Study Guide

The House of the Spirits Summary

By Isabel Allende

The House of the Spirits Summary

The House of the Spirits is a family saga that spans four generations, but focuses primarily on the lives of two women in the clan, Clara del Valle and Alba de Satigny, and the connection between them. Events are not recorded chronologically, which can make following the plot a bit complicated, but let's give it a shot.

The novel opens with Clara as a young girl, writing in her first journal about the arrival of a new pet, an enormous dog that she names Barrabás. Clara continues to write in journals the rest of her life, and it's thanks to her that the narrator can piece together the family history fifty years later.

We're introduced to the del Valle family as Severo and Nívea sit in a sweltering church with their eleven living children and listen to the overly zealous priest's fire-and-brimstone sermon. When little Clara curses during a silent moment she earns a reputation for demonic possession. This concerns her parents, for more reasons than you might think. Turns out, Clara already has some special gifts – she can predict the future, interpret dreams, and move furniture around telekinetically.

Around this time, Clara's Uncle Marcos dies. Uncle Marcos is one of Clara's most beloved relatives, an adventurer who tells her stories of his trips around the world and bequeaths to the family a chest full of magical books. So when he arrives at the del Valle home in a coffin, Clara would be quite upset if it weren't for the mangy, half-starved puppy that shows up in her uncle's luggage. Meet Barrabás, the adorable monster.

Esteban Trueba is a young, ambitious entrepreneur who's engaged to the eldest del Valle daughter, Rosa the beautiful. He slaves away in a mine in the North, hoping to make his fortune so he can return to the capital to marry Rosa. Unfortunately, Rosa dies before he can strike it rich, poisoned by a swig of brandy that was intended to kill her father, a liberal politician. Everyone's devastated, especially Esteban. Clara stops speaking for the next nine years because she's worried that, by predicting Rosa's death, she's the one who caused it.

Esteban Trueba's family consists of his gloomy sister, Férula, and his decrepit old mother, Doña Ester. Esteban and Férula had a poverty-stricken childhood, and they're not particularly close. After Rosa's death, Esteban announces that he's not going to return to the mine, and that he's going to go take care of the family property in the country instead. The hacienda (estate), called Tres Marías, is in pretty bad shape. Esteban acts all authoritative and gets his tenants to help him clean things up. Soon, Tres Marías is flourishing, but the tenants fear Esteban's iron fist, quick temper, and voracious sexual appetite, which tempts him to rape every peasant girl on the property. Esteban gets a lot of these girls pregnant, including one woman named Pancha García, but he doesn't regard any of their offspring as his own children.

Esteban meets with local landowners to plan for a Conservative Party victory in the upcoming election, and thus begins his somewhat shady political career. (And we mean vote-buying, peasant-bribing, violence-threatening kind of shady.) When he's not assaulting teenage girls, bossing people around, shooting animals, or subverting the democratic process, Esteban spends time at a local brothel where he meets an ambitious young prostitute named Tránsito Soto. He lends her 50 pesos to seek her fortune in the big city, and she promises to repay him some day.

Clara's muteness and psychic powers keep her from having any friends, and she grows up to be a charming but odd young woman. When she's nineteen, Esteban Trueba comes back to the capital because his mom is dying. He promises his mom he'll get married and have kids right before she dies. Esteban goes to the del Valle home once again to see if they have a daughter he can marry. He meets Clara, and they agree to tie the knot. They seem to get along OK, but ominously enough, the dog Barrabás collapses with a knife in his back in the middle of their engagement party. He dies in Clara's lap, and gets blood all over her dress.

Clara becomes close friends with Esteban's sister, Férula, and invites her to move into their new house, a colonial-style mansion that Esteban designs to look as European as possible. Clara gets pregnant and has a baby girl named Blanca. The whole family goes to Tres Marías one summer, and Clara tries to harangue the peasant women with her feminist principles, until she gets pregnant again and has to move back to the city. She announces that she's going to give birth to twins named Jaime and Nicolás, and Esteban gets mad that she doesn't want to name one of the boys after him. Esteban goes to a brothel in town called the Christopher Columbus and meets Tránsito Soto there, to his surprise.

Clara's parents die in a car accident, and Clara's mom Nívea is beheaded in the crash. Pregnant Clara drags Férula out to find the head, and they return to the house just in time for Clara to give birth to her babies. Nana, the del Valle family maid, comes to live in the big house on the corner.

Clara starts to hold weekly séances, attended by all sorts of spiritual eccentrics, like the three Mora sisters, who become her close friends.

Esteban and Férula are both obsessed with Clara, and start to get jealous of each other. Eventually Esteban catches Férula sleeping in bed with Clara, and kicks her out of the house. Férula puts a curse on Esteban and disappears.

Blanca, Esteban and Clara's firstborn, develops a close relationship with a peasant on her father's farm named Pedro Tercero García. He's a little spitfire who writes revolutionary songs on his guitar and isn't afraid to stand up to the patrón (Esteban). He and Blanca fall in love, but decide to keep their relationship a secret from Blanca's family.

Férula's ghost appears to the family at dinner one night, so they know she's dead. Clara and Esteban find her body in the run-down apartment in which she'd been living.

Back in the country, Blanca and Pedro Tercero lose their virginity in a steamy love-making session down by the river. Blanca starts jumping out of her window every night so they can keep having romantic interludes. They almost get caught when there's a huge earthquake and Clara realizes that Blanca's not in her room. But the house collapses on Esteban Trueba, breaking every bone in his body, so Blanca's off the hook. Old Pedro García, Pedro Tercero's grandfather, sets Esteban's bones, and he lives. The earthquake does kill Nana, however – she dies of fright.

Esteban orders that the plantation house be rebuilt exactly as it was before. Blanca makes herself sick in boarding school so that she can come back to Tres Marías and be with her boyfriend. But Esteban Trueba fires Pedro Tercero for his Socialist propagandizing, and warns him to make himself scarce if he doesn't want to get shot as well. This elevates him to the status of hero among the peasant workers. Pedro Tercero sneaks back onto the property periodically to see Blanca, always in disguise.

Esteban and Clara start having marital problems. He's a grumpy jerk to her during the day, and she stops wanting to have sex with him. Esteban starts to think his body is shrinking, and blames it on Férula's curse.

Meanwhile, Tres Marías acquires a houseguest named Count Jean de Satigny, who charms everyone with his cosmopolitan airs and wants to marry a rich South American heiress. Blanca snubs him, of course, because she's in love with her own South American sweetie. Count Jean starts to spy on Blanca and follows her on one of her late-night outings to the river. When he finds her sleeping naked with Pedro Tercero, he wakes up Esteban Trueba, who tracks Blanca down and beats her with a horse whip. Esteban and Clara get in a big fight over this, and Esteban knocks out Clara's teeth. Despite his profuse apologies, Clara never speaks to her husband again.

Esteban is really sad and lonely, and blames Pedro Tercero for all of it. He offers a reward for information about the young man's whereabouts and the young Esteban García, Esteban Trueba's creepy illegitimate grandson, shows up to sell out Pedro Tercero. When Esteban Trueba finds Pedro Tercero, he tries to kill him but only manages to chop off three of Pedro Tercero's fingers before the young man escapes. There's a kind of gross moment when Esteban García picks up the severed fingers and offers them to the patrón. Esteban Trueba refuses to give the little kid a reward, which is a pretty bad idea because it really ticks him off – and something tells us you don't want this twisted child as an enemy.

Clara, Blanca, and the twins move back into the big house in the city, and Jaime, Clara's son who has just become a doctor, alerts the family that Blanca is pregnant. Esteban Trueba is, of course, super angry about this, and he forces Blanca to marry the Count (even though we know he is not the father). The newlyweds move to the north so Blanca can have her baby without causing a scandal.

Nicolás's girlfriend Amanda gets pregnant, and he convinces his brother Jaime to give her an abortion. This is weird for Jaime, because he's in love with Amanda too.

Blanca's husband turns out to have some deviant sexual interests that really freak her out, so she leaves the Count and books it back to her parents' house, where she gives birth to a daughter, Alba. Amanda's little brother, Miguel, watches the birth from inside a wardrobe.

Alba grows up happily, in the midst of her hodgepodge of weird relatives, and gets along well with all of them, even her grumpy old grandfather who loves her more than his own kids. Blanca and Pedro Tercero find each other again and pick up where they left off with the whole love affair. Blanca introduces Alba to Pedro Tercero, but never tells her that he's her real dad.

Esteban García shows up in the city one day to ask the patrón for a letter of recommendation to the police academy. The creepy kid is now a creepy adult, and he nearly rapes and strangles six-year-old Alba in her grandfather's library. Esteban Trueba has no idea that Esteban García is his grandson, and that the young man has been building up resentment towards the patrón for disinheriting him.

Clara dies and the big house on the corner loses its sparkle. The guests stop coming and the ghosts just don't haunt the place the way they used to.

Jaime and Nicolás both annoy their conservative father to no end, who at this point has become a Senator. Senator Trueba ends up shipping Nicolás to North America and telling him never to come back.

Esteban Trueba builds a huge mausoleum so he can rest eternally in between his first fiancée, Rosa, and his beloved wife, Clara. When the del Valle family refuses to let him have Rosa's body, he and Jaime break into the cemetery and steal it instead. Missing Clara, Esteban goes to the Christopher Columbus one day and meets Tránsito Soto once again. She's organized a cooperative and taken control of the business. Esteban is really attracted to her, but she doesn't ease the pain of losing Clara.

