I wasn’t quite sure what genre to categorize this book as, largely because it blends elements of multiple genres into a unique novel. Is there a line between magical realism and fantasy other than the fact that magical realism tends to be written first in Spanish? While “The House of Spirits” incorporates elements of magical realism and uses fictional names, it could almost be categorized as historical fiction because of the allusions to actual events in South American history. For clarity, I’ve chosen to list it as both.
Allende began writing “The House of the Spirits” after writing a letter to her grandfather when he was on his deathbed. The story describes the saga of the Trueba family through three generations. Esteban Trueba begins his life poor, but eventually becomes a wealthy landowner so that he can marry Clara de Valle. During this time, he rapes a lot of the local peasant girls, one of whom becomes pregnant. Trueba eventually marries Clara and has legitimate children, but his illegitimate son becomes a local revolutionary figure. Meanwhile, Esteban’s children struggle against his tyrannical form of parenting. It is only Estaban’s grandchild Clara who is finally able to soften him, despite the fact that she ends up becoming involved in leftist revolutionary activities. This is, of course, only a very brief idea of what the book is about–there are many more characters with their own story arcs woven throughout Esteban’s life.
Allende’s characters are captivating, and she paints a beautiful picture of the generation gap between them. One can simultaneously hate and pity Esteban. Despite all of the horrible things that he does throughout the course of the novel, he still believes himself to be a good person, and he finds his redemption in the way that he cares for his granddaughter. Allende’s description of South/Central American politics is incredibly vivid, because we are given characters to both sympathize and disagree with on all sides of a revolutionary upheaval, painting an ultimately tragic picture of such conflict. Overall, I’d highly recommend this book, as well as any of Allende’s other works.