The House of the Spirits Introduction
In A Nutshell
Isabel Allende has been accused of everything from literary piracy to political exploitation for The House of the Spirits, which was published in Spain in 1982 and translated into English in 1985. The book follows four generations of a Chilean family and their involvement with the turbulent political events of the 1970s. Though it was her debut novel, The House of the Spirits became an instant best seller and won several awards in Chile, the author's native country.
Regarded as one of the most prominent examples of Latin American magical realism, many critics describe The House of the Spirits as a sort of feminist twist on Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. The two novels bear such similarity of style that some scholars accuse Allende of being unoriginal, or even ripping off the Colombian author; on the other hand, many defend Allende for mastering a genre said to be distinctively Latin American, while at the same time lending it her own original and decidedly feminine perspective.
Though it's a work of fiction, the tales in The House of the Spirits bear a lot of resemblance to events of the author's own life – in fact, the novel's first manuscript was a letter to Allende's dying grandfather. Isabel's father was the cousin of Salvador Allende, the first Socialist to be elected President of Chile. Plus, the violent political uprising that takes place in the unnamed country of the novel is universally understood to be an account of the military coup led against Salvador Allende's Socialist government by Augusto Pinochet on September 11, 1973. (That's where the allegations of political exploitation come in – some critics accuse Allende of using her family's last name and political history to sell books. We cry foul. They're just jealous.)
While calling it a testimonial may be a bit of a stretch, The House of the Spirits is certainly a personal novel. The author has gone on record as saying that she often uses real people as models for her characters, and it's possible that we catch glimpses of her clairvoyant grandmother, her son Nicolás, her ex-husband Miguel, and even the author herself in the text's pages.
Why Should I Care?
Family. You probably have one. And, if you're anything like us, your family members just might drive you crazy, at least part of the time. Yes, yes, we know… you have to suffer the torments of annoying younger siblings who mess up your stuff, obnoxious older siblings who tell you what to do, conservative parents who won't let you leave the house in whatever it is you're wearing, and grandparents who believe they know what's best for you.
But the next time you think you've got it bad because your dad disapproves of your latest love interest or your mom starts talking about something embarrassing in front everyone you know, take a look at The House of the Spirits. It might help to give you some perspective (especially on the whole dating issue – parental disapproval doesn't get any harsher than this. Think Montague and Capulet levels of condemnation). Then again, if your mom believes in aliens and holds séances in your house every week, your father is a famously ornery politician with a tendency to fly off the handle, or your crazy uncle has started his own religious cult, the stories in this book might seem sort of normal to you.