Alba falls head over heels for a revolutionary boy she meets at the university. She doesn't tell him that her grandfather is a conservative Senator, and soon they're walking around all googly-eyed over each other. She goes with this guy, whose name is Miguel (hm…where have we heard that name before?) to a student sit-in where they end up facing-off with the police, one of whom is Esteban García. Alba gets sick and Esteban García has to take her home. While she's recuperating at home, Alba remembers the time when she was fourteen years old and Esteban García forced himself on her. Ever since then she's had nightmares where Esteban García is a slimy green monster that tries to strangle her.

Alba and Miguel build a love nest in the big house on the corner, and Miguel has a flash of déjà vu – he's been there before. Yeah, that makes him the little kid who watched Alba being born. What a coincidence. Maybe it's fate?

Everyone's talking about the upcoming Presidential election and the Socialists' chance of winning it. Jaime is friends with the Socialist candidate, and he suspects that they're going to win this time. Esteban Trueba works tirelessly to try to prevent that from happening.

Miguel's sister gets sick, and he asks Jaime to help her. Jaime gets a big surprise when he finds out who Miguel's sister is – it's Amanda, the girl he used to be obsessed with when she was Nicolás's girlfriend. He helps her go through a drug detoxification program.

The Socialists win the election, and most of the family is pretty excited about it, with the exception of Senator Trueba. He starts meeting with other right-wing politicians and foreign experts to hatch a plot to destabilize the new government. They wreak havoc on the economy in an attempt to turn public opinion against the Socialists, but ultimately Esteban starts calling for a military coup.

Pedro Tercero goes to work for the new government. He and Blanca have a falling out because she refuses to marry him, and they split up for a while.

Food is hard to come by, so Blanca starts stockpiling it in the house. Alba steals the food to give to Miguel to distribute among the poor.

Esteban Trueba buys a whole lot of guns and keeps them in crates in a locked room. Alba and her Uncle Jaime steal the guns and bury them in a secret location so that they can't be used against the Socialists.

Jaime starts going out with Amanda, even though he's not that into her anymore – he's actually sort of in love with his niece. Hm. What is it with him and unattainable women?

The government seizes Tres Marías and gives it to the tenants, who run it as a cooperative. Esteban Trueba has a fit about this and storms off to the hacienda with a machine gun. Instead of shooting up the place, however, he gets knocked on the head and taken hostage by the peasants. Blanca knows Pedro Tercero was once a hero to the peasants, so she gets her ex-boyfriend to go rescue her dad. They make up and get back together.

Luisa Mora, one of the psychic Mora sisters, stops by the big house on the corner and warns Esteban that a huge violent catastrophe is about to happen. She also warns Alba that death is at her heels, and that she should flee the country. Neither of them listens to her.

Jaime gets a call from the President's secretary, asking him to come to the Presidential Palace. Turns out the military's revolting, and the President needs his doctors by his side. After a standoff that lasts a few hours, the military bombs the palace and take the survivors prisoner. Jaime is taken to a prison, tortured, and eventually killed. The President does not survive the coup either.

Meanwhile, Jaime's dad is celebrating the downfall of the Socialist government. Alba, on the other hand, is worried about her family and friends, especially Miguel, who calls her and tells her to destroy all evidence that they even know each other.

After a few days, Esteban Trueba gets annoyed that the military hasn't asked him to participate in the new government, so he drives to the Ministry of Defense to see what's up. It doesn't go well – an officer is rude to him and takes his car.

A soldier from the prison that Jaime was taken to comes to the big house and tells Blanca and Esteban Trueba that Jaime is dead. Esteban is in denial for a few months, until Jaime's ghost appears to him and he's forced to admit the truth.

Alba uses Jaime's old car to smuggle victims of the military persecution into foreign embassies so they can get asylum. Esteban gets his farm back, and he punishes the peasants who had taken over by burning their houses to the ground and kicking them all off the land.

The Poet dies, and a few brave fans of his work are willing to risk political persecution to attend his funeral.

Esteban Trueba finally admits to Blanca and Alba that he's made a mistake. The government he helped to put in place is far worse than the one he worked to overthrow.

Blanca admits to her dad that she's been hiding Pedro Tercero in the house, and asks for Esteban's help in getting him political asylum. Esteban sneaks him into the residence of the Papal Nuncio and gets Pedro Tercero and Blanca safe passage out of the country.

Alba shows Miguel where she and Jaime buried Esteban's secret stash of guns so that he can use them in his revolutionary activities. Miguel warns Alba about being the girlfriend of a guerilla, but she's too much in love to break things off.

The police finally break into the big house on the corner and arrest Alba in the middle of the night. They trash the house and build a huge bonfire of the family's books. Then they cart Alba off to a secret prison. Her grandfather pledges to find her and bring her home.

Alba arrives blindfolded at the prison, but she recognizes the voice of the man in charge – it's Esteban García, now a Colonel. Uh oh. In Colonel García's clutches, Alba is raped and tortured repeatedly. She realizes that he has a personal vendetta against her for being the legitimate heir to Esteban Trueba's fortune. Alba's cellmate in the secret prison is Ana Díaz, a woman she went to school with.

Eventually Colonel García realizes he's growing attached to Alba and throws her into a cramped, windowless cell called the doghouse, where she is kept in isolation for several days. In the doghouse, Alba decides she wants to die, and tries to starve herself. But the spirit of her Grandmother Clara appears to her and convinces her to survive by writing a testimony in her head. Alba's new activity protects her from her suffering and gives her the will to live.

Esteban Trueba goes to the Christopher Columbus to look for Tránsito Soto. He knows that she has connections within the military regime, and he wants to cash in the favor she's owed him for the past fifty years. He breaks down in front of her and begs her to rescue his granddaughter from prison. Tránsito agrees, and two days later she calls Esteban to let him know she's done what he asked her to.

Alba arrives home and is joyfully reunited with her grandfather. Her hand is mutilated, and we can guess that Colonel García had her fingers chopped off to send a message to her grandfather. Alba tells the story of her release: after her hand became infected, she was transferred to a secret clinic where she met a nice nurse named Rojas who told her that Amanda had died. Then Alba was moved to a concentration camp for women, where she was reunited with Ana Díaz. A few days later, she was taken to a dump in a bad part of town and instructed to wait there until morning. A kind woman took Alba in for the night and got her a ride to the nice part of the city where her grandfather lives.

Alba and Esteban fix up the house and Esteban gives his granddaughter the idea of writing this story. They each write passages to contribute to the family saga. When Esteban's finished writing, he dies.

Alba gets over her desire for revenge against Esteban García and reflects that everything that's happened to her is part of a cycle of violence that was put into motion long before her birth. She decides to break the chain of vengeance. Alba says that her mission is life, and that's why she writes. Writing helps her feel connected to the past and overcome the terrors of the present. The novel closes with Alba writing, waiting for Miguel, and carrying a daughter in her womb.

