Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Multi-Generational Saga of Rebelling Against Your Parents

The house of the spirits
The House of the Spirits was the first novel written by the now-prolific author Isabel Allende.  I have never read anything by Allende before, but I've had this one on my shelf for quite some time.  As it met two of my unofficial goals of reading books I already own AND reading books by people of color (yes, I am going to qualify Central and South Americans as people of color), it was inevitable that I would pull it down from the shelves this year.

I really had no idea what this book was about going into it.  I think that was part of the fun.  It's set in a South American country (never named, though it's commonly believed to be Chile) and centers on one family, the Truebas, and their ups and downs through good and bad economic, political, and interpersonal times after the end of colonialism.  There are light doses of magical realism thrown in, and a lot about passion, forgiveness, and the complications of the many types of love that can exist between people.

In many ways, this book reminded me of Gabriel Garcia-Marquez's 100 Years of Solitude.  Both books center on many generations of one family dealing with post-colonialism and the onset of the modern age.  They both have female characters who are so beautiful and untouched and marvelous that they just can't be fully human.  They both utilize magical realism.  It has been a long time since I've read 100 Years of Solitude, but it's one of those books that often comes back to me when I read other books, with its many themes and memorable scenes.

Perhaps that is what will happen with The House of the Spirits.  I finished the book and was surprised that I hadn't fallen deeply in love with it like so many people have.  But I also think it's one of those slow simmer books that you appreciate more as you get away from it more, rather than one of those that you gobble right up and then end and feel bereft and depressed afterward.  At least, that's how it felt for me - maybe it's different for other people.

I wonder, too, if this is one of those books that I would have loved so much more if I had read it when I was younger - all of the revolutionary zeal, the passionate love affairs, the beautiful daughters, the idealistic sons... it is fine fodder for a teenager ready to take on the world.  Now that I'm a little older, I think I go more for the character development and the lovely writing style and the thematic elements.  And while I don't think those were missing at all from this book, I just didn't feel as much of a compulsion to read each and every page as quickly as possible.

What I did enjoy about this book was the passion that came through in it.  Allende's characters care about the people and ideals that matter to them, and they are not afraid to show it.  They are all greatly flawed and not all of them are very likable, but I couldn't help but cheer for them and the way they stood up for what they believed in.  I loved the way the house became a character of its own, with warped walls, hidden rooms, resident spirits, and doors open to all visitors.  I loved the dynamics between family members and how they changed over time - how you can love someone and still get so angry with them, and then forgive them, and then go through it all over again.

I also really enjoyed learning more about the revolution - it started with the idealism that so many revolutions start with, and then ended up being much more about just another group in power, treating people poorly.  It was eye-opening and very sad, like most books about war are.

For those of you who don't know, I am planning a trip to Peru this summer!  So I am hoping to read many more books by South American authors (and Peruvian authors in particular).  Do you have any suggestions? I'd love to stock up and know more going in!


  1. I have been meaning to read Allende and this looks like a good place to start. The magical realism has drawn me in...

  2. Sometimes slow simmer books are the best kind.
    I've not read anything by Allende, but she's been on my 'authors to try' list for quite some time. I like the sound of the revolutionary aspects of this one.

  3. You and I have the same ind of thinking. When I read your opening paragraph, all I could think was that it sounded a lot like 100 Years of Solitude. While I have never read any of Allende's books, I do have this one on my shelf, and I am due for a simmer :)

    If you are looking for more books set in South America, I would recommend Louis de Bernieres. Especially his book, The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts, which is set there. I haven't read it myself, but I have read a couple of his books, and they were wonderful. He has a great touch with imagery and characterization.

    I really liked this review, and thought that it was so astute of you to realize that this book would have probably been a better read for you had you read it when you were younger. I also can relate to comparing many books to 100 years. It's a favorite of mine.

  4. I read an Allende book and adored it...and then I read no more

  5. This book has been on my shelves for ages and I can't imagine why I haven't taken the time to read it before now. It actually sounds like one I will enjoy. Last but not least...very exciting to hear about your trip to Peru!

  6. Anonymous4/09/2013

    I've always avoided Allende out of fear she would be like Gabriel Garcia Marquez -- I wanted to love, but really really really did not like, 100 Years of Solitude -- and now it is again confirmed that she is. Oh dear.

    But Peru sounds brilliant! What will you see there?

  7. I have read all of Allende's books but two (and her YA trilogy). I love her personally, but I also enjoy how diverse she is. This book and Daughter of Fortune, for example, may have some common elements but ultimately it could be two different authors... :)

  8. Anonymous4/10/2013

    Great review. Wise of you to understand how you have reacted if you had read it earlier--as I did and loved it.

    Enjoy Peru and getting ready to go there. I think Teresa at http://likeiamfeasting.blogspot has some suggestions for Peru. She is on GWC,

  9. I haven't read this one yet, although it's on my to-read list. However, I adore Allende as I love her books Portrait in Sepia and Daughter of Fortune.

  10. I am another who was a fan of Portrait in Sepia and Daughter of Fortune but I haven't read this one.


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