he House of the Spirits by Isabelle Allende is about Esteban Trueba and the misfortunes of his long, extended family over countless generations. Beginning with Clara de Valle’s character and her magical abilities, Clara’s predicts her proposal from Esteban Trueba, her passed sister, Rosa’s, fiancé. Only after they are married does Esteban realize Clara’s magical abilities and accepts them as they are. The story progresses through their three children, their estate in Tres Marias, and Esteban’s illegitimate children, specifically Esteban Garcia. The oldest, Blanca, falls in love with a local-future musician at their estate and gives birth to a girl named Alba. The twins, Jamie and Nicolas, pursue different careers. Jamie pursues medicine and charity, Nicolas pursues a higher understanding of life and his mother’s telepathic attributes. Esteban Trueba’s illegitimate son, Esteban Garcia, starts a dictatorship across the country of Chile.
The story itself is one of the most well written novels I have read in a long time, if not in my life. Without giving away the ending or the main struggles of the characters in my summary, there’s a distinct relationship between each of the characters. Esteban struggles with his relationships with everyone in his life, from his mother to wife to children. Clara lives in her own realm and isn’t the best wife or mother or caregiver until it is required of her. Each of the children struggle in their own respects, dependent on the influence of their father in their lives, whether they like it or not.
The character development is fantastic and helps the plot really move. Most importantly, this story embodies the concept of magic realism to its finest. Magic realism is a genre in literature in which unrealistic things have the possibility to be common place in this realm. Similar to 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez embodies many of the similar qualities, such as its uses of religion and how it combats politics during these times and is a more popular novel to bring traction to the concept. Essentially, the magic in the novel goes beyond what is blatantly said from Clara’s magical abilities. Each character’s actions influences aspects of the novel that are not apparent at first glance but only after careful consideration.
(An example above helps to describe the concept of magical realism. Things that seem extraordinary are common place. Those ships are also a bridge.)
The genre of magic realism is common to Latin American countries and is not as popular in the United States. Allende’s story focuses in Chile and really brings alive the culture and traditions that are not well-known in the U.S. using this genre in particular. Latin American fiction is heavily driven by family values and religious concepts that fall back on magic realism to help explain their narrative.
In a modern world where racism and xenophobia exist heavily, having access to literature that can help educate those unaware of their country neighbors is helpful. Hateful comments made by political leaders, such as Donald Trump, that play off of stereotypes and shame different cultures will never truly represent those people. Reading stories by their authors who have lived through decades in these countries is the only way one can truly understand them. This novel takes place up to about the 1970’s, and although it isn’t exactly modern it still tells a honest story of a different nation.
The novel, originally published in 1982, has been translated into 37 other languages and had a film adaptation featuring Meryl Streep and Winona Ryder. The novel has extreme traction and success. I highly recommend this novel to anyone interested in Latino, or in particular Chilean, history or anyone with a particular interest in magic realism.