  • Chapter 1

    Rosa the Beautiful

    • The House of the Spirits begins by introducing us to our first major character, Clara.
    • Clara is in the habit of "writing down important matters" (1.1). Here she writes, "Barrabás came to us by sea" (1.1).
    • The first two sentences of the novel take us through a bit of a time warp. Clara, now a child, is in the habit of recording events in her notebooks, and will pass through a period of muteness for a while after starting this practice. Fifty years later, the narrator will use Clara's notebooks to "reclaim the past and overcome terrors of [her] own" (1.1).
    • Who is Barrabás? We don't know yet, but he arrives on Holy Thursday in a pitiful state – caged, covered in his own excrement, and with the "lost look of a hapless, utterly defenseless prisoner" (1.1).
    • Despite all this, Barrabás has a certain dignity about him. The narrator tells us he will become a "legendary giant" (1.1).
    • It's a "bland, autumnal day" (1.1) (the holiday of Holy Thursday, just before Easter, takes place in the fall, not spring, in the southern hemisphere), unlike the events that we're about to hear about from Clara.
    • These events take place at the noon mass in the parish of San Sebastián.
    • Holy Thursday is a pretty somber day in the Catholic calendar. The church is decked out in mourning – the statues of saints are covered in "funereal sheets" and resemble "terrifying dark bundles" with "influenza-pale expressions" (1.1)
    • The statue of the church's patron saint, Saint Sebastián, is actually improved by being covered by a shroud. Normally the parishioners are exposed to the sight of his twisted body, "pierced by arrows, and dripping with blood and tears" (1.1). Clara finds the statue disgusting.
    • Holy Week does not sound like a lot of fun. Lots of "penitence and fasting" (1.2), and no card games or music allowed!
    • But wait – the fast doesn't sound too bad. "Soft puff pastries, delicious vegetarian dishes, spongy tortillas, and enormous cheeses from the countryside" (1.2).
    • Families aren't, however, allowed to "touch the least morsel of meat or fish on pain of excommunication" (1.2). Sounds a bit harsh but thank goodness for those puff pastries.
    • Father Restrepo is the man behind the morbid decorations and threats of eternal damnation. He likes to embarrass his parishioners by accusing them of various mortal sins.
    • Father Restrepo accuses one gentleman of stealing from the collection box, and then Doña Ester Trueba, a pious and elderly woman, of being a "hussy" who "prostitutes herself down by the docks" (1.3). His allegations are completely specious – Doña Ester Trueba doesn't even know the meaning of the word "hussy."
    • Father Restrepo's methods are a bit old-fashioned. He really likes to talk about hell and damnation. He makes everyone uncomfortable, but for some reason, he's popular enough that some of the faithful will follow him from parish to parish.
    • Now we're introduced to Severo del Valle, an "atheist and a Mason" (1.5) who only goes to church because he's a politician and wants everyone to see him.
    • Severo's wife, Nívea, doesn't care for mass either, but she supports her husband's efforts to run for Congress. She figures that his success will help further her own political ambitions to secure the right to vote for women.
    • Severo and Nívea have eleven living children, of whom Clara is the youngest. Clara is now ten years old.
    • The narrator notes that Clara, like all the women in her family, has an overactive imagination.
    • Nívea, hot and uncomfortable, begins to think about her eldest daughter, Rosa.
    • Rosa is extremely beautiful, in an other-worldly kind of way. Her green hair and the bluish tones of her skin make her look like a mermaid.
    • Rosa is engaged to Esteban Trueba, who has been gone for two years while working the mines in the North.
    • Rosa spends a lot of time embroidering an enormous tablecloth with fantastical animals.
    • Nívea's restrictive clothing sounds seriously uncomfortable, and she feels like she's choking in the hot church.
    • When Father Restrepo pauses for a dramatic break in his sermon, little Clara's voice can be heard saying: "Psst! Father Restrepo! If that story about hell is a lie, we're all f***ed, aren't we…." (1.9).
    • Señor and Señora del Valle are embarrassed, and usher their entire family out of the church before anyone can react. As they exit, they can hear Father Restrepo pronouncing that Clara is possessed by the devil.
    • Clara's parents are worried about the priest's pronouncement because they recognize that there is something different about Clara – she often moves dishes around the dinner table using only her mind, and warns her family about earthquakes and accidents before they happen.
    • Nana, the family housekeeper, thinks Clara will grow out of her clairvoyant tricks when she hits puberty. Nana adores Clara, and often helps nurse the girl through her asthma attacks.
    • Severo is concerned that, if people find out about Clara's strange powers, it might damage his political career.
    • A group of men arrive at the del Valle home with a coffin containing the body of Uncle Marcos. Nívea insists on being allowed to see the body of her brother to make sure he's really dead this time. She's already had to bury him once before.
    • It's been two years since Clara has seen her Uncle Marcos, but she remembers him clearly. She finds it hard to believe he's dead.
    • Now we get some back-story on Uncle Marcos.
    • The del Valle children love Uncle Marcos because he comes to stay for several months at a time, bringing strange artifacts and animals from his exploration of foreign lands. He conducts strange alchemy experiments in the kitchen, practices bizarre exercises, and even teaches an Amazonian parrot to speak Spanish.
    • After failing to woo his cousin, Antonieta, with his barrel organ, the heartbroken Uncle Marcos leaves his parrot with Clara and takes off on a trip around the world. He comes back with a bunch of crates full of parts that he assembles into a flying machine, which he pledges to fly across the mountain range.
    • An enormous crowd gathers to see Uncle Marcos take off in his flying machine. He disappears over the mountain range. After a week, the del Valle family presumes him dead, and a team of mountain explorers sets out to search for his remains. They return with a sealed black coffin, which the del Valle family buries in a grandiose funeral.
    • One week after the burial, Uncle Marcos returns to the del Valle home, alive and well. The coffin is pried open and found to contain a bag of sand.
    • Marcos stays at his sister's house for another couple of months and then takes off again, leaving all of his belongings behind this time.
    • Clara is upset by her uncle's sudden departure – she and Marcos had grown very close during his last stay, thanks to her prophesying powers.
    • Here the narrator backtracks again: during his last stay at the del Valle home, Uncle Marcos spends a lot of time with Clara because he believes her clairvoyance can be a source of income, and because he thinks that working with her can train him to cultivate his own psychic powers.
    • He and Clara set up a business divining the location of lost objects and giving advice on how to acquire love and money. With Nana's help, the two establish a thriving business, but eventually get a little freaked out by their own success and decide to shut it down.
    • Clara is the del Valle child most interested in her Uncle Marcos's stories. She can repeat his many tales of his adventures in far-off places. Marcos also has a trunk full of travel journals, maps, and books of stories and fairy tales. His descendents love to read these, until the collection is burned on a pyre half a century later.
    • OK, now back to Marcos. He's actually dead this time. Cause of death: a "mysterious African plague that had turned him as yellow and wrinkled as a piece of parchment" (1.24).
    • Let's jump back again. When Marcos finds out he's sick, he hops a ship back to Chile, hoping his sister and the family doctor can heal him. But he dies at sea, and the passengers of the vessel have to convince the captain to not throw his body overboard. Captain Longfellow unloads the body and all of Uncle Marcos's possessions at port, and a customs official has everything shipped to the del Valle house.
    • Clara's grief is mitigated by the arrival of Barrabás, a filthy, crusty, famished-looking animal that she discovers in her uncle's baggage and identifies as a puppy. She nurses the pup back to health and refuses to give him up or to let Nana cut his tail.
    • Barrabás grows to be enormous and intimidating, but is gentle as a lamb. He wreaks all sorts of havoc in the house with his sweeping tail and terrifying appearance. Nana tries to poison him, but only succeeds in giving him a bad case of diarrhea.
    • Suddenly the narrative shifts to first-person. We're not really sure who's talking yet, but we do know the new narrator's twenty-five, works hard, and is really ambitious.
    • Oh, and he misses Rosa and lives in a mine. Must be Esteban Trueba, Rosa's fiancé.
    • Esteban lives in a sparsely-furnished, one-room shack in the middle of nowhere. He writes to his girlfriend a lot.
    • Esteban remembers seeing Rosa for the first time. She's buying licorice drops at a pastry shop with Nana and one of her younger sisters. She's attracting a lot of attention because she's so beautiful. Esteban Trueba follows her home, bribes the servants, and eventually manages to send Rosa love letters and gifts.
    • Esteban's sister Férula arranges for him to visit the del Valle family, and he becomes Rosa's official suitor, despite having no money.
    • Esteban realizes he needs to get rich if he wants to marry Rosa, so he gets a concession for a mine in the North and sets out on a dangerous and potentially financially devastating adventure, hoping for a stroke of luck.
    • Esteban's monologue ends here.
    • Back to the del Valle family: at the end of autumn, Severo del Valle is invited to be the Liberal Party candidate, representing a distant southern province in the upcoming Congressional elections.
    • In honor of the nomination, the voters of the southern province send Severo del Valle a huge roast pig. It arrives at the doorstep of the del Valle home, accompanied by a half gallon of very good brandy.
    • Three days after the pig arrives, Clara announces that there will be an accidental death in the family.
    • Rosa the Beautiful gets a cold, and Dr. Cuevas says she should be given a glass of lemonade with a splash of liquor to help her sleep. Severo gives Nana permission to open the decanter of brandy and give some to Rosa. Rosa goes to sleep.
    • The next morning, Nana discovers that Rosa is dead. Nana prays for the dead girl, Clara observes her sister silently, and Barrabás howls mournfully.
    • Dr. Cuevas suspects foul play, and discovers that the decanter of brandy is poisoned. In order to be sure that's what killed Rosa, he gets Severo's permission to do an autopsy.
    • Nívea doesn't want the doctor to take her daughter's body to the morgue, so Dr. Cuevas and his young assistant conduct the autopsy in the kitchen of the del Valle home.
    • Dr. Cuevas, his young assistant, and Severo del Valle begin the autopsy, but all three men react strongly to the sight of Rosa's beautiful naked body. Severo is overcome by grief and has to leave the room; the young assistant is so turned on he starts panting.
    • Nana and Severo bond in the drawing room – Severo invites Nana to have a drink, and Nana comforts him as he cries.
    • Dr. Cuevas determines that the poisoned brandy did indeed kill Rosa, and speculates that it had been meant for Severo.
    • Dr. Cuevas and the assistant decide to clean and preserve Rosa's body. Dr. Cuevas gets tired and leaves, and the assistant is left to dress the girl and to clean up the mess.
    • Severo suffers a major attack of guilt when he realizes that the poisoned brandy that had been meant for him was instrumental in his daughter's death. Dr. Cuevas gets him drunk, and they put him to bed.
    • The next day, a wake is held in the del Valle home. Rosa is laid out in the dining room, dressed in the white dress and crown of orange blossoms that were being saved for her wedding day. She looks more beautiful than ever.
    • At the wake, men roam the halls and the sitting rooms and talk business, while the women sit in the living room and weep or pray.
    • Nívea has lost other children, but Rosa's death is the hardest for her.
    • All the del Valle sisters except Clara attend the wake. Clara stays in the garden with Barrabás and refuses to go near the dining room.
    • Despite Severo and Dr. Cuevas's attempts to avoid a scandal by claiming Rosa died of galloping pneumonia, the rumor circulates that Rosa had been poisoned in her father's stead. Somebody accuses the conservatives. The police determine that the brandy did not come from the same source as the roast pig, and that the voters of the South had nothing to do with the attempt on Severo's life.
    • Foreshadowing alert! The narrator says that this unresolved mystery hangs like "the shadow of suspended vengeance" over succeeding generations of the del Valle family, and that it is "the first of many acts of violence that mark [their] fate" (1.61).
    • Now we hear about Rosa's death from Esteban Trueba's perspective. Back to the first-person narrative.
    • Esteban is having a good day and has just discovered a very promising lode of silver that might make him very rich. He's in the middle of writing Rosa with the good news when he receives a telegram from his sister, Férula, telling of Rosa's death.
    • Esteban is devastated, and he feels that, without Rosa, life no longer has any meaning. After the shock wears off, he becomes enraged, and beats the walls of his shack until his hands bleed. Then he packs a bag and makes the long journey to the capital, hoping to arrive in time to see Rosa one last time before she is buried.
    • Esteban arrives just in time. Clara takes him by the hand and leads him into the dining room to see Rosa's body. Esteban shouts, "Damn her! She slipped through my hands!" (1.65).
    • Moments later, a carriage arrives to take Rosa's body to the cemetery. Even though women and children don't usually attend funerals, Clara manages to accompany Esteban to the ceremony. He feels an unknown tenderness towards her.
    • Esteban doesn't know that Clara hasn't spoken in two days, and says that it will be three more days before the del Valle family becomes alarmed by her silence.
    • Severo and his oldest sons lay Rosa's coffin in the family tomb.
    • Esteban is filled with rage, and thinks life won't be worth living without Rosa.
    • Esteban bribes the caretaker to let him stay in the cemetery all night, and he talks to Rosa until morning. He spills his guts, and tells her all sorts of sappy, romantic stuff that he never would have said to her if she were alive.
    • Esteban thinks he'll never be able to fall in love, laugh, or pursue an illusion again. We're reassured, however, by his future self. You know, the Esteban Trueba that's narrating the story? Well, he says: "Never is a long time. I've learned that much in my long life" (1.74). So we know that he probably does learn to love, laugh, and pursue illusions again, and also that he lives a long time.
    • Esteban has a "vision of anger spreading through [him] like a malignant tumor" (1.75). Sounds unhealthy.
    • More than anger, though, what Esteban really feels is frustrated desire, because he and Rosa never got to sleep together. He was engaged to the most beautiful woman in the world, and then she dies a virgin.
    • The caretaker shows up in the morning and offers Esteban a cup of tea. Esteban pushes it away and storms out of the cemetery.
    • The narrative shifts back to third-person, but this time we get Clara's perspective on the events of Rosa's death.
    • Clara can't sleep. She's terrified that Rosa died because Clara said she would, and fears that she may be causing deaths, earthquakes, and other catastrophes by foretelling them. Could this be why she decides to stop speaking?
    • Clara wants to be near Rosa, and gets up to look for her. The whole house is dark, but she notices a light coming from the kitchen. She peeks through a window to investigate, and witnesses the freaky spectacle of Dr. Cuevas and his nerdy assistant cutting up her sister's body.
    • Clara watches as Dr. Cuevas leaves and the young assistant kisses Rosa on the face, neck, breasts, and between the legs. (Remember – Rosa is really, really beautiful. And she's only gotten more beautiful in death.) Then he dresses her in her wedding dress and orange blossom crown, and lifts her with the tenderness of a groom carrying his bride across the threshold of his house.
    • At dawn, Clara goes back to bed, feeling that "silence filled her utterly" (1.81).
    • Clara doesn't speak again for nine years. When she does, it is to announce that she is going to be married.

