The House of the Spirits

by Isabel Allende

Hardcover, 1985

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York : A.A. Knopf, 1985.

Description

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.… (more)

Media reviews

Lecturalia
Primera novela de Isabel Allende, La casa de los espíritus narra la saga de una poderosa familia de terratenientes latinoamericanos. El despótico patriarca Esteban Trueba ha construido, con mano de hierro, un imperio privado que empieza a tambalearse a raíz del paso del tiempo y de un entorno social explosivo. Finalmente, la decadencia personal del patriarca arrastrará a los Trueba a una dolorosa desintegración. Atrapados en unas dramáticas relaciones familiares, los personajes de esta portentosa novela encarnan las tensiones sociales y espirituales de una época que abarca gran parte de este siglo.

User reviews

LibraryThing member cestovatela
Magic realism and family sagas aren't really my thing, so I wasn't very optimistic when I started this book. To say that I was pleasantly surprised doesn't even begin to describe my feelings. The novel focuses on 4 generations of the del Valle-Trueba family, an upperclass family whose women are gifted with psychic powers. Moving through the family's story simulatenously carries us through a century of Chilean politics from oppression by the upper classes to the turmoil of a democratically-elected Communist president to the brutality of life under a military dictator.

What made the novel special to me is the way it weaves family, politics and questions of life and death together into a believable whole. In spite of the novel's wide scope, Isabel Allende never forgets that characters are the heart of the story. Each member of the large cast is a unique, believable person. And although the family lives through an extraordinary time, their basic humanity shines through. Family conflict takes on capitalist-vs.-communist flavor, but the underlying generation gap rings true even for readers living in modern-day America.

Allende's prose is as impressive as her characterization. Every word is well-chosen and meaningful and every sentence is alive with Latin rhythym. Sometimes I even underlined phrases so I could come back to savor them later.

With such a fascinating cast of characters to explore, it would be easy to overlook the "literary" elements of the novel, but these too are well-executed. Through careful, clever motifs and symbolism, Allende warns readers what's coming for Chile's exploitative upper class -- and lets us know they're not going to heed the warning until it's too late. Deciphering these hidden clues is a big part of what made me love the book so much, so your admiration probably won't be as strong if you're not interested in doing a close reading. Even so, the book's fast pace and rhythymic prose are well-suited to casual Sunday afternoon reading -- just steel yourself for the brutal ending.
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LibraryThing member riofriotex
I’ve been reading a lot of Allende’s books. This was her first, which led to her being described as part of a literary movement of other Latin American writers (such as Carlos Fuentes, Joreg Luis Borges, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez) who combined realism and fantasy to produce what became known as “magical realism.” After reading her memoirs (Paula and My Invented Country), one can see where the inspiration for the story was the political turmoil in Allende’s native Chile, and her own family (particularly her maternal grandparents) were the inspiration for the characters in the book. Allende is a wonderful storyteller, though, and I highly recommend this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member Jesperwestra
As I finish this book, it is New Years' Eve. It has been a good reading year.

My opinion of 'The House of the Spirits' has fluctuated greatly during the time I spent on it. Starting out, the personalities of the characters enthralled me; if anything, Allende seems to be an immensely empathic author with a keen sense for the subtleties of the human soul. I also felt, though, that the entire frame of the novel was very evocative of García Marquez' epic 'One Hundred Years of Solitude'. A story spanning several generations, magical-realistic elements, in the background, history quietly goes about its business. I almost got the idea that Isabel Allende had tried to make a Chilean version of the same story, but had failed matching up to Marquez' subtle style.

As the end of the novel drew near, though, it started to come together. Especially the immensely sad and beautiful story of Esteban Trueba's decline I won't forget lightly. The goal of the novel became, at once, extremely clear to me.

In the end, I would call Isabel Allende a writer who doesn't (and shouldn't) depend on sublime stylistic elements, but on the radiant energy and reality of the people she writes about. There are those that would say that 'The House of the Spirits' is indeed based on real people and real events, and they might be right. Still, the depth and vibrant colour in which Allende paints her characters make her a truly great author.
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LibraryThing member jmoncton
I like realistic fiction and I like fantasy, but for some reason, the Latin American magical realism novels don't move me. Whether it's Paulo Coehlo, Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Allende, after the finish the book, I don't feel that moved. I love Salman Rushdie and Haruki Murakami, so I don't think it's a complete disconnect with magical realism.

