical patriarch and his beloved granddaughter to opposite sides of the barricades. Against a backdrop of revolution and counterrevolution, Allende brings to life a family whose private bonds of love and hatred are more complex and enduring than the political allegiances that set them at odds. (From the publisher.)

The House of the Spirits is the magnificent epic of the Trueba family—their loves, their ambitions, their spiritual quests, their relations with one another, and their participation in the history of their times, a history that becomes a destiny and overtakes them all.

We begin—at the turn of the century, in an unnamed South American country—in the childhood home of the woman who will be the mother and grandmother of the clan, Clara Del Valle. A warm-hearted, hypersensitive girl, Clara has distinguished herself from an early age with her telepathic abilities—she can read fortunes, make objects move as if they had lives of their own, and predict the future. Following the mysterious death of her sister, the fabled Rosa the Beautiful, Clara has been mute for nine years. When she breaks her silence, it is to announce that she will be married soon.

Her husband-to-be is Esteban Trueba, a stern, willful man, given to fits of rage and haunted by a profound loneliness. At the age of 35, he has returned to the capital from his country estate to visit his dying mother and to find a wife. (He was Rosa's fiance, and her death has marked him as deeply as it has Clara.) This is the man Clara has foreseen—has summoned—to be her husband; Esteban, in turn, will conceive a passion for Clara that will last the rest of his long and rancorous life.

We go with this couple as they move into the extravagant house he builds for her, a structure that everyone calls "the big house on the corner," which is soon populated with Clara's spiritualist friends, the artists she sponsors, the charity cases she takes an interest in, with Esteban's political cronies, and, above all, with the Trueba children...their daughter, Blanca, a practical self-effacing girl who will, to the fury of her father, form a lifelong liaison with the son of his foreman...the twins, Jaime and Nicolas, the former a solitary, taciturn boy who becomes a doctor to the poor and unfortunate; the latter a playboy, a dabbler in Eastern religions and mystical disciplines...and, in the third generation, the child Alba, Blanca's daughter, who is fondled and indulged and instructed by them all.

For all their good fortunate, their natural (and supernatural) talents, and their powerful attachments to one another, the inhabitants of the "big house on the corner" are not immune to the larger forces of the world. And as the 20th century beats Esteban becomes more strident in his opposition to Jaime becomes the friend and confidant of the Socialist leader known as the Alba falls in love with a student radical...the Truebas become actors—and victims—in a series of events that gives The House of the Spirits a deeper resonance and meaning. (From the first edition.)

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