  • Chapter 2

    The Three Marías

    • Esteban Trueba and his sister Férula are sitting in their run-down dining room, eating greasy soup and tasteless fish just like they do every Friday. Bo-ring.
    • Their mother, Doña Ester Trueba, doesn't eat with them because she's too old and crippled by arthritis. She spends all her time alternating between a chair in the living room and her bed. All she does is read about the lives of the Saints, and the only place she ever goes is to mass once a week.
    • Esteban announces that he's not returning to the mine. Férula insists that he work at something so they can afford their mother's many medicines.
    • Férula has a major martyr complex. She's turned down two marriage proposals in order to care for her mother, and gets a twisted pleasure out of suffering.
    • Now we get some back-story on the Trueba family: Férula was the one who raised her little brother when their mother became ill and their father died, leaving the family in poverty. Férula used to dote on and adore her little brother, until the day he realized she was an "ominous shadow in his life" and he began to move away from her (2.7).
    • Here we get a flashback to when Esteban was a little boy and had just received his first wages. Esteban has saved 50 centavos to fulfill his dream of having a Viennese coffee in the Hotel Francés. He gets up the nerve to enter the hotel and order, and is served a beautiful cup of Viennese coffee. As he stirs his coffee, the glass cracks and spills its contents all over his only suit. He's majorly frustrated, and, as usual, furious. His sister's response? Férula tells Esteban that God was punishing him for spending their mother's medicine money on something frivolous. And that's why Esteban and Férula aren't friends anymore.
    • Férula is jealous of Esteban's freedom and resents him for it. She even got a kick out of telling him that Rosa died.
    • So, back to the greasy soup and the tasteless fish. Esteban tells Férula he's not going back to the mine, and that he's thinking of going to Tres Marías in the country instead.
    • Férula thinks Esteban should sell Tres Marías because it's in ruins, but Esteban thinks land is the one thing you should never sell. So we gather that Tres Marías is the name of a property that the Trueba family owns.
    • Esteban says that he hates the city, he hates his family's house, and he's leaving.
    • Férula wishes she'd been born a man so she could leave too.
    • The brother and sister really don't like each other anymore.
    • Here we get a little bit more back-story on just how miserable the childhood of the Trueba children was: their mother, a member of the elite class, had fallen in love with a good-for-nothing immigrant who squandered her entire fortune before he died. Esteban and Férula grow up really, really poor.
    • Esteban leaves for the country two days later. He and Férula are relieved to say good-bye to one another.
    • Esteban rides in the first-class cabin on the train, and vows to never be poor again.
    • Esteban arrives in San Lucas, and the place is so empty it seems like a ghost town.
    • Eventually he tracks someone down to drive him to Tres Marías in a rickety cart.
    • The hacienda (a Spanish word for plantation or estate) is in ruins. The pastures and vineyards are completely overgrown and the house is full of garbage and rubble.
    • Esteban's arrival attracts the attention of the inhabitants of the property, who come out of their poor, dirty huts to stare at him. It's been fifteen years since they've seen an owner at Tres Marías. They are clearly very poor.
    • Esteban investigates the dilapidated house. It's a complete wreck.
    • Esteban thinks about turning around and just going home, but decides that the hard work of restoring the property is just what he needs to get over Rosa's death.
    • Esteban goes out to meet the peasants. There's only one man in the group – Pedro Segundo García. Pedro Segundo tells him all the other men have left.
    • Esteban tells his tenants, "The party's over. We're going to work" (2.49). He says that anyone who stays will have plenty to eat, but will have to work hard. Anyone who doesn't want to work should leave.
    • Pedro Segundo García says they'll stay – they have nowhere to go.
    • A little boy squats on the ground to defecate, and a dog runs up to sniff him. Gross, right? Esteban is disgusted, and orders that the child be taken away, the courtyard be hosed down, and the dog be killed. We get the feeling Esteban is here to lay down the law.
    • Now the narrative switches to Esteban's voice. Esteban starts off by asserting he was a good patrón (that's Spanish for "owner"), and that no one is going to convince him otherwise. Sounds a bit defensive, huh?
    • We realize that the events Esteban is narrating occur some time in the past, because he says he "can't go along with [his] granddaughter's story about class struggle" (2.53). So we know that, fifty years from now, Esteban has a granddaughter, and that she disagrees with his ideas about how to run an estate. Esteban thinks that the peasants on his land are better off under his patriarchal leadership and authority, but his granddaughter presumably has a different opinion.
    • Esteban starts telling us what happened when he first arrived at Tres Marías.
    • Esteban spends all his money and a lot of time and hard work fixing up the estate. He hires lots of men to help out, buys livestock, fixes up the house, and orders new furniture. Tres Marías begins to prosper, and Esteban feels that he's taking good care of his tenants.
    • Esteban enjoys living in the country, but his temper grows worse and he believes that he's becoming uncivilized by living so far away from the society of his peers.
    • Back to the third-person narrative.
    • At first Esteban is totally exhausted by getting the estate fixed up, and doesn't have time to think about women. But that doesn't last long. After a few months, wet dreams are keeping him up at night. Sex is all he can think about, and he's not getting any. As you might imagine, this makes the man grumpy.
    • Esteban really wants to have sex, and he's the patrón. So what does he do? He rapes a fifteen-year-old peasant girl named Pancha García.
    • Esteban instructs the terrified and weeping Pancha to start working in the house the next day. She's a poor, defenseless peasant girl, and unfortunately doesn't have much choice but to do what he says.
    • Pancha starts working in the house, and Esteban's happy because she basically serves as his sex slave.
    • Esteban starts to take an interest in the lives of the peasants on his land, and finally realizes they're living in wretched conditions. He decides he needs to better protect his tenants and show them how to be civilized.
    • Esteban begins work on a bunch of projects to improve the property and to help his tenants, but his motives are suspect. For instance, he builds a school with the intention of teaching the peasants to read, write, and do simple arithmetic, but nothing beyond that – a greater education might fill their heads with ideas "unsuited to their station and condition" (2.70).
    • He also dreams of building a dining hall where all the children on the property could receive one hot meal per day. But does Esteban want to feed the little children out of the goodness of his heart? Or could it have something to do with the fact that he wants them to "grow up strong and healthy and be able to start work at a tender age" (2.70)?
    • Esteban builds a general store where his tenants can purchase goods with the vouchers they receive as wages.
    • Esteban buys a short-wave radio so he can follow the news of the war in Europe, which has no bearing on the lives of the peasant farmers. The only tenant to show an interest in the radio is Pedro Segundo García, the most intelligent of the peasants.
    • Pedro Segundo García fears, admires, and hates the new patrón. He's also Pancha García's brother.
    • Pancha García gets pregnant, and Esteban Trueba is repulsed. He's unable to think of her growing baby as his own child. Pancha goes back to live in her parents' house and Esteban finds a new peasant girl to fulfill his sexual needs.
    • Over the next ten years, Esteban rules Tres Marías with an iron fist. He improves the standard of living for his tenants, and the hacienda becomes very prosperous.
    • He also rapes every young girl on the property, as well as some from neighboring haciendas. No one can oppose him, because Esteban is the patrón. Esteban becomes famous for his violent anger and his cruelty. He fathers illegitimate offspring throughout the region, and the populace grows to hate him.
    • Pedro Segundo García and the local priest try to convince Esteban that he should treat his tenants with respect and dignity, but he won't listen – he thinks of himself as a father figure to the tenants, and argues that they would be living in squalor if it weren't for him. The idea of lightening their workload, paying their wages in money instead of in pink vouchers, or granting them more independence sounds to him like communism.
    • Esteban definitely doesn't think all men were created equal. The peasants are basically just a bunch of lazy, good-for-nothing children in his opinion, and he's the only one with any work ethic or brains.
    • Esteban sends money and crates of food to his mother and his sister in the capital, but he never goes to visit them.
    • The patrón has no idea how many offspring he's sired, and doesn't feel that he owes them anything. He figures when he wants to have children he'll marry a woman of his own class, because the only kids that count for anything are the ones that carry his surname.
    • Esteban doesn't care much for the women's rights movement, either, especially because suffragettes like Nívea del Valle are campaigning to grant equal rights to all children, even bastards.
    • Here we get a little more historical context. The narrator doesn't say so explicitly, but from context clues we can determine that the setting is Chile during the 1920s. The political climate is changing, thanks in part to a wave of immigrants fleeing the destruction of World War I in Europe, bringing with them "subversive ideas." The economy isn't doing very well, and it's an election year. The rich cosmopolitan elite, however, continue to party, seemingly oblivious to everyone else's hardships.
    • In the countryside, Esteban Trueba meets with other landowners to discuss strategy for the upcoming Presidential elections. They party and end up going to the Red Lantern, a brothel in town.
    • Esteban's favorite prostitute at the Red Lantern is a woman named Tránsito Soto (whose name is Spanish for "dirty traffic").
    • Tránsito has a lot of ambition, and when Esteban offers to give her a present, she asks him to lend her 50 pesos to pay her way to the capital so she can become rich and famous. Tránsito Soto promises to pay Esteban back some day, with interest.
    • Esteban and the other patrones plan a huge barbeque for their tenants in order to convince them to vote for the conservative candidate. They promise that if the conservative candidate wins, the tenants will receive a bonus, but if he loses, they will lose their jobs. The landowners also rig the ballot boxes and bribe the police. Gee, we wonder who's going to win the election.
    • Esteban congratulates himself and his countrymen on living in a place where "the Conservative Party wins cleanly and openly," without picking up on the irony of that statement (2.92).
    • Esteban has a disturbing dream about Rosa in which she appears naked with a bundle in her arms. She hurls the bundle to the ground, and he picks it up – it's a baby girl without eyes who calls him Papa.
    • Esteban receives a letter from his sister, saying that their mother is dying.
    • Esteban puts Pedro Segundo in charge of Tres Marías and travels home to see his mother one last time.

