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Alba is born, and Clara foresees that the girl will be both lucky and happy in life.
Blanca wants to name the baby Clara, but Clara doesn't believe in repeating names, because it causes confusion in her "notebooks that [bear] witness to life" (9.1). So the two women search in a thesaurus for a name that has the same luminous quality as the names of her maternal ancestors Nívea, Clara, and Blanca. Nívea means "snowy," Clara means "clear," Blanca means "white," and Alba means "dawn."
Alba is almost born on the train, but manages to hold on until Blanca can get to her parents' house. Blanca arrives unannounced, doubled over from the pain of contractions, and immediately collapses. Jaime and Clara move Blanca into Clara's room, where they and Amanda help her give birth. Miguel watches from inside a wardrobe, and is scarred for life.
Alba grows up thinking that Jean de Satigny is her father, but she never uses his last name because she thinks her mother's surname is easier to spell.
Esteban Trueba is, as usual, angry, because he went to a lot of trouble to ensure that his granddaughter would have a "known father and respectable name and would not have to use her mother's as if she were a child of shame and sin" (9.3).
Blanca admits to her mother that Pedro Tercero García is Blanca's real father, but she never mentions it again.
Blanca destroys all photos and evidence that show that Jean de Satigny ever existed.
Alba's mother tells her that her father died of a fever in the northern desert. This gives Alba nightmares in which she sees her father walking through the desert until he collapses with thirst and lies prey to the carrion birds that circle above him.
Flash forward. Many years later, Alba is called on to identify the body of she man she thinks must be her father. She goes to the morgue and is surprised by the corpse of an ordinary man who looks like a post-office employee. She learns that Jean de Satigny had not died of a fever in the North, but of a stroke while crossing the street in his old age.
Back to Alba's childhood.
When Alba is two weeks old, Amanda leaves the big house on the corner, which breaks Jaime's heart. Jaime occupies himself with study and work, and stops speaking to his brother.
Esteban Trueba has a soft spot for his granddaughter, but that doesn't bring him any closer to his daughter Blanca.
The Trueba household is bustling with guests.
Clara gets even better at divining the future and at moving objects without touching them. She frequently moves around the room while sitting in a chair. A starving artist staying in the big house on the corner paints a portrait of her hovering above the ground in a rocking chair, and this painting eventually winds up in a museum. The museum catalogue explains the floating woman as "influence of Chagall," but the narrator explains that the artist simply painted what he had seen (9.11).
Clara tries to convince various ministers of education to teach Esperanto in schools, because it's the language used by beings from other dimensions. She gets no response.
As a child, Alba is educated in everything from Tibetan dance to yogic breathing by an eclectic group of eccentrics, including her two uncles and the three Mora sisters.
Blanca takes charge of the domestic duties of the house and makes a little bit of money selling her clay crèches and giving classes in ceramics to young ladies and children with Down Syndrome.
Alba doesn't go to school because her grandmother thinks it's unnecessary – anyone born with such an auspicious horoscope only needs to learn to read and write, according to Clara. Alba can read by the age of five, and at the age of six she, too, discovers the magic books in her Great-Uncle Marcos's trunks.
Alba inherits the green hair of her Aunt Rosa. Her mother and grandmother rinse it in bay rum to take the green out when she's young, but as an adolescent Alba washes it in parsley water to enhance the greenness and to please her grandfather.
Alba likes to sneak down into the basement to play with all the discarded objects from the Trueba family's past.
One Christmas Eve, Clara gives Alba a gift of paints, brushes, a step-ladder, and permission to paint the wall of her bedroom. Alba eventually paints the entire room in an enormous mural of strange, fantastic animals reminiscent of Blanca's clay creations and Rosa's embroidered tablecloth.
Jaime is Alba's favorite uncle. They play games together in the living room and he gives her a key to his room so she can borrow books from his library.
Nicolás convinces Clara to fund a trip to India, where he spends a year living as a beggar and pursuing spiritual truth. He returns when Alba is five years old.
