Classic Book Review: Isabel Allende’s “The House of the Spirits”

Isabel Allende’s 1982 The House of the Spirits is considered one of Latino literature’s best-known and greatest pieces of work. When you read it, you can the sense the influence the book has had on the books you read today.

Spirits tells the tale of Esteban Trueba, a poor but temperamental miner who rebuilds an abandoned ranch in South America and becomes a powerful patrón and politician. He is surrounded by three generations of headstrong women– his wife, clairvoyant Clara; his daughter, Blanca, who falls in love with a young revolutionary that Esteban disdains; and his granddaughter, Alba, who disagrees with him politically – and faces violent consequences.

The book mirrors political events in Chile and parts of Allende’s life. Her uncle, Salvador Allende, was that country’s socialist president in 1973 when he attacked in a 1973 military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet.

Allende writes in beautiful sentences, such as this: “Outside, the fields were shaking off their sleep and the first rays of sunlight were cutting the peaks of the cordillera like the thrusts of a saber, warming the earth and evaporating the dew into a fine white foam that blurred the edges of thing and turned the landscape into an enchanted dream.”

But those long descriptive paragraphs can make the book slow at times. I prefer fast-paced books with lots of dialogue, although the last 100 pages of Spirits was more gripping.

I can see the influence of Allende’s book in two epic tales of life on the ranchero and have characters with magical powers – Luis Alberto Urrea’s 2005 The Hummingbird’s Daughter, which has a more light-hearted tone, and Esmeralda Santiago’s 2011 Conquistadora, which has a feminist take.

Spirits – which was made into movie in 1993 starring Meryl Streep – is a fascinating story that earns the title of  “classic.”

More about Isabel Allende:

• Allende worked as a reporter before writing novels. This fascinating timeline shows her family’s history and reveals the inspiration for Spirits. Her other books include the novels 1985’s Eva Luna and 1999’s Daugher of Fortune, as well as 1995’s Paula, a memoir to her daughter, who died at age 28.

This is the first in a monthly series of classic books by Latina authors. Next month: How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez.

Source: I purchased this book at Books-A-Million.

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2 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, Classic Books

2 responses to “Classic Book Review: Isabel Allende’s “The House of the Spirits”

  1. Lu

    We read mostly Latin American literature when I was a senior in high school, so I fell in love with it then and House of the Spirits was one of my favorites. I’m not sure it still would be today, but I definitely loved the magical realism.

    • Jessica DeLeon

      It’s awesome that you studied Latin American lit in high school. I don’t think enough students read Latino books, aside from “Bless Me Ultima” and “The House on Mango Street.” I feel like I’m just catching up to all the great books out there.

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