This is the first (and quite frankly, the best) novel that Isabel Allende wrote. I’ve saved it (after having read 6 of her other novels) because it was so notorious. And let me tell you, it’s worth the wait. This is her best book I’ve ever read for so many reasons. You would never guess that this was Allende’s first novel, but it initially started as a letter to her grandfather, and it turned into a masterpiece. Let me explain why.
The magical realism in this novel is so brilliant. Not only in small things like descriptions of certain characters, but the communication with the spirits that the protagonist, Clara, and the many predictions in life that she was able to make as a result. We follow Clara through the many tragedies she faces during the time, as this story, which started to introduce the Del Valle family, and a recent tragedy that unites Clara and Esteban Trueba. The rest of the novel spans four generations of the Trueba family before, during, and after the 1973 military coup d’état.
Although Esteban Trueba is the narrator, the focus of this novel is around the strong women in it, particularly Clara. Allende shows us the many injustices women have faced in a man’s world and how their roles are to bear children and serve their men. We see rape, violence, and total control from the men’s parts, particularly Esteban. How can you find your voice and stand up to a man in a time when men controlled everything? This is a recurring theme throughout the novel. Whether you’re a strong feminist or not, Allende does a brilliant job of making you root for women, particularly Clara. And although strong women, the love for Pablo Neruda (referred to in the novel as “the poet”), and the brutality during Pinochet’s reign are a part of many of her novels, I don’t feel like I’m reading the same thing. Allende exposes us to different ways to tell the cautionary tale of how history cannot repeat itself; we need to do better.
I loved every second of this book, and if you like Allende’s other books, you will, too. This was the fifth book of hers I read, and I’m glad I didn’t start with this book because it’s her best one. I do recommend reading My Invented Country first (reviewed earlier), as it explains a lot about Chile, Allende’s family, and the connections between her family and not only the characters but the use of magical realism, specifically the communication between Allende’s grandmother and the spirits, who are represented by Clara in The House of the Spirits. This book is available in many translations, but if you’re a Spanish student, you shouldn’t read this until you’ve taken AP Spanish Language and Cultures so you can best follow it. But no matter what you do, make this a book that you must read in the near future – it is worth it!