  • Chapter 3

    Clara the Clairvoyant

    • Clara stops speaking, and all of Dr. Cuevas's ministrations cannot get her to change her mind. He recommends that her parents take her to see a Rumanian magician named Rostipov, who tells them that Clara isn't speaking because she doesn't want to, not because she can't.
    • Nana takes it upon herself to try to frighten the child into speaking. She dresses up in terrifying costumes and leaps out at the girl from behind corners. This doesn't work either.
    • Because of her muteness, Clara's parents decide she should be educated at home, and they hire a string of tutors for her. Clara's brother Luis gets the cute French tutor pregnant, and Severo makes them get married.
    • Clara reads and writes all the time. She reads the books in her Uncle Marcos's trunks as well as her father's Liberal Party documents, and records her observations in notebooks from which the narrator is later able to reclaim Clara's memories.
    • Clara interprets dreams, foretells the future, and recognizes people's intentions. She communicates these things to others by writing on a little slate that she carries with her.
    • Clara's ability to move objects with the power of her mind grows stronger.
    • Barrabás accompanies Clara everywhere, except when his sexual instincts kick in and he runs off to mate with some attractive lady dog.
    • Clara is spoiled by her family, but she doesn't have any friends because people think she's weird.
    • Clara grows very close to her mother, who tells her amusing stories about weird, dead ancestors.
    • Clara's mom tells her one story about an enormous tree that used to grow in their yard. It was a tradition of the del Valle family that whenever one of the boys wanted to start wearing grown-up pants, he had to prove his manliness by climbing the tree first. One blind boy, Jerónimo, managed to climb all the way to the top of the tree, but he slipped and fell to his death. Nívea had the tree cut down when she became pregnant with her first male child, so her sons would not have to participate in the dangerous tradition.
    • Clara accompanies her mother's friends to their political demonstrations in factories, where she notices a disparity between the wealth and privilege of the suffragettes and the misery of the hard-working women to whom they are preaching.
    • On her nineteenth birthday, Clara announces that she is to be married to Rosa's fiancé.
    • The whole family is so excited to hear Clara speak that they pay no attention to what she said.
    • Two months later, Esteban Trueba shows up at the front door to ask for Clara's hand in marriage.
    • Let's back up a minute to when Esteban Trueba arrives in the capital. Remember, he just got a letter from Férula saying that his mother is dying. He goes back to his old house, and is surprised to see how run-down the neighborhood has become. His mother and sister are living in poverty, and he wonders what has happened to all the money he's been sending them.
    • Férula greets her brother and takes him to see their mother.
    • Doña Ester is not looking good. She's lost all her hair, can barely move, and worms are eating her legs. She tells Esteban not to come too close because of the smell of her rotting flesh. Gross.
    • As we know, Esteban isn't very close with his mom, but seeing her this way makes him sad.
    • Doña Ester tells Esteban she wants him to get married and to have children, so she can die in peace.
    • Two days later, Doña Ester dies. Her children are not with her – Férula is in the slums, praying for the poor, and Esteban is at the del Valle house.
    • Esteban goes to the del Valle house to see if they still have any unmarried daughters.
    • Férula and Esteban find their mother dead that evening.
    • Clara's parents tell Esteban about all of her eccentricities, which he does not see as an obstacle to "bringing healthy, legitimate children into the world." Yep. Esteban wants him a baby-making machine.
    • To his surprise, Esteban actually starts to fall for Clara. She's cute, she's charming, and he likes talking to her.
    • To her parents' dismay, Clara asks Esteban if he wants to marry her. Esteban says yes.
    • Esteban and Clara announce their engagement at a Christmas party. Spirits keep trying to warn Clara that something bad is about to happen, but she's too caught up in the glitz and glamour of the festivities to notice.
    • When Esteban slips the ring on Clara's finger, a scream rings out, and Barrabás stumbles into the room with a knife sticking out of his back. He bleeds to death in Clara's lap.
    • Esteban Trueba spends the next year building a luxurious, European-style house in the city in preparation for his marriage to Clara. Everyone refers to it as "the big house on the corner."
    • Férula worries that her brother is going to stick her in a nursing home, but Clara reassures her that she will live with them and that she and Clara will be "just like sisters." Férula dissolves into grateful tears, and she and Clara become close friends.
    • Esteban and Clara get married and go on a honeymoon to Italy. Esteban is determined to seduce his new wife, but feels that something about her spirit eludes him.
    • Esteban and Clara move into their grand new home, and Esteban shows Clara her blue bedroom with its bed that resembles a sailboat. Clara finds everything lovely, but doesn't have any strong reactions until she sees that Esteban has made a carpet out of Barrabás's hide. She screams and faints. They put Barrabás in the basement.
    • Clara becomes pregnant, and Férula looks after her with tender affection.
    • Esteban has to return to Tres Marías, but he's unhappy being so far away from his new wife.
    • In the big house on the corner, Férula is happy taking care of Clara. She gets jealous when Esteban comes home, and even spies on the husband and wife while they're having sex. She's scandalized by the freaky things Esteban makes Clara do in bed.
    • So, does Férula have a crush on Clara? The text is unclear, and Férula probably doesn't even know. What is clear is that Férula is very attached to Clara, and she resents Esteban for taking Clara away from her.
    • Clara announces that her baby is a girl, and that she will be named Blanca.
    • Dr. Cuevas delivers baby Blanca by Cesarean section. Esteban is disappointed that she's not a boy, and thinks she's kind of weird-looking, but Clara is delighted with her new daughter.
    • Clara and Esteban keep having sex and Férula is too occupied with looking after baby Blanca to spy on them anymore.

