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The House of the Spirits

The House of the Spirits


by Isabel Allende

The House of the Spirits Chapter 13 Summary

The Terror

  • It's the day of the coup. Well, after all those hints from the narrator, we knew it was coming, didn't we?
  • The sun is shining. But we know there's going to be a coup. People are going to die, but the weather is nice.
  • Jaime is woken up by the telephone – he's exhausted from working long hours at the hospital.
  • It's the President's secretary, calling to ask him to come to the Presidential Palace immediately.
  • Jaime arrives at the Palace at 8am and sees a large group of soldiers in full battle dress guarding the gate. They wave him through when he tells them he's a doctor.
  • Inside, it's chaos. People are blockading the doors and windows and are distributing pistols. The President is wearing a combat helmet.
  • The President tells Jaime that the Navy has revolted.
  • Jaime calls Alba and tells her not to leave the house, and to warn Amanda. The narrator tells us that he never speaks to Alba again. We just got a sinking feeling in our stomach.
  • The President's ministers try to negotiate a peaceful settlement, but by 9:30am all of the armed forces in the country are under control of officers who are sympathetic to the coup.
  • Across the country, purges begin of all soldiers who remain loyal to the President.
  • The police join the coup, and the guard at the Presidential Palace is ordered to leave. The President tells them they can go if they leave their guns behind.
  • One guard remains loyal to the President and stays in the Palace.
  • When it becomes clear that no peaceful settlement will be reached, most of the occupants of the Palace leave. Only the private guard and some friends of the President stay behind.
  • The President's daughters have to be removed by force.
  • Jaime stays in the Palace, armed with a gun he doesn't know how to use.
  • The President gives a farewell address on the radio. From his speech it's clear that he's prepared to sacrifice his life sooner than resign.
  • The head of the coup offers the President and his family free passage out of the country on a private plane. But the President refuses to surrender.
  • The President has some serious guts. His response to the military is this: "You were wrong about me, traitors. The people put me here and the only way I'll leave is dead" (13.14).
  • The military starts bombing the Palace, and everyone dives for cover. Only the President remains standing – he walks up to the window and starts firing on the tanks with a bazooka.
  • The Palace goes up in flames. Jaime tries to crawl around to tend to the wounded, but he can't do much.
  • The President asks the survivors to leave, not wanting them to sacrifice their lives. But everyone stays.
  • By 2pm, most of the Palace has been destroyed by the fire. Soldiers enter the building and occupy the first floor. They order the survivors to come downstairs, single-file.
  • The President shakes each of his compañeros by the hand, and says he'll go down last. The narrator says that they never see him alive again.
  • As Jaime and the other survivors make their way down the stairs, the soldiers beat and curse them. They force Jaime and the others to lie down in the courtyard and then pretend they're going to run a tank over them.
  • Jaime thinks he recognizes one of the colonels as a boy he used to play with at Tres Marías. (Hmm… who could that be?)
  • The prisoners are divided up and taken to different locations. Jaime is taken to the Ministry of Defense, where dozens of men have been beaten and tied up. Jaime is put in the boiler room and forced to stand for a long time.
  • The man guarding Jaime recognizes him as the doctor who operated on his mother and saved her life. He gives Jaime a break and lets him sit down for a few hours.
  • An officer offers to let Jaime go if he'll go on record stating that the President was drunk and committed suicide. Jaime tells them to go to hell, more or less.
  • Now it starts to get really bad.
  • The soldiers beat up Jaime and strip him naked. Later they put him on a bus with a bunch of other prisoners and drive him to a new location. The soldiers tie up the prisoners with barbed wire and keep them without food, water, or use of a bathroom for two days in a military barrack. Then they drive the prisoners to an empty lot near the airport, shoot them as they lie on the ground, and dynamite the bodies.
  • Not knowing anything of his son's fate, Senator Trueba toasts the news of the military coup with French champagne. He's so happy about the coup that he feels like dancing.
  • Alba, on the other hand, is desperately trying to get news about the people she cares about – Miguel, Jaime, Pedro Tercero, Amanda, and Professor Sebastián Gómez.
  • Esteban raises a toast to the demise of the Socialist government, and Alba angrily snatches the glass from his hand and smashes it against the wall. She's understandably mad – people she cares about might be dying, and her dad's throwing a party.
