The House of the Spirits

The House of the Spirits

Book - 1985
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A best seller and critical success all over the world, The House of the Spirits is the magnificent epic of the Trueba family -- their loves, their ambitions, their spiritual quests, their relations with one another, and their participation in the history of their times, a history that becomes destiny and overtakes them all.

We begin -- at the turn of the century, in an unnamed South American country -- in the childhood home of the woman who will be the mother and grandmother of the clan, Clara del Valle. A warm-hearted, hypersensitive girl, Clara has distinguished herself from an early age with her telepathic abilities -- she can read fortunes, make objects move as if they had lives of their own, and predict the future. Following the mysterious death of her sister, the fabled Rosa the Beautiful, Clara has been mute for nine years, resisting all attempts to make her speak. When she breaks her silence, it is to announce that she will be married soon.

Her husband-to-be is Esteban Trueba, a stern, willful man, given to fits of rage and haunted by a profound loneliness. At the age of thirty-five, he has returned to the capital from his country estate to visit his dying mother and to find a wife. (He was Rosa's fiance, and her death has marked him as deeply as it has Clara.) This is the man Clara has foreseen -- has summoned -- to be her husband; Esteban, in turn, will conceive a passion for Clara that will last the rest of his long and rancorous life.

We go with this couple as they move into the extravagant house he builds for her, a structure that everyone calls "the big house on the corner," which is soon populated with Clara's spiritualist friends, the artists she sponsors, the charity cases she takes an interest in, with Esteban's political cronies, and, above all, with the Trueba children...their daughter, Blanca, a practical, self-effacing girl who will, to the fury of her father, form a lifelong liaison with the son of his foreman...the twins, Jaime and Nicolas, the former a solitary, taciturn boy who becomes a doctor to the poor and unfortunate; the latter a playboy, a dabbler in Eastern religions and mystical disciplines...and, in the third generation, the child Alba, Blanca's daughter (the family does not recognize the real father for years, so great is Esteban's anger), a child who is fondled and indulged and instructed by them all.

For all their good fortune, their natural (and supernatural) talents, and their powerful attachments to one another, the inhabitants of "the big house on the corner" are not immune to the larger forces of the world. And, as the twentieth century beats on...as Esteban becomes more strident in his opposition to Communism...as Jaime becomes the friend and confidant of the Socialist leader known as the Candidate...as Alba falls in love with a student radical...the Truebas become actors -- and victims -- in a tragic series of events that gives The House of the Spirits a deeper resonance and meaning.

It is the supreme achievement of this splendid novel that we feel ourselves members of this large, passionate (and sometimes exasperating) family, that we become attached to them as if they were our own. That this is the author's first novel makes it all the more extraordinary. The House of the Spirits marks the appearance of a major, international writer.
Publisher: New York : A.A. Knopf, 1985.
Edition: 1st American ed.
ISBN: 9780394539072
0394539079
Branch Call Number: ALLE
Characteristics: 368 p. ; 24 cm.

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RebelBelle13
Dec 18, 2017

I don't normally finish books that I consider to be one star reads- and I usually determine that about 100 pages in. I finished this book because a friend recommended it to me, saying it was one of her favorites. I wanted to make sure I gave it a full read and really think about it before imparting my opinion. There are several reasons why I didn't like this book- the most prominent being that the main character, Esteban Trueba, was an evil, impulsive person with zero empathy and no redeemable qualities. He saw everyone as lesser than him. He took what he wanted with no regard for others. He raped dozens of women to sate himself. He abused his family, both emotionally and physically. He did nothing for people in need. The list goes on and on, and the author attempts to make him a sympathetic character. No, sorry, I'm not interested in reading about a person like this. There are other characters with zero redeemable qualities, namely Jean DeSatigny and Esteban Garcia. The whole book is just filled with darkness, tragedy and abuse. Every time there is a small speck of light it is snuffed out. Clara is made out to be this holy mother, this good matriarch who takes in needy people and talks to ghosts. It was tough to determine whether this book was going for magical realism or not- and since the rest of the book seemed like historical fiction, I'm going to go with the fact that she was just crazy. She was mute for years as a child, and was unable to have any kind of relationship with her own children. She would disappear into her head for months at a time, roam the halls of the house and invite other crazy people over to commune with. I couldn't get a handle on her character. Blanca was a little flighty as well, and never fought for what she wanted. Jaime and Nicolas were ridiculously eccentric and obsessed with strange things. The only good character in the whole book is Alba. She is fierce, brave, and has a constitution that I could probably never live up to. She alone is not enough to save this story, however.
The writing was also a slog to get through. It was dense with so much information that wasn't necessary, and Allende would go off on tangents and never get back to what she started the chapter talking about. Sometimes a single paragraph would take up two pages. It was just too much at times. I read every page until around page 200, and then I skimmed the next 100 pages, just to get through the damn thing. I read in full the last two chapters.
I feel as though there were some good things in here. Had Esteban not been so abusive, I could have enjoyed Clara more as a character. Had the whole book just been about Alba's story, it would have been better. I did learn a lot about turn of the Century life in Latin America, and some of the political uprisings that happened. That's really all I can say here.
I need to read something happier now. This book took a toll on me.

