The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
Genre: not entirely sure, perhaps Dramatic Fiction
"The House of the Spirits is both a symbolic family saga and the story of an unnamed Latin American country's turbulent history. Isabel Allende creates a spirit ridden world and fills it with colorful and all too human inhabitants, including Esteban, the patriarch, a volatile and proud man whose lust for land is legendary and who is haunted by tyrannical passion for the wife he can never completely possess: Clara, the matriarch, elusive and mysterious, who foretells family tragedy and shapes the fortunes of the house and the Truebas: Blanca, their daughter, soft-spoken yet rebellious, whose shocking love for her father's foreman fuels Esteban's everlasting contempt, even as it produces the grandchild he adores; and Alba, the fruit of Blanca's forbidden love, a luminous beauty and willful woman."
I had to read this novel for a World Lit class I will be auditing this fall. There is so much that happens in it (it does cover three generations of women, after all), and is a highly complex novel, so I will be glad when we discuss it in class. Much of what I didn't understand has to do with the politics and revolution occurring at the end of the novel. I understood the gist of what happened, but would like to know if it it was true and more details of the political turmoil at the time. So if you read this novel on your own, be prepared to do a little research, or perhaps you are more familiar with Latin American History, and if you are, then this will be a highly enjoyable/easy read.
The characters were exceptionally unique, especially Clara, with her abilities to see the future and move things with her mind. But because of these such highly individual and strong personalities, it was hard to relate to the characters and care for them. I was often annoyed and frustrated with Esteban, one of the main protagonists, because of his stubbornness and selfishness, but Alba, his granddaughter, softens his character towards the end.
There were also a lot of heated love scenes, which the novel could have done without (or at least less vivid descriptions), and most of them occur outside of marriage. There is also rape, prostitution, torture, and violence in this novel which I cannot shake out of my mind.
Despite these difficult elements, I'm glad I read this novel. Sometimes it's good to be forced out of your comfort zone and read things you wouldn't ordinarily choose because you learn things you wouldn't, and your view of the world is broadened. And I definitely learned more from this novel than I can even guess at. I enjoyed reading about the culture of Latin America, the clash of very different personalities and how they are resolved or not, and how people react when their lives and beliefs are in jeopardy.
What I like most about this novel is the symbolism of the house and spirits (life is fleeting and temporal), the repetition that the characters viewed their lovers just as beautiful as they always had even after many trying years, and the steadfastness of family seen in the Truebas' relationships with each other.
The rating: 2.5 out of 5, and I'd recommend it for 18 year-olds and up.
What I learned: I already mentioned this, but more specifically I'd say that anger drives people away, and being triumphant over one's enemies and being rich is worthless if it's at the cost of losing the people one loves.
*Isabel Allende's website