  • The phone rings late that night – it's Miguel. Alba's relieved to hear from him, but he warns her not to try to contact him, and to destroy all of her old papers and anything that might relate her to him.
  • The new military regime declares a two-day curfew in which people are prohibited from leaving their houses. Esteban Trueba violates the curfew to go to a party next door, but the patrols don't mind because they don't expect any opposition in the wealthy neighborhoods.
  • Alba spends the curfew wandering around the house in despair and destroying any books and documents that might be compromising, including her love letters from and photographs of Miguel.
  • The shops are once again full of food, but it's very expensive. Many people can't afford it, and three days later the food is rotting in the stores.
  • Soldiers patrol the streets and stop any people who look like Socialists, including men with long hair and beards, and women wearing pants.
  • The official story is that the President has committed suicide, but no one believes it.
  • The narrative switches to Esteban Trueba's voice. We haven't heard from him in a while.
  • Esteban's surprised no one in the new government has called him, seeing as how he's a hot shot in the Conservative Party and all. Three days after the Military Pronunciamiento (that's when the military declared its intention to establish a military dictatorship), Esteban drives to the Ministry of Defense in his Congressional car to see what's up.
  • Esteban does have some reason to believe that the military leaders owe him – he's the one, after all, who set up a lot of the meetings between conservative politicians and military higher-ups, and acted as intermediary with the gringo intelligence officials. The Senator also used his own money to buy arms. He figures somebody should be asking him to be a part of the new government.
  • Esteban is in for a big disappointment. When he arrives at the Ministry of Defense, he finds the place trashed and the walls full of bullet holes.
  • He has to wait three hours to see an officer, and when he finally does, the officer treats him disrespectfully and asks him to turn over his Congressional car keys.
  • Esteban realizes that the military has no intention of reopening Congress.
  • The officer orders Esteban to show up at a religious service the next morning, in which the nation will officially give thanks to God for their victory over Communism.
  • Esteban and his chauffer try to walk home, but Esteban is too old and feeble. Fortunately, a group of police officers in a truck recognize him and offer him a ride home.
  • The policemen are uncomfortable with the work they've been asked to do over the past few days.
  • Esteban Trueba tries to reassure them that they are doing what's best for the nation, but deep down he's not so sure.
  • Two weeks later a soldier shows up at the big house on the corner and tells Blanca about Jaime's death. He's the guard who took pity on Jaime because Jaime had saved his mother's life.
  • Blanca calls Esteban in to hear what the soldier has to say, but Esteban refuses to believe it.
  • Esteban passes several months waiting for Jaime in his library, calling to his son with his mind. Eventually he sees an apparition of his son, covered in bloody rags and dragging strips of barbed wire. That's when he realizes the soldier spoke the truth.
  • This is when Esteban Trueba starts to use the word "tyranny." He's finally starting to get that this new military government isn't what he was hoping it would be (13.57).
  • Speaking of tyranny, Esteban mentions that his granddaughter is able to recognize the true nature of "the dictator" long before he does (13.57). He describes this dictator as a "crude, simple-looking man of few words, like a peasant," but that his vain and power-hungry nature will become evident in time.
  • (Historical context note: The man who became dictator after the 1973 coup d'etat in Chile was Augusto Pinochet, Commander-in-Chief of the Army under Salvador Allende. Pinochet was appointed President by the military junta in 1974 and remained in power until 1990.)
  • Esteban starts to think he was wrong. He feels alone, and suspects that his daughter and granddaughter are working on secret plans that they're not telling him about.
  • Back to the third-person narrator.
  • Alba doesn't have time to mourn her Uncle Jaime's death because she's too busy trying to help the people who are suffering under the new military dictatorship.
  • She doesn't hear from Miguel for two months, and she worries that he's dead, or worse – captured alive.
  • Alba blames her grandfather, but he looks so pathetic and sad that she can't really be mad at him.
  • Her friends and relatives start to avoid Alba, knowing that she's helping victims of the persecution.
  • Alba paints yellow sunflowers on the doors of Jaime's car and uses it to smuggle people who need asylum into foreign embassies.
  • Amanda tells Alba that the families of people who have been murdered, imprisoned, or disappeared under the new regime have nothing to eat. The only people who seem concerned about the starving populace are the Catholic priests.