  • Chapter 4

    The Time of the Spirits

    • Clara, Blanca, and Férula travel to Tres Marías with Esteban for the first time, and they manage to bring an impressive amount of luggage. When they arrive, Blanca the toddler toddles off to play with Pedro Tercero García, the son of Pedro Segundo García. They play all day and fall asleep naked in each other's arms under the dining room table, where Clara finds them.
    • Clara's intuition helps her pick up on the tenants' resentment and fear of her husband, and makes her suspect some of the shadier activities of his past.
    • Esteban is no longer in the habit of visiting the Red Lantern or assaulting peasant girls, and the tenants attribute this to Clara.
    • Clara feels called to help the residents of her husband's plantation, and puts aside her clairvoyant activities in order to work in the sewing workshop, the general store, and the school. The pious Férula organizes nightly prayer meetings for the women, after which Clara shares her mother's feminist ideas. To Clara's dismay, the peasant women merely laugh at her radical notions.
    • When Esteban finds out about Clara's speeches at the prayer meetings, he throws a furious temper tantrum. Clara seems unperturbed by her husband's rant.
    • Férula tries to convince Clara to go back to the city. Férula hates the country, where life seems barbaric to her, and wants to go back to "civilization." She has a couple of freak-outs when a mouse gets stuck in her corset and when the mayor of the town walks in on her as she's using the bathroom. Still, Clara is happy in the countryside and doesn't want to return to the capital. Férula doesn't want to leave Clara. So they stay.
    • A plague of ants of Biblical proportions hits Tres Marías. Esteban Trueba and Pedro Segundo García use every trick in the book, but they fail to get rid of the little buggers. So Esteban hires a gringo named Mr. Brown, who promises to get rid of the ants with special products. When Pedro Segundo García hears that Mr. Brown's method will take a month, he asks the patrón if he can call in his father, who claims to have a remedy for plagues. Mr. Brown scoffs at the old man's methods, but old Pedro García succeeds in ridding Tres Marías of the plague by simply talking to the ants and showing them the way off the property.
    • Clara loses interest in her schoolhouse activities and the women's meetings. Turns out she's pregnant again.
    • Esteban takes his wife and daughter back to the city, to Férula's relief.
    • Esteban takes up the narrative again at this point.
    • On the way home from Tres Marías, Clara sinks into a silence that will last several months, and which Esteban understands to be part of her pregnancy.
    • Esteban is bored and frustrated at home in the city, but doesn't want to leave his wife.
    • Shortly before her delivery date, Clara begins speaking again to announce that she'll be delivering twin boys, and that their names will be Jaime and Nicolás. Esteban is furious and argues that at least one of the boys should be named Esteban, but Clara insists that repeating names only causes confusion in her "notebooks that bear witness to life" (4.31).
    • Esteban Trueba gets drunk and goes to the Christopher Columbus, a brothel in the city. To his surprise, he finds Tránsito Soto there. She has grown more beautiful and offers to pay Esteban Trueba back the 50 pesos he once lent her, but he prefers to have her owe him a favor. Tránsito Soto says she has a million ideas to improve business at the Christopher Columbus, and Esteban offers her money to help her start her own brothel. Tránsito turns him down, explaining that she wants to start a cooperative of sex workers.
    • Esteban and Tránsito Soto have sex, and it's not the delicate kind that he's used to with Clara. He likes it.
    • Esteban the Narrator mentions that this episode is significant because Tránsito will play an important role in his life later on. In fact, without Tránsito, Esteban says that this story could not have been written.
    • The narrative switches back to third-person here.
    • Nívea and Severo del Valle are killed in a car accident a few days before Clara is due to have her babies. Despite her husband's efforts to shelter her from the bad news, Clara sees in a dream that Nívea was beheaded in the accident.
    • Here we get some back-story on Severo and Nívea's adventures with the car, which they call Covadonga, and which has very unreliable brakes. One day, the brakes give out completely and Covadonga crashes into the back of a cart that's loaded with construction iron. Nívea is decapitated. The police are unable to find the head, so Severo and Nívea are buried without it.
    • Many people attend the funeral to pay tribute to Nívea, who is considered the first feminist in the country.
    • Esteban and Férula prevent Clara from attending the funeral, fearing it would upset her too much.
    • A few days after her parents are buried, Clara convinces Férula to help her look for her mother's head. Clara's intuition leads them to where the head is hidden. They wrap it in a shawl and hurry home, arriving just in time to get Clara into bed before she gives birth to the twins.
    • By the time the doctor and midwife arrive at the house, Jaime and Nicolas have been born and Clara is resting comfortably.
    • To avoid a scandal, Nívea's head is kept in a hatbox in the basement. They want to wait for a time when it can be given a Christian burial without attracting attention.
    • After the death of her employers, Nana comes to live in the big house on the corner. She and Férula become rivals.
    • One afternoon three women appear at the house. They turn out to be the three Mora sisters. The women strike up an intimate friendship with Clara, who they feel is their "astral sister" (4.72). Clara begins to host weekly meetings in which she, the Mora sisters, and their friends summon spirits, exchange premonitions, and experiment with other supernatural phenomena.
    • Esteban, Férula, and Nana fight amongst themselves for Clara's attention, but Clara and Blanca develop a close mother-daughter bond based on storytelling, similar to the one Nívea had with Clara.
    • The twins Jaime and Nicolás grow apart from their mother and sister, asserting their masculinity in violent and active games.
    • Esteban grows frustrated that Clara doesn't seem to need or love him as much as he needs and loves her.
    • Every once in a while he grows angry and reverts to his former habit of raping peasant women, but he knows that if he were to tell Clara about it she'd be upset by his mistreatment of the other women, and not by his infidelity to her.
    • Esteban grows increasingly jealous of Férula and her loving ministrations towards his wife. He stops going to the country so that he can keep an eye on his sister, and the atmosphere in the house on the corner becomes tense.
    • The hatred between Esteban and Férula finally comes to a head when, after a forced visit to Tres Marías, Esteban returns without telling anyone. He dines at a club and, during his dinner, an earthquake occurs. At the big house on the corner, the earthquake frightens Férula, and she crawls into bed with Clara for comfort. Esteban returns home and finds the two women sleeping in bed together. He drags Férula from the room in a rage, accuses her of seducing Clara with her "arsenal of lesbian arts," and throws her out of the house.
    • He promises to provide Férula with enough money to live decently, but vows that if she ever comes near his wife or children again, he'll kill her.
    • Before leaving, Férula curses her brother, saying: "You will always be alone! Your body and soul will shrivel up and you'll die like a dog!"
    • Esteban arranges with the local priest, Father Antonio, to deliver an envelope of money once a month to his sister.
    • Clara tries to divine Férula's location, but is unsuccessful. Father Antonio tells her that Férula doesn't want to be found.
    • The country experiences an economic crisis, but Esteban Trueba only grows richer.
    • A plague of exanthemic typhus spreads through the city. Esteban wants to take his family to the countryside to protect them from infection, but Clara insists on staying in the capital so she can tend to the poor and sick.
    • Esteban sends Jaime and Nicolás away to a British boarding school to shield them from his wife's psychic activities, which he doesn't consider to be appropriate for young men.
    • Clara and Esteban argue over the idea of justice for the poor. Esteban is OK with Clara doing charitable work in the slums, but he argues that the poor live in poverty because they don't make the effort to become rich. Clara's ideas about justice sound crazy to Esteban, and remind him of the ideas that Pedro Tercero García is spreading around Tres Marías.
    • Here the text transitions to tell the story of the time that Esteban Trueba discovers Pedro Tercero García passing out subversive pamphlets to the other tenants. As punishment, Esteban whips Pedro Tercero in front of his father.
    • Blanca and Pedro Tercero love each other. The two play together, and Blanca encourages Pedro Tercero to learn to read by tempting him with the books from her Uncle Marcos's trunk.
    • Blanca and Pedro Tercero sometimes visit old Pedro García, who is now blind. The children tell Pedro García stories from Uncle Marcos's magic books and, in turn, Pedro García teaches them useful things, like how to find water in the desert, and the curative properties of plants.
    • Pedro García's knowledge of traditional medicine cannot prevent the death of his daughter, Pancha García. Pancha dies of illness, and is buried in a special plot in recognition of the fact that she bore a son to the patrón who bears his name. She also gave Esteban a grandson, named Esteban García, who is "destined to play a terrible role in the history of the family" (4.104).
    • Parable alert! One day old Pedro García tells Blanca and Pedro Tercero a story about a group of hens that join forces to confront a fox that break into their coop every night to steal their eggs and to eat their baby chicks. The hens in the story join together to peck at the fox until he runs away. Blanca laughs at the story, but Pedro Tercero considers it carefully. The narrator speculates that "that was the night the boy began to become a man" (4.107).