TechLibrarian Mar 25, 2017

I have such great memories of reading this book! I simply could not put it down, though I was supposed to be reading something else for class. I often recommend it--it's like a really great soap opera with supernatural elements (magical realism) and lovable characters. All these years later I can still "see" Clara, who is able to see and commune with spirits. I just grabbed our pristine new copy off the shelf to add it to my staff picks, and note that it's described as "one of the most important novels of the twentieth century"! I would not dispute that, I think it helped to ignite and grow my love of literature.

m
mayog
Jan 20, 2017

Allende's first novel, written in 1981 during the dictatorship of Pinochet while she lived in exile in Venezuela, traces the rise of that dictatorship from the feudal beginnings of colonial life to the rise of her uncle Salvador Allende (the President) and the coup that claimed his life.

She does this by telling a story about three women --Clara, Blanca, and Alba--and the men that drift through, drive, define, and intersect in alternatively amorous and violent ways with their lives. The principal of these men is Estaben Trueba, but he is accompanied by other very important men, including four Garcia men: Pedro Garcia, Pedro Segundo, Pedro Tercero (patterned after Victor Jara), and Esteban Garcia.

The book focuses on the white colonialist characters (the del Valle and Trueba families). Both of its narrators are from the colonialist class, and they write from that perspective. Despite the glimpse into the revolutionary left (through Jamie, Miguel, Pedro Tercero, Amanda, and others), rarely do we really her the voices of the "Indian" --that is, non-white, non-colonialist--characters. And when we seem them speaking to one another, it seems to be in acquiescence to the unjust colonial system.

By contrast, the women in this book are strong, even though their lives are deeply constrained by the men in the lives, particularly Esteban Trueba.

The book does pass the Bechdel test, but not gloriously. It barely passes Duvernay and Latif tests.

If you're looking for a feminist book or a book that elevates people of color, this is not that book. If you want an exile's magical examination and critique of the colonial class structure and the rise of Chilean fascism, this is definitely your book.

p
peacebenow
Nov 26, 2016

great book, well written, compelling read. Follow a family through a tumultuous Chilean upheaval. I enjoyed the narrator changing as the chapters progressed. Some parts unpleasant but hard to put down even when tired. Good thing as I beat my 2 wks by 1 day!

f
fugeninkan
Nov 04, 2016

This is a really great novel. I like the way that Allende combines very personal stories with historical events like the military coup with all the tragedies that ensued. I also like the magical elements.

l
lukasevansherman
Jun 06, 2016

How does such a good book have such an absurdly low rating?

a
Aquanblue
Jan 14, 2016

My favorite author. She has a unique ability to write about place. I find myself thinking about her spaces long after I've read the book.

g
Gigi_22
Jun 20, 2015

I was surprised by how much I liked this book.

l
lukasevansherman
Jan 22, 2014

I've been reading Julia Alvarez's "In the Time of the Butterflies," set in the Dominican Republic, with my high school students and it's piqued my interest in other Latin American authors. "The House of the Spirits" is one of the most popular books to come out of South America (they made a film of it with mostly Anglo actors). I find it a little myopic that the default author to compare other South American authors to is Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Yes, he's a major writer, but it's not like every American author deserves to be compared to Hemingway, for example. While there are elements of magical realism, Allende's mix of family saga, political drama and colorful incidents has more in common with Rushdie's "Midnight's Children" than anything by Marquez. Allende's second cousin, of course, was Salvador Allende, who was overthrown in a U.S.-backed coup and replaced by the dictator General Pinochet. This history is the backdrop for the novel, which deserves to be read both for its illuminating look at this shameful period and for its vivid writing and characters.

JCLBarbG Jul 25, 2013

Fast paced book that spans several generations of personal and political aspirations.

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orange_ant_110
Jun 07, 2018

orange_ant_110 thinks this title is suitable for All Ages

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mayog
Jan 20, 2017

mayog thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over

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