  • Alba convinces her mother to donate her store of food to the Catholic soup kitchens. She and Blanca scavenge whatever they can to keep the soup kitchens stocked.
  • Women and children start to appear in the Trueba's neighborhood, begging for something to eat. Esteban raises Blanca's monthly stipend and asks that the kitchen always be stocked with something hot to give away to whoever might come asking for food.
  • Under the military junta, the city quickly gets cleaned up. Graffiti is painted over, flowers are planted, garbage and stray dogs disappear from the streets, and cement walls are constructed around unsightly slums. Cleanliness and orderliness are enforced with martial law.
  • Alba stops going to school. The school of philosophy is closed, and many professors are fired or arrested, or simply disappear.
  • (Historical context note: During Chile's military dictatorship, thousands of political dissidents were said to have been "disappeared" by the government. Referred to as "the disappeared," these people were frequently kidnapped, tortured, murdered, and their bodies disposed of in such a way that they would never be discovered.)
  • Professor Sebastián Gómez is betrayed by his own students and killed in a raid by the police.
  • Here the narrator gives us a brief description of the political and economic climate under the new military regime. All those killings and disappearances may sound bad, but there are actually people who like the new dictatorship – foreign investment is up, people can buy fancy, imported goods, and the landowners whose property was seized under the agrarian reform policy get their haciendas back. Sure, political parties, unions, organizations, and gatherings of any kind are forbidden, but some people are willing to give up political freedom in exchange for law, order, and a return to tradition. Luxury stores and restaurants flourish, and the upper middle class rejoice.
  • For working class people, however, life is harder under the new regime. High prices, lack of jobs, unemployment, and the abolishment of unions mean workers grow more and more poor, and can't issue a word of protest without fear of being thrown in jail.
  • Senator Trueba gets his land back, and sets off for Tres Marías to avenge himself upon the peasants who humiliated him. His hired thugs round up the tenants and burn their houses and all their possessions to the ground. Esteban dismisses the families and tells them to never come back.
  • As always, as soon as the punishment is over, Esteban starts to feel badly about having been too harsh on his tenants. He puts ads in the newspaper inviting them to come back, but none of them do.
  • Remember the Poet, the man who used to attend Clara's literary soirees and whose poetry Jean de Satigny says is the best in the world? He dies. His revolutionary poetry isn't really kosher with the new regime, so only a few brave people attend his funeral – Alba and Esteban Trueba are among them. They walk along beside his coffin flanked on either side by rows of soldiers with machine guns. People weep and recite the Poet's "verses of freedom and justice for the last time" (13.85).
  • Alba lies awake in bed, unable to sleep as she listens for the sounds of soldiers storming her neighbors' houses to arrest victims in the middle of the night.
  • Esteban Trueba finally admits to his daughter and granddaughter that he's made a mistake. The coup, he says, was meant to eliminate the threat of a Marxist dictatorship, but has only resulted in establishing a dictatorship far more severe. He cries for his country.
  • Blanca admits to her father that Pedro Tercero García has secretly been living in one of the abandoned rooms of the house.
  • Flashback to the day after the assassination of the President: Pedro Tercero's name appears on a list of people wanted by the government. Under cover of curfew, Pedro Tercero crawls to the big house on the corner and knocks on Blanca's window. She hides him in an empty room, assuming no one will think to look for him in Senator Trueba's house.
  • Blanca hides Pedro Tercero for several months, and is happier than she's ever been. Pedro Tercero, on the other hand, is going mad. Behind a locked door and with all the windows closed and the blinds drawn, he feels like he's in prison.
  • Even though she loves having him around, Blanca finally realizes that she can't hold Pedro Tercero captive. She asks her father to help her smuggle him out of the country.
  • Esteban Trueba is unable to muster up his old hatred for Blanca's lover, and he agrees to help her.
  • Esteban Trueba's rescue of Pedro Tercero is the mirror image of Pedro Tercero's rescue of the Senator from Tres Marías. Esteban says he's come to get Pedro Tercero out of there because Blanca asked him to. Pedro Tercero tells him to go to hell. "Fine," Esteban says, "That's where we're going. You're coming with me" (13.105).
  • Senator Trueba uses his influence to sneak Pedro Tercero into the residence of the Papal Nuncio, the ambassador from the Vatican. The Nuncio is a fan of Pedro Tercero García's music, and gives him and Blanca safe conduct passes that will allow them to leave the country.