  • Chapter 5

    The Lovers

    • Our little Blanca is growing up.
    • The young girl looks forward to seeing Pedro Tercero García every time her family goes to Tres Marías for the summer. This time, when Blanca arrives at the estate, Pedro Tercero doesn't run up to greet her – he turns and runs away. Blanca is hurt.
    • Blanca wakes up at dawn and realizes that it's because of the changes her fourteen-year-old body has undergone that her friend has run away. She dresses in her old clothes from the previous summer and sneaks out to the river to find Pedro Tercero. He looks just the same.
    • Soon Pedro gets over the weirdness of Blanca having curves and they're back to hanging out just like always.
    • Pedro Tercero takes Blanca to see a bay mare giving birth on the hillside. Blanca is moved, and tells Pedro Tercero that when she grows up, she wants to marry him. Pedro Tercero shakes his head, understanding that he and Blanca come from different social classes and won't be permitted to marry.
    • Pedro Tercero and Blanca still play like children, but they understand that they can't act freely in front of others anymore.
    • The two youngsters swear eternal love to each other. Aw. Then they develop a secret code so they can write to each other while Blanca is away.
    • Back in the big house on the corner, the whole Trueba family is having dinner together, including Jaime and Nicolás, who are home from school. Suddenly Férula appears in the dining room. She approaches Clara and kisses her, then leaves. Clara announces that Férula is dead. Everyone starts freaking out. They realize they've just seen a ghost.
    • Esteban and Clara get Father Antonio to take them to where Férula has been living. They find Férula dead in her bed, in a dilapidated tenement building. She's "festooned like an Austrian queen," wearing gaudy used clothing that she'd picked up at a secondhand shop: a velvet dress, yellow petticoats, and a curly opera wig (5.35).
    • Clara washes Férula's body and dresses her up "in the most eccentric and elegant rags she could find," then replaces the opera wig (5.38). As she works, she confesses to Férula how much she misses her.
    • Esteban and Clara find a cookie tin filled with the unopened envelopes of money that Esteban sent Férula over the years. Esteban angrily wonders why his sister insisted on living in poverty when she had plenty of money.
    • OK, back to the young lovers. Blanca and Pedro Tercero write each other steamy love letters in code and pine for each other. The next summer they're joyfully reunited.
    • Pedro Tercero writes songs now and plays them on his guitar. Esteban Trueba overhears him one day and asks him to sing. The boy sings about a bunch of hens who organize to defeat a fox. Esteban definitely gets the analogy but, just to be sure, Pedro Tercero asks him: "If the hens can overcome the fox, what about human beings?" Then he leaves before Esteban can start yelling.
    • Esteban tries to give Pedro Tercero extra work to interrupt his schooling, but the boy simply gets up earlier and stays up later.
    • This is the year that Esteban Trueba whips Pedro García for passing out subversive pamphlets about labor rights to the tenants.
    • Blanca doesn't run to greet Pedro Tercero when she arrives at Tres Marías this year, and Nana thinks it's because their love affair has come to an end.
    • Blanca locks her door that night and sneaks out her window to meet Pedro Tercero by the river.
    • They make love for the first time. It's true love. They keep at it every night.
    • Jaime and Nicolás run around like little monsters and have a great time on the hacienda.
    • Three years go by like this.
    • The third year, as summer vacation comes to a close, the animals start acting really strangely. Clara foretells an earthquake, and says that this time it will be different and ten thousand people will die. Of course, no one listens to her.
    • Clara has a nightmare at four in the morning. She runs to Blanca's room but finds it locked. She runs outside, sees the open window, and figures out what's going on just as the earthquake starts.
    • The earthquake is huge. Much destruction ensues.
    • Esteban Trueba makes it to the doorway of the house right when it collapses on top of him. Clara knows he's still alive, and gets the men to help her dig him out.
    • Blanca and Pedro Tercero show up at daylight, and Blanca's mom is not so happy.
    • They dig Esteban out of the rubble. He's alive, but every bone in his body is broken. Pedro Segundo García wants to take him to a doctor, but old Pedro García says that if they move Esteban he will die. Esteban trusts the old blind man and lets him set his bones. When they heal they are so perfectly set that Esteban's doctors are shocked.
    • The earthquake is accompanied by a tidal wave and an erupting volcano. Clara is right – thousands die.
    • Esteban Trueba has to spend four months in a full body cast, a situation that is not good for his temper. Clara watches after him, and Blanca gets sent back to boarding school.
    • In the capital, Nana dies of fright from the earthquake. Everyone is so busy helping with the recovery that no one in the family attends her funeral.
    • Pedro Segundo García takes charge at Tres Marías while the patrón recovers. Pedro Tercero has to help, but he does so reluctantly, arguing that his father is "breaking his back to restore the patrón's wealth while the rest of them would remain as poor as they had been before" (5.82).
    • Pedro Tercero takes advantage of Esteban's convalescence to pass out forbidden unionist literature.
    • Esteban orders the men to begin reconstruction on the main house.
    • Clara has to wait on her husband hand and foot. His injuries put him in a terrible mood, and he acts like a big jerk. Clara comes to fear him, and later despise him.
    • Clara works closely with Pedro Segundo García to restore the property, and the two become friends.
    • Tres Marías gets a telephone, by which Clara learns that Blanca is sick and that the nuns at her school don't want to be responsible for taking care of her. Clara goes to fetch Blanca. Esteban destroys the phone in a fit of rage because it won't stop ringing.
    • Clara collects Blanca from school, and recognizes that Blanca's illness is not in her body but in her soul. The two women go to visit Jaime and Nicolás at their British boarding school, and Clara thinks it's strange that her sons speak Spanish with an Oxford accent.
    • Clara and Blanca return to the big house on the corner, which has been neglected since Nana's death. Clara dismisses the remaining staff and the two women shut up the house, releasing all the birds that Clara had kept.
    • Clara weeps for Nana's death, and has Nana's body transferred to the del Valle family tomb.
    • Clara and Blanca return to Tres Marías, where they find Esteban sitting in a makeshift wheelchair.
    • Esteban has fired Pedro Tercero García for handing out subversive literature on his property. He threatens to shoot Pedro Tercero if he ever finds him prowling around Tres Marías again.
    • Clara tells her husband that he can't keep the world from changing. Esteban responds by smashing the soup tureen she's holding.
    • Blanca waits for Pedro Tercero by the river every night. He finally appears, disguised as a tramp.
    • Pedro Tercero tells Blanca about what's going on in the rest of the world, from World War II to the success of workers' movements in the United States and in Europe.
    • Blanca tells Pedro Tercero to be careful, and reminds him of the story of the Socialist leader who was murdered by nearby landowners a few years earlier.
    • Blanca avoids being sent back to school by making herself ill until she's acquired a reputation for sickliness.
    • To keep Blanca busy, old Pedro García introduces her to ceramics. Blanca begins to make crèches out of clay and invents fantastical animals, much as her Aunt Rosa had done in embroidery.
    • Pedro Tercero García acquires the status of a hero after Esteban Trueba kicks him off the property. He sneaks back to Tres Marías periodically to visit Blanca, always in disguise.
    • Pedro Segundo García is secretly proud of his son for being a fugitive instead of meekly accepting his status as just another peasant.

  • Chapter 6

    Revenge

    • This chapter starts off in Esteban Trueba's voice.
    • A year and a half after the earthquake, things are back to normal at Tres Marías.
    • Through sheer determination, Esteban has regained his ability to walk, but his infirmity has left him with a horrible temper. He realizes that Clara is now afraid of him.
    • Esteban also recognizes that he doesn't have a good relationship with his daughter, Blanca. Esteban the Narrator blames this on her love for Pedro Tercero.
    • Esteban tries to please Clara by refurnishing the house, but she remains "impervious to these things" (6.2).
    • Esteban and Clara fight over issues with the tenants. Esteban starts paying the tenants in real money instead in vouchers, to please Clara, but points out that it didn't make things better. Instead, he says the men used their paychecks to get drunk in town, and left the women and children to go hungry.
    • Esteban and Clara also disagree on the topic of the second World War. Esteban tracks the progress of the Nazi troops while Clara knits socks for Allied soldiers.
    • Clara puts a bolt on her door and refuses to let Esteban into her bed. This, of course, drives him crazy.
    • Esteban tries to woo his wife with all sorts of amorous attentions, but she continues to evade him.
    • To try to make Clara jealous, Esteban says he's going to the Red Lantern. Clara only responds that it's a lot better than raping peasant girls, which surprises Esteban because he doesn't think she knows anything about his dalliances with the tenants' daughters.
    • Esteban tries rape again, but finds he's too old to overpower the young women.
    • The narrative switches to third person here.
    • Esteban begins to think he's shrinking, but no one else notices.
    • Esteban meets the Count Jean de Satigny, a Frenchman who's looking for a partner to put up the capital for a chinchilla farm. The Count stays as a guest at Tres Marías.
    • One night the Count sees Blanca sneaking off to the river in the middle of the night. This bothers him because he feels it could interfere with his plan to get rich by marrying the main man's daughter. The next day he asks Esteban Trueba for Blanca's hand in marriage. Esteban agrees, but Blanca is furious and won't accept the Count.
    • Jaime decides to become a doctor so he can help the needy. He and Pedro Tercero form a friendship that Jaime keeps secret from his father, and the two young men meet to talk about politics and social justice.
    • Nicolás's two primary interests are seducing women and trying to cultivate the powers of his mind so he can learn to predict the future and move objects by telekinesis like his mother.
    • Old Pedro García dies, and his creepy grandson Esteban García nearly sticks a nail through his eye. Blanca arrives just in time to prevent the kid from completely mutilating his grandfather's body.
    • The Trueba family holds a funeral for Old Pedro García. Esteban Trueba spares no expense, wanting to honor the man who saved his plantation from the plague of ants and who mended his bones after the big earthquake. Count Jean de Satigny enthusiastically takes lots of photos of the dead man. Many people come from the town and neighboring haciendas to honor the old man, including two priests, who are invited to stay in the house.
    • One of the priests turns out to be Pedro Tercero García in disguise. He spreads his Socialist ideas amongst the tenant farmers during the day, and meets Blanca by the river at night.
    • The Socialist party has a new candidate who travels the countryside giving passionate speeches. The peasant farmers from Tres Marías go to listen to him, but are afraid to support him because they're worried about the retaliation of the patrón.
    • Shortly after Pedro García's funeral, Blanca begins experiencing strange symptoms that suggest she may be pregnant. Jean de Satigny notices, but that doesn't deter him in his attempts to woo her.
    • Blanca and Jean de Satigny grow to be friends, but Blanca still maintains she'll never marry him. Blanca gives Jean de Satigny a book by the Poet (most likely Pablo Neruda, a Chilean poet who won the Nobel Prize in 1971), and the Count says it's the best poetry ever written.
    • Jean de Satigny spies on Blanca and is aware of her late-night trips to the river.
    • The Count tries to convince Esteban Trueba to invest in his chinchilla scheme by setting up a mini-farm with a handful of rodents as a test. The chinchillas die of a mysterious disease, so Esteban really loses interest.
    • His chinchilla plan having failed, Jean de Satigny grows increasingly desperate to marry the heiress of Esteban's estate. The Count decides to follow Blanca one night when she goes to see Pedro Tercero by the river, and catches the two lovers sleeping naked together. The Count wakes Esteban Trueba to tell him about Blanca's love affair.
    • Esteban Trueba is really mad. So he gets on his horse, finds Blanca, and beats her with a horse whip until she's practically comatose. Then he picks her up, puts her on the horse, and carries her home.
    • Clara cleans Blanca and rocks her to sleep.
    • Esteban yells at Clara for raising their daughter without morals.
    • Clara points out that Pedro Tercero García hasn't done anything that Esteban hasn't done himself. Both men have slept with women of a different social class. The only difference is that Pedro Tercero García did it for love.
    • Esteban responds by hitting Clara in the face and knocking out her front teeth.
    • Esteban tries to apologize to Clara but she pushes him away and seeks comfort from Pedro Segundo García. Clara never speaks to Esteban again, and stops wearing her wedding ring.
    • Two days later, Clara and Blanca return to the city. Pedro Segundo García drives them and the two have a tearful farewell.
    • Pedro Segundo García packs up and leaves Tres Marías, explaining to Esteban that he doesn't want to be around when the patrón finds his son.
    • The narrative switches to first-person, and we hear Esteban Trueba tell his side of the story.
    • Esteban thinks of all the people in his life that he's lost, and feels very alone.
    • Esteban blames Pedro Tercero García for his fight with Blanca and Clara. He becomes obsessed with catching and punishing Pedro Tercero. Esteban offers a reward for anyone who will tell him where the boy's hiding.
    • Esteban has a dream that he's beating Rosa the way he beat Clara.
    • One day Esteban García, the creepy kid who tried to stick a nail in Pedro García's eye, approaches Esteban Trueba and tells him he knows where Pedro Tercero is hiding. We know that Esteban García is Esteban Trueba's illegitimate grandson, but the patrón doesn't know this.
    • Esteban Trueba promises to give Esteban García a reward if he'll take him to Pedro Tercero. Esteban Trueba grabs his rifle and Esteban García takes him to the old German mill, where Pedro Tercero has been hiding.
    • Pedro Tercero García is asleep when Esteban Trueba finds him. Esteban Trueba sneaks up on him and nearly blows his head off with the rifle, but Pedro Tercero wakes up just in time to dodge the bullet. Pedro Tercero knocks the gun out of Esteban's hands, and the two men have a face-off.
    • Esteban Trueba grabs an axe that's lying nearby and attacks Pedro Tercero. He succeeds in chopping off three fingers from Pedro Tercero's right hand. Pedro Tercero escapes, leaving a trail of blood.
    • Esteban Trueba actually feels relieved that he didn't manage to kill Pedro Tercero. But it still takes Esteban a while to calm down.
    • Esteban García picks up the severed fingers and offers them to Esteban Trueba, like a "bouquet of bloody asparagus" (6.88). Sick. Esteban Trueba is grossed out.
    • The two Estebans return to Tres Marías. Esteban García asks Esteban Trueba for a reward, and Esteban Trueba slaps the kid, saying there's no reward for traitors. He forbids Esteban García from telling anyone what happened.
    • The chapter closes with both Estebans weeping with rage.