I was hopeful with this book - an epic story about a family whose lives are filled with hardship and tragedy. Sounds like my type of book. But for these stories to really grab me, I have to feel some kind of connection with the characters. They seemed too stereotyped or flat - either they were cruel or noble, or stoic, but I didn't get beyond the simple descriptions. Will keep on trying on this genre though...
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LibraryThing member ProfH
In the first few pages I was very disappointed that I bought this book. It seemed so derivative ofGabriel Garcia Marquez that I was embarrassed for the author. I stuck with it because despite my frustration, there were some very funny moments.
As the novel develops, the characters pull you in and the complex landscape of three generations captured my imagination.
In the last third of the novel, I could not put it down. Without saying too much I'll just add that Allende contributes some very beautiful and unique thought on the cyclical, ironic, introverted nature of our lives.
I have no doubt that this story and these characters will stay with me as I continue to reflect on how personalities develop in a family and how people cope with power or the lack there of...
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LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
I wanted to like this, but found myself liking the book less and less as I turned the pages. It may just be that Magical Realism isn't a technique that resonates with me--though I hope it's just Allende's use of it I don't like, and I'm determined to try Borges, García Márquez, and Vargas Llosa someday. I did enjoy Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate, which used this technique, although it's no favorite. But there at least the fantasy elements were woven smoothly throughout and it was apt in a book very much constructed as a fairy tale, complete with three sisters. The fantastic whimsy in House of the Spirits, which opens in the beginning of the 20th Century in Chile, feels more out of place.

This is a story where "The Beautiful Rosa" of the first chapter was born with green hair and yellow eyes, where her sister Clara was a clairvoyant who made true prophesies and moved objects with her mind and their Uncle Mario constructed from a kit a flapping mechanical bird in which he flew away. But it's also a novel where Clara's future husband Esteban Trueba raped and impregnated just abut every young teen peasant girl in the area, had killed any peasant that opposed him, and where his granddaughter Alba endures rape and torture. I don't know enough to know if the mixture of the horrifying and the whimsical is typical in magical realism, but I do know the light-hearted and dark in the novel didn't for me blend well. It doesn't help that the repellant Esteban is the closest thing to a protagonist in the book, the character that connects every character to each other, and the story that is mostly told in a third person/omniscient perspective is frequently punctuated by his (singularly unreliable) first person narrative. Beyond that, I admit I found the socialist polemic obvious in this book distasteful.
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LibraryThing member lamotamant
Okay, I have to get a bit outside of my head in order to write this review. In the midst of a rather antagonistic blare and bash conga line of Neruda quotes, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jorge Luis Borges comparisons, and every factoid I've ever consumed concerning magical realism - the view of what I've just read is getting a bit murkily manic.

In Neruda's The Sea (bear with me), he opens with, "I need the sea because it teaches me." In simplicity, I believe readers need magical realism and the authors that employ it magnificently, like Allende, because they teach us.

As written in Spirits, "memory is fragile and the space of a single life is brief, passing so quickly that we never get a chance to see the relationship between events; we cannot gauge the consequences of our acts, and we believe in the fiction of past, present, and future,..." Because of my experience in reading Allende and other authors, I think magical realism often offers a looking glass that people can't always connect to as easily in other works of fiction. One that provides an external yet simultaneously introspective gauge that fleshes out our personal view of our lives and the world around us.

I felt that gauge sharpen for me while reading Spirits. I can't say I pin it on a particular character or scene. More that the rhythm of Allende's commix of heavier fabulism in the beginning and the chaos of reality in the end was able to open up a thought process within me that surpassed the identification with, judgement of, or enjoyment of characters. Just as I'm a sucker for any book that prompts further reading and/or learning, I adore those that lead to the expansion of individual thought. The great thing being that Allende's Spirits triggered such while offering a wealth of character, cultural, and political dynamic as well.

Conga line sum up: I'm left feeling inspired and intrigued and a million more words on the technicalities of magical realism or the "who're ya gonna call" list of the authors at the forefront of the genre would lead me right back to the exact same statement. On a personal level, this was a brilliant book. On a reviewer level, I recommend Allende as a writer that will make you think and experience.

“She felt that everything was made of glass, as fragile as a sigh”

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LibraryThing member Alphawoman
I'm about 2/3 thru the book and can hardly put it down but I wanted to collect my thoughts before diving into the final pages.
I'm at a loss to see how everything is going to tie together.
The cast of characters is a revolving door, coming and going, living and dying, exit stage left, oh no here is another cast of characters to develop and insert into this dreamy fairy tale of life in the 20th century in South America!
I have read several of her books and sometimes the brutality of life in South America causes me distress. I have found that I just dkim or totally avoid the passages that are too gruesome for me. Especially the animals. As I grow older I can take cruelty towards humans, but can not tolerate it directed towards helpless animals..
Chickens, bunnies, poor puppies, cows, horses and the list is endless. "Kill that dog!" For what? Just being a dog doing what dogs do? I know this is an unreasonable response to character development and descriptions. I just can't handle it.
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LibraryThing member jshillingford
This novel made me wish I could read it in the original Spanish. Allende is a gifted writer and her stories are filled with life. I cna only wonder what nuances I would perceive if I wasn't forced to read a translation. This novel obviously had appeal as it was made into a film. But, like many such films it paled in comparison to the novel.

