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Monday, January 30, 2017

The House of the Spirits (1982) by Isabel Allende

Image result for house of the spirits winona ryder
Wynona Ryder played third generation Trueba, Blanca, in the movie version of The House of the Spriits, by Isabel Allende.
Book Review
The House of the Spirits (1982)
 by Isabel Allende

   The House of the Spirits, a smash-hit debut novel by Chilean author Isabel Allende, was rejected by several Spanish language publishing houses before it was accepted by a publisher in Buenos Aires.  I suppose there are multiple possibilities for the number of rejections of what was such a smash hit novel.  One obvious explanation is political- the early 1980's was an era for dictatorship across much of the Latin American (and Iberia peninsular) worlds.  Allende was the niece of the Chilean socialist President Salvador Allende, who had famously been deposed in a CIA backed coup, and Dictator Augusto Pinochet ruled Chile until 1990.

  While The House of the Spirits has become one of the standard bearers for Magical Realism in the decades since publication, it is also firmly, unmistakably, about Chile from the perspective of a daughter of the conservative, land-owning class.   Like many children of elites, Isabel Allende turned out far more liberal than her grand parents would imagine, and it is this contrast, between the world of patriarch Esteban Trueba and the world of his children and grandchildren, that motivates the Magical Realism of The House of the Spirits.

  Allende switches between the omniscient third-party narrator and portions narrated by Trueba himself.  Trueba was based on Allende's own grandfather, and he is the central protagonist, with a hearty supporting cast of whores, wives, children and grand-children.  The 20th century passes in the back ground, with World War II enacted in the study of Trueba's country estate, and 60's counter-culture embodied by the girlfriend of one of Trueba's twin sons.   Although magical realism is often equated with throwing a hazy gauze over painful histories, Allende updates her brand of magic to include class war, drug addiction, prostitution, rape and abortion.

  When the magical realism appears, it is more likely than not a fillip, as supposed to being central to a plot point or theme.   In Allende's world, the magic is very much part of the real world, as is illustrated when arch-conservative senator Esteban Trueba argues that socialism can not abide in the unnamed Chile-stand in because socialism "lacks magic" and the people "have a magical soul."


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