Nicolás arrives at the big house on the corner wearing nothing but a loincloth and escorted by two police officers who threaten to arrest him if he can't prove that he really is the son of Senator Trueba. Esteban says he can stay in the house if he takes a bath and puts on some normal clothes.
Nicolás has become a vegetarian and does strange things like speaking only in Asiatic parables and chewing each bite of food fifty times. He drives his dad nuts.
Alba is fascinated by her Uncle Nicolás and follows him around the house, begging him to teach her to stand on her head and to stick pins in her skin. Nicolás finds her annoying.
Nicolás spends the winter writing a book about the 99 names of God and tips for attaining nirvana through respiratory exercises. He convinces his father and Jaime to pay for its publication, but the book doesn't sell, and boxes of copies wind up sitting in the basement for Alba to play with.
Foreshadowing alert! Years later Nicolás's books will burn in an infamous bonfire.
After the book is published, Nicolás starts wearing clothes again and starts preaching his spiritualist exercises at the café in the university, where he acquires a number of disciples.
Nicolás spends his spare time riding his motorcycle and teaching Alba how to conquer pain and fear. If Alba can go an entire week without crying, Nicolás gives her a reward – often a ride on the back of his motorcycle.
Esteban Trueba loves his granddaughter more than he had ever cared for his own children. Twice a year they go to Tres Marías together. Esteban Trueba will remember these trips to the country with Alba as the happiest moments of his life.
The Trueba family dines together every Saturday around the huge oak table that had belonged to the del Valles. Family meals are a peculiar event, with Jaime trying to annoy his father, Nicolás methodically chewing his food fifty times, Clara sending messages to her husband through her children or the servants, Esteban sulking until he can't contain his bad humor and starts yelling at everyone, and Blanca trying to pretend that everything is normal.
Blanca is beautiful, and lots of guys try to woo her, but she won't date any of them seriously. The man who has the most success is the King of the Pressure Cookers, who Esteban Trueba doesn't like because he's Jewish. And whenever Blanca goes on dates with him, Alba is afraid that her mother will get married some day and leave her.
Blanca dresses Alba up one Sunday and they go to the Japanese Gardens where they meet Pedro Tercero García. Alba realizes then that her mother will never get married to any of the suitors who are constantly trying to win Blanca's hand.
From that day on Blanca goes out every weekend, bringing an overnight bag. She promises Alba she's not getting married, and ignores Esteban's furious threats to kick her out of the house.
Alba likes to listen to the radio to hear the songs of the man she met at the Japanese Gardens. One day Esteban enters the room while she's listening to Pedro Tercero García, and he smashes the radio to bits with his cane. Alba doesn't understand why her grandfather's so upset. The next day Clara buys Alba a new radio, and Esteban pretends not to notice.
Pedro Tercero finds out about the King of the Pressure Cookers and gets really jealous. He begs Blanca to leave the big house on the corner and marry him, but Blanca's afraid of leaving her social circle and status.
Even though she lives in the big house on the corner, Blanca is very poor. She makes very little money teaching ceramics classes and selling her crèches, and spends almost all of it on doctors' bills to treat her various imaginary diseases. She never asks her father for money, even though he buys expensive clothes and gifts for Alba all the time. For this reason Alba can't figure out why Blanca never left the big house to marry Pedro Tercero.
Blanca wakes up every morning at 6am to fire up the kiln and to prepare clay for her classes. She works on her crèches in the morning, and then sees to the household duties before classes begin.
One day a friend of Clara's visits the big house on the corner with her grandson, a fifteen-year-old boy with Down Syndrome. (The narrator in the book refers to people with Down Syndrome as "mongoloids," a term that would have been used at the time in Chile but is now considered offensive and is no longer used in scientific circles.) Alba takes the boy to Blanca's studio, where they give him a lump of clay to play with. He loves it, and Blanca starts giving classes to children with Down Syndrome once a week. After the kids leave every week, Blanca kisses Alba and tells her they should thank God she's normal. Alba grows up thinking that normality is a gift from heaven.