  • Chapter 7

    The Brothers

    • This chapter opens in third-person narrative.
    • Clara and Blanca arrive at the big house on the corner. Clara decides that they need to stop feeling sorry for themselves, and the women get to work opening up the house. The three Mora sisters come to visit and comfort the mother and daughter in their misfortune.
    • Clara buys a denture to replace her missing teeth, but she only wears it when she eats and when she attends social gatherings. Otherwise it hangs on a cord around her neck.
    • Within a few days, Clara's spiritualist friends start to show up. The house is full of people, including Jaime and Nicolás.
    • Jaime has begun university, while Nicolás is searching for his destiny.
    • The brothers share a car, which they name Covadonga after the car that killed their grandparents.
    • Blanca is gaining weight, and Jaime tells his mother he thinks Blanca is pregnant. Blanca confirms their suspicions.
    • The family gets Esteban Trueba to call them so they can tell him about Blanca's pregnancy. Esteban gets mad and smashes the phone again.
    • Esteban Trueba tracks down Count Jean de Satigny, drags him to the train station, and forces him to accompany him to the capital so the Count can marry Blanca.
    • Esteban Trueba plans a huge, elaborate wedding to cover up the scandal of Blanca's pregnancy.
    • At first Blanca refuses to go along with her father's plans, but he tells her that Pedro Tercero is dead, so she might as well get married. Blanca gives in.
    • Blanca and Jean de Satigny are married. Instead of going to the party, Clara uses her clairvoyant powers to read the future of the newlyweds. Her dire predictions will all come true.
    • Esteban persuades Clara to make a brief appearance at the party, which she does out of love for her daughter.
    • Jaime arrives late to the wedding celebration because he's been working at the clinic for the poor where he is training as a medical student.
    • Nicolás shows up to the party with the beautiful Amanda. He gets drunk and jumps in a fountain.
    • Blanca cries through the entire party.
    • Meanwhile, downtown, the Socialists are preparing for the upcoming elections. Jaime thinks they're going to win this time, but Clara knows with psychic certainty that they won't.
    • Esteban gives Jean de Satigny a check as a wedding present. He's made arrangements for the newlyweds to move to the North where Blanca can give birth to her baby without a scandal.
    • Clara tells Blanca that Pedro Tercero García is alive – she dreamt it – and Blanca finally stops crying. She doesn't weep again until the day Clara dies, seven years later.
    • Clara gets depressed with Blanca gone. She tries to communicate with her daughter telepathically but it doesn't work, so mother and daughter write each other letters almost daily.
    • Jaime and Nicolás grow apart.
    • Nicolás starts a business teaching flamenco on the dining room table of his family's house, until his father finds out and puts a stop to it.
    • Nicolás desperately wants to imitate his mother's psychic talents. When he fails, Clara consoles him by telling him, "You can't learn these things or inherit them" (6.50).
    • Esteban doesn't care for Nicolás's friend Amanda, who works as a newspaper reporter and smokes a lot of hashish with Nicolás.
    • Jaime is in the habit of giving all his money and most of his clothes to the poor people he helps care for at the hospital. He also brings home stray dogs, abandoned children, unwed mothers, and other people in need of help so that his mother can take care of them. Soon Clara and Jaime are helping an entire network of people.
    • When Jaime's not working at the hospital, he's in his room reading. During an earthquake, Jaime's bookshelves collapse on top of him, and he gets buried under an avalanche of books.
    • Jaime has a big crush on Nicolás's girlfriend, Amanda, but he's way too shy to do anything about it.
    • Amanda's five-year-old brother Miguel accompanies her constantly. Because he calls Clara Mama and Jaime Papa, everyone assumes he and Amanda are orphans. Clara convinces Amanda to put Miguel in school, though it's traumatic for him and Amanda to be separated for even a few hours. When Miguel gets out of school, Amanda is so relieved she exclaims, "I'd give my life for you, Miguel" (6.57). (Foreshadowing alert!)
    • Esteban Trueba decides to go into politics. He campaigns to be a Senator for the Conservative Party.
    • Clara has to add new rooms to the house to accommodate all the guests, which now include members of her husband's campaign team. The house "soon [comes] to resemble a labyrinth" (6.59).
    • Esteban gets nervous as the election draws near, and one night he asks Clara if he can sit with her in her room. They sit together and share a plate of crackers, but Clara never speaks. Esteban asks Clara if she thinks he is going to win, and she nods her head. Esteban is immediately relieved.
    • Clara and Esteban get along better after that, though Clara still doesn't speak to her husband.
    • Ten days later, Esteban is elected Senator. Political power is great and all, but he's still lonely. He doesn't get along with his sons, never hears from Blanca, and can't talk with his wife.
    • Jaime never tells his father that he meets with Pedro Tercero frequently to talk politics.
    • Here we get a brief flashback to what's been going on with Pedro Tercero. After Esteban chops off his fingers, he goes to stay with Father Dulce María, who treats his hand. Pedro Tercero is depressed because he lost his girlfriend and can't even play the guitar anymore, but Father Dulce María takes him to see an old blind woman who makes baskets with her feet and tells him to stop sulking and to learn to play the guitar without all of his fingers. He also tells Pedro Tercero that he'll see Blanca again, when he least expects it. Pedro Tercero feels better.
    • Pedro Tercero moves to the capital and lives in a wooden shack. He plays folk songs in a café, preaches Socialism, and starts to write new music. Soon he gets invited to play on the radio, and he starts to become famous.
    • Jaime tells his dad that he wants to change his last name. Ever since Esteban Trueba became a Senator for the Conservative Party his friends at school have been giving him a hard time, and his patients at the hospital don't trust him. Esteban is really angry because the whole reason he wanted to have kids was to have someone carry on his name. Two weeks later the rumor circulates around Congress that Jaime took off his pants in the street to give them to a beggar and walked home in his underwear. Esteban tells Jaime he can go ahead and change his last name.
    • Nicolás wants to try to fly over the cordillera (mountain range) just like his Uncle Marcos did. He plans to get a soda company to sponsor his adventure by placing their advertisement on the side of a huge balloon. When the soda company backs out, Nicolás decides to take his balloon over the mountains anyway. Clara has a hunch the balloon won't take off, and she's right – at the last minute Esteban Trueba intervenes to put a stop to his son's crazy plan.
    • In order to not waste the materials he bought to construct the balloon, Nicolás decides to make chicken sandwiches, wrap them in pieces of the balloon's skin, and sell them to office workers. His chicken-sandwich production drives everyone in the house crazy, however, and he has to abandon that scheme, too.
    • Amanda has stopped coming by the house, and Nicolás goes to look for her. She's pregnant with his child and, to Nicolás's relief, says she wants an abortion.
    • Nicolás begs Jaime to help Amanda by giving her an illegal abortion. Jaime doesn't want to do it, because he's in love with Amanda. He's also nervous because he's still a med student, and he doesn't want Amanda to die during the operation because he doesn't know what he's doing. Eventually Jaime gives in.
    • Jaime agrees to do the abortion in the poor, shabby clinic where he's training as a doctor.
    • Nicolás can't stomach the operation and starts throwing up. Jaime does all the hard work and then takes care of Amanda while she's waking up from the anesthesia. Amanda asks Jaime to hold her and they cuddle all night.
    • Nicolás and Jaime take Amanda to Clara's house, where the group looks after her for a few days. Miguel, of course, comes to stay too.
    • Esteban Trueba goes on a trip to the United States to see if the North American doctors can identify the cause of his mysterious shