Literary Fiction

The House of the Spirits – Isabel Allende

5 June 2020
The House of the Spirits Book Cover The House of the Spirits
Isabel Allende
8 Aug 2005

Here, in an astonishing debut by a gifted storyteller, is the magnificent saga of proud and passionate men and women and the turbulent times through which they suffer and triumph. They are the Truebas. And theirs is a world you will not want to leave, and one you will not forget. Esteban -- The patriarch, a volatile and proud man whose lust for land is legendary and who is haunted by his tyrannical passion for the wife he can never completely possess. Clara -- The matriarch, elusive and mysterious, who foretells family tragedy and shapes the fortunes of the house of the Truebas. Blanca -- Their daughter, soft-spoken yet rebellious, whose shocking love for the son of her father's foreman fuels Esteban's everlasting contempt... even as it produces the grandchild he adores. Alba -- The fruit of Blanca's forbidden love, a luminous beauty, a fiery and willful woman... the family's break with the past and link to the future. "From the Paperback edition.

“In almost every family there’s a fool or a crazy person.”
—Isabel Allende

The House of the Spirits is set in the capital of an unnamed Latin American country during the twentieth century, and that is where I first met the del Valles.

Patriarch, Severo del Valle, has lofty political aspirations, but his magical, out-of-control family doesn’t quite conform to his ideals, leading to conflicts that are both laughable and tragic. Unworldly Rosa del Valle, the oldest daughter, is graced with a splendor unmatched by any other, setting one young man on a quest to make her his own. Esteban Trueba is an unlikely beau for Rosa the Beautiful, and their coming together is a stone thrown into the glassy surface of a mystical pond, whose ripples will radiate through generations.

“I don’t generally spend my time thinking about women,” mused Trueba, “but only a fool could have failed to spot that apparition, who caused a stir wherever she went, and tied up traffic, with her incredible green hair, which framed her face like a fantastic hat, her fairy-tale manner, and her special way of moving as if she were flying.”

Soon, the hopeful paramour finds the path to love is hard-won, and when heaven proves to be too far away, Trueba turns his eye toward more-earthly acquisitions. In his quest for riches, he paves a six-lane highway straight to the gates of Hades. Hearts in turmoil are invariably a bloody affair, whether this represents the heart of a country on the cusp of a Coup d’état or a love that can never be realized.

“She felt that everything was made of glass, as fragile as a sigh, and that the machine-gun fire and bombs of that unforgettable Tuesday had destroyed most of what she knew, and that all the rest had been smashed to pieces and spattered with blood.”

Though the story is awash with strong women having to survive misogyny and adversity, Allende has a gift of tempering tragedy with just enough comedy to keep the storyline electrifying. Emotional, raw, and spirited, this magical realism book was just my cup of tea.

Check out Kimber’s own website for more reviews and short stories.

Peter Donnelly

Founder of The Reading Desk, supporting readers, authors, publishers and book industry. Top Reviewer on Amazon, Goodreads, and NetGalley

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