This is the story of the Trueba family. And like "The Thorn Birds" we follow the family through many years. Seeing them grow, fight, struggle, mourn, etc. At the heart is the family patriarch desperate to keep things the same in a changing world. A great book - highly recommended!
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LibraryThing member Irisheyz77
I thought that this book was just ok. I couldn't bring myself to care about any of the characters. However, I found it to be well written.
LibraryThing member marysargent
Excellent. Impressive. I had avoided reading this for some time, being put off by the title, I guess, but I was wrong. The characters are interesting, complex and believable. The plot is intricate and compelling. Although the story ends with the military dictatorship in power in Chile, and the reader not knowing the fate of Alba and Miguel, the real ending lies in Alba's realization that her torture and rape is part of a chain of events that started when her grandfather raped the grandmother of her torturer, and if she should now seek vengence, it would just be another link in the chain "and so on down through the centuries in an unending tale of sorrow, blood and love . . . I have to break that terrible chain."… (more)
LibraryThing member stubbyfingers
This was a great book all the way through. I really enjoyed it!
LibraryThing member anne07
Read this book in high school and it turned me into a huge fan of Isabel Allende. Memorable characters.
LibraryThing member miriamparker
My first foray into magical realism. And I loved it. Plus, I like ghosts. And Chile. I think the movie was rather dumb though.
LibraryThing member shieldsk2
WOW! One of my all time favorite books that is steamy as in jungle, sex, warm nights, intrigue...
LibraryThing member noodlejet22
I read this one long ago and have always been captivated by the deep and intertwined stories and lives of each character. The lines between what is real and what could not possibly be are blurry making for a captivating journey of imagery and family ties. My first introduction to Allende and what led me to discover Marquez and others who write magical realism.… (more)
LibraryThing member buffalogirl
Wonderful wonderful wonderful book. All of the comparisons to Garcia Marquez are truely deserved, in regard to both structure and the quality of the writing. The story is engrossing, the characters stay with you long after the book has been finished. What adds the extra touch is the ability of Allede to write about a terrible subject so close to her and her famiy with such beauty.… (more)
LibraryThing member eidolons
The House of the Spirits was a whole world wrapped into a 433 page book. It followed several generations of a very interesting family. Often, while reading, I wondered if the book was every going to actually go anywhere. When I decided (halfway through the book) to try and explain what it was about to my husband, I realized just how much had already happened.

Allende beautifully combined a solid world with a transient one of spirits and magic. Clara was, by far, my favorite character. I was a little disappointed that Esteban was the sometime-narrator. He was one of my least favorite characters - but I think that was intended. He didn't seem to be written to be likable.

The last quarter of the book seemed to not really fit, to me. It sank into politics, government, and misery. I realize these are all part of life, but it was just so concentrated that I felt I was reading a totally different book all of a sudden. The cyclical nature of the characters was evident to me even before Alba spoke of it in closing. The epilogue brought everything to a comfortable finish. I wasn't left feeling like anything was missing or neglected. I've already recommended this book to my husband and would easily recommend it to others as well.
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LibraryThing member Ebba
This is a wonderful book to read of you enjoy magical realism and family history. I will miss the characters for a long time to come. This is the first book I have read by Isabel Allende but it will not be the last.
LibraryThing member 3.14
I think I'm getting tired of magical realism.
LibraryThing member dfunes
I really liked the book. It was awesome, although I could have done without the feminism. Not that I have anything against it, but it makes all men assholes, and all women perfect. Other than that, it was a really interesting and one of the best latin american books I've read. Definitely Read It!!
LibraryThing member bastet
One of the most masterfully written of the magical realism genre.
LibraryThing member Aerodynamics
I read 'The House of the Spirits' on my wife's recommendation, who, like others compared it to Marquez's 'One-Hundred Years of Solitude'. There are certainly superficial similarities, but I think that most would agree with the assertion that Marquez's work is the suprerior one.

As I made my way through the text, it occured to me that it felt less like a novel than a collection of interconnected short stories (like Bradbury's 'The Martian Chronicles'). Some of the vignettes were quite compelling, others disturbing; much of the book seemed to just coast by without any significant momentum. Allende deserves much credit for her vividly drawn, complex, and sympathetic characters. In fact, the strength of her characters, along with some subtle and incisive social commentary, is what makes the book at all worth reading. If these characters could have been placed within the structure of a more engrossing plot, the novel would surely be a masterpiece. As it stands, it is quite remarkable.… (more)
LibraryThing member louisville
Set at the turn of the twentieth century in South America this is the epic tale of the Truba family. Esteban, the family patriarch, and his wife Clara who has telepathic abilities, raise their family amid politically turbulent times. Filled with spiritualism, sensitivity and compassion,Allende’s first novel made her an immediate success.… (more)
LibraryThing member nancenwv
I read this book about half way and finally gave up. I found her pace and plot to be really frustrating. She would give endless seemingly inconsequential details, and drop and pick up traits of characters (like the twin brothers) that gave them no sense or trajectory. I found myself very annoyed and have put it aside.

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