The House of the Spirits
by Isabel Allende
The House of the Spirits Chapter 14 Summary
The Hour of Truth
- The chapter opens with Alba curled up in the darkness. Alba's eyes are covered with a bandage, and she's unable to see throughout much of this chapter.
- Alba tries to use her Uncle Nicolás's training to conquer her fear, but the sounds of her surroundings terrify her.
- After a long time, two men take Alba to Colonel García. He interrogates her about Miguel's whereabouts. When she refuses to give him any information, she gets tortured.
- Alba finds it hard to keep track of time, and suspects she has been drugged. She wonders why her grandfather hasn't yet come to rescue her.
- Alba can hear what's going on in the interrogation room through the wall of her cell. The next time they take her to see Colonel García, she knows what to expect.
- When Alba refuses to give her interrogators any information about Miguel's whereabouts, they strip her naked and tie her to a metal cot. They then torture her with an electric shock until she passes out.
- Alba wakes up. She's naked, disoriented, and in pain. A kind woman named Ana Díaz has removed Alba's bandage and wrapped her in a blanket. Alba doesn't recognize her, though the woman tells her they went to university together. (Remember her? Check out Chapter 9, "The Awakening.") She sinks back into unconsciousness.
- The next time Alba wakes up, Ana Díaz is still there. She and her boyfriend, Andrés, have been in prison for a week. She explains that Alba's memory is fuzzy because of the electric shock.
- A guard walks into the cell and orders Ana to put the bandage back on Alba's eyes. Then he drags her off to see the Colonel again.
- Colonel García makes sure to see Alba every day, alternating between cruel violence and the pretense of tenderness. One day he gently spoons soup into her mouth; the next, he plunges her head into a bucket full of excrement. Alba comes to understand that Esteban García doesn't really care about finding Miguel – he just wants to avenge himself on Alba for all of the injustices he's suffered in life.
- Once Alba realizes that nothing she can say will stop the personal torture Colonel García is inflicting upon her, she becomes less afraid and starts to feel more compassion for the other prisoners.
- One day they bring Alba and all the other prisoners outside and force them to watch as a truck drives over a man's shackled legs.
- Ana Díaz helps Alba keep up her spirits in the cell that they share. Ana has been raped and tortured in the presence of her lover, Andrés, but Alba never hears Ana break down until the day she returns from a secret clinic where she received treatment after one of the beatings causes her to lose the child she was carrying.
- Every day, the male prisoners pass by Alba and Ana's cell on the way to the latrine. When they do, the women sing and the male prisoners smile in the direction of the women's cell.
- A guard, moved by the women's songs, lets Ana visit Andrés in his cell for a few minutes.
- One day, Colonel García finds himself treating Alba with tenderness and telling her about his childhood, and the resentment that he'd felt towards her growing up. Worried that he's growing soft, he orders that Alba be tossed into the doghouse.
- The doghouse is a small, dark, sealed cell, where the torturers put prisoners as a form of punishment. Alba is unable to stand or sit down in her cramped cell. At first she tries to make sense of a tapping that she hears, thinking someone may be sending her coded messages from another cell, but eventually she gives up and decides to die. She stops eating, and only drinks water when her thirst becomes unbearable.
- When Alba is nearly dead, Clara appears to her and suggests that, instead of dying, which would be easy, she should try to survive. In order to do so, her grandmother offers the idea of "writing in her mind, without paper or pencil, to keep her thoughts occupied and to escape from the doghouse and live" (14.59).
- Clara suggests that Alba write a testimony that would record her experiences and might one day call attention to the atrocities committed under the military dictatorship.
- Alba tries to follow her grandmother's advice, but at first she has a hard time keeping all of the characters and the events of her story organized. As soon as Alba writes one page, she forgets the one before it. Eventually she manages to devise a code for keeping her story in order, and then she's able to fully immerse herself in the writing process. She becomes distracted from her own suffering.
- The guards remove Alba from the doghouse and take her back to Colonel García, whose hatred for her has returned. But Alba's new writing exercise has placed her "beyond his power" (14.61).
- Here Esteban Trueba begins to tell his story.
- Esteban goes to the Christopher Columbus (now a hotel) for the first time in years, looking for Tránsito Soto. At first the woman who greets him informs him that Tránsito doesn't see individual clients, but when Esteban threatens to smash furniture with his cane, she agrees to tell the Madam that he is there.
- Tránsito Soto enters the room, and Esteban notes that she has become an elegant, middle-aged woman. She's also grown rich. Her business has prospered, and though it's been forced to change with the times, it's still as popular as ever.
- Tránsito takes Esteban Trueba to her office to talk.
- The police have raided the Christopher Columbus a few times, but each time there's always a high-ranking military officer among the customers, so the police have learned to leave the hotel alone.
- Tránsito explains that she's on very good terms with the new government. She has connections.
- Tránsito asks the patrón what she can do for him, assuming he's come to ask her to repay the favor he did for her so many years ago.
- Esteban Trueba "[opens] the floodgates of [his] soul," and tells Tránsito the whole story – how Alba has gotten herself into trouble by risking her life to help fugitives, how she was taken away in the middle of the night a month ago, how all of his political connections have been useless to try to find her, and how he thinks the military has gotten out of hand. Esteban begs Tránsito to help him find his granddaughter. He's heard about Tránsito's connections, and knows she must know "the top brass of the armed forces" better than anyone.
- In his rant, Esteban reveals that he's received a package in the mail containing three human fingers. (Who's the only person who would send Esteban Trueba three hacked-off fingers? Remember the creepy kid in Chapter 6?)
- Two days later, Tránsito Soto calls Esteban Trueba on the phone and says she's done what he asked her to do.
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