Clara explains to Alba that most families have a crazy person, but that in their family the craziness is spread out amongst all of the members equally.
For Alba, Clara is the most important person in the household. She spends time with her grandmother in the rear section of the house, learning to knit, taking part in the Friday spiritualist sessions that Clara hosts, and carrying messages to Esteban.
Some of the most important cultural figures in the country attend Clara's literary soirees, including the Poet, who will one day be considered the greatest poet of the century. Alba often sits on his knees and doesn't suspect (foreshadowing alert!) that one day she will walk behind his coffin between rows of machine guns.
When Clara has asthma attacks, she rings a little bell and Alba comes to embrace her grandmother until she feels better.
More major foreshadowing – Alba knows Clara is the soul of the house, but the narrator tells us that everyone else will find this out later, when Clara dies and the house loses its flowers, visitors, and spirits, and enters a period of decline.
On one of their trips to Tres Marías, Esteban Trueba explains to his granddaughter that he wants her to know the names of every tenant on the land because one day she'll inherit the hacienda. However, Alba has very little contact with the peasant farmers.
When Alba is six years old, Esteban García comes to the big house on the corner to ask a favor of the patron. Alba encounters him in the library while he's waiting for Esteban Trueba, and Esteban García pulls her onto his lap. He starts feeling a crazy, violent impulse to rape and strangle little Alba, but he stops himself at the last moment. A few seconds later Esteban Trueba walks through the door, and Alba runs away.
Esteban García asks Senator Trueba for a letter of recommendation to the police academy and a government subsidy to pay for his education. Esteban Trueba remembers that he owes Esteban García a reward for finding Pedro Tercero and decides this will be a good opportunity to pay him back. Plus he figures this way he'll have a friend in the police force. So he makes a few phone calls and hooks Esteban García up.
Esteban Trueba asks Esteban García why he was named Esteban. García admits that he was named after Trueba. Trueba doesn't realize that this is because he's García's grandfather – he just figures his tenants named their boy after the patrón as a sign of respect.
Clara dies on Alba's seventh birthday.
In preparation for her death, Clara gives all of her clothing to the servants. She collects all of her notebooks that bear witness to life and puts them in order according to events, rather than chronologically, because she can't remember the dates of anything. (Sound familiar? Notice how this novel isn't exactly in chronological order either?)
Clara finds all the jewels that Esteban Trueba gave her over the years and puts them in a woolen sock, which she gives to Blanca.
Jaime notices that his mother has stopped eating and sleeping, and starts to worry about her.
Clara starts to have attacks of suffocation, but she stops calling Alba to help cure her with prolonged hugs.
One morning Alba finds Clara releasing all of her caged birds.
Clara writes cards to all of her loved ones and hides them under the bed. Then she stops getting up in the morning, and won't let the servants open the curtains in her room.
Jaime examines his mother and knows that she'll die soon. Just in case, he calls in another doctor to get a second opinion. They determine that Clara won't live for more than another two or three weeks, and tell the family.
Esteban has a temper tantrum and tries to beat up the doctors who give him the bad news. Alba remains calm, thanks to her Uncle Nicolás's training and Clara's explanations that death is "like being born: just a change" (9.101).
Alba comforts her grandfather while he weeps.
Clara tells Alba that she's certain that she will be able to communicate with the living from the Hereafter.
Clara falls into a sleep, and Alba refuses to leave her side.
Clara wakes up and asks Alba if she's about to die. Alba says, "Yes, Grandmother, but it doesn't matter, because I'm here with you" (9.105). Clara asks Alba to pass out the good-bye cards she's hidden under the bed, because she won't have time to say good-bye to everyone.
Clara dies, surrounded by her family, the Mora sisters, the servants, a couple of artists, and a priest whom Esteban Trueba forbids from administering any last rites.
Jaime examines Clara's body for a heartbeat, finds none, and sobs, "Mama's gone" (9.109).