  • Blanca says good-bye to her family. Esteban Trueba apologizes for having been a bad father.
  • Pedro Tercero and Esteban make up. They even hug.
  • It's all pretty mushy and sad, because Esteban Trueba knows he'll never see his daughter or Pedro Tercero García again.
  • Alba starts to use the abandoned rooms of the house to shelter some more people until she can figure out how to get them out of the country. If her grandfather hears any noises, he attributes them to the ghosts.
  • One day Miguel appears at the house. Hooray, he's not dead! Alba is obviously very excited about his arrival. Miguel's become one of the guerilla leaders, and is at the top of the military's most-wanted list. He's dyed his hair and shaved his beard to disguise himself.
  • Passionate sex ensues.
  • Alba tells Miguel about the guns she and Jaime buried in the mountains.
  • By this point Esteban Trueba has figured out that half of the guns he imported went missing, and that Alba had something to do with it. Flashback to a couple of days after the coup. The military junta orders all civilians to turn over anything that might be construed as a weapon. Esteban Trueba calls up his friend General Hurtado and they send a truck to pick up his stash. When they open the crates, half of them are filled with stones. The soldiers don't know that anything's missing, but Esteban does, and he suspects Alba, whose face flushes bright red. After the soldiers leave, he shakes Alba and demands that she confess. Alba tells her grandfather not to ask questions he doesn't want to hear the answers to.
  • Miguel tells Alba that her grandfather is a bastard, and says he might kill him some day. Alba responds, "God forbid, Miguel, because then I'd have to do the same to you" (13.122).
  • Once again, Miguel tries to talk Alba out of being "the woman of a guerilla" (13.123). He thinks it's too dangerous, but Alba throws a fit, so he agrees that they can keep seeing each other every once in a while.
  • Alba and Miguel make plans to go out to the mountains so she can show him where the guns are buried. They organize a trip for the children from the soup kitchen and pack a picnic. The patrols don't suspect a thing, and the group spends the afternoon playing hide-and-seek and singing songs around a campfire. Miguel draws a map of the area and plans to return later with his comrades to dig up the weapons.
  • Miguel won't tell Alba how to find him, because he says if the police pick her up, it's better if she doesn't know anything.
  • Alba begins to sell the furniture in the house and uses the money to help the unemployed and the children at the soup kitchen. Esteban Trueba notices but says nothing – he doesn't want to spoil his relationship with his granddaughter. Only when Alba sells the portrait of Clara to the British consul does Esteban put his foot down and forbid her to sell anything else. He gives Alba her own bank account.
  • Under the new economic system, Esteban Trueba can't help but make money. Despite his granddaughter's extravagant charity projects, he's loaded. He even starts sending Blanca and Pedro Tercero García a check once a month.
  • Blanca and Pedro Tercero are living in exile in Canada, where they make a living selling Pedro Tercero's revolutionary songs and Blanca's clay crèches.
  • Esteban Trueba has no idea that the political police have his house under surveillance until the night they come to arrest Alba. A dozen plainclothesmen break into the house and drag her out of bed. Alba is already awake and dressed, having heard the police pull up to the house. The men ransack the house, searching for hidden guerillas, contraband weapons, and suspicious documents.
  • The police build a huge bonfire in the courtyard using Jaime's books, the magic books from Great Uncle Marcos's trunks, and the remaining copies of Nicolás's spiritual publication. They take the contents of Esteban's desk for inspection, drink his Scotch, and break his classical records. Then they force him to sign a declaration stating that they entered with a court order, and that he has no complaints. When Senator Trueba objects, one policeman slaps Alba in the face. Esteban signs.
  • The policemen carry Alba to the waiting van as Esteban promises her that he'll use his influence to free her the next day.
  • The men tape Alba's eyes shut and sexually harass her on the way to their destination. Alba realizes where they're taking her when she hears running water and feels the van cross a bridge.
  • Alba prays to "all the spirits capable of bending the course of events," but the van continues on its way (13.151).
  • After she gets down from the van, someone punches her in the ribs. Two men drag her inside, and she hears one of them say: "This is Senator Trueba's granddaughter, Colonel" (13.152).
  • When the Colonel responds, Alba recognizes his voice as that of Esteban García. That's when she knows she's really in trouble, and that Esteban García has been waiting for her ever since she was a little girl.

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