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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
How does such a good book have such an absurdly low rating?
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.
I was surprised by how much I liked this book.
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.
Fast paced book that spans several generations of personal and political aspirations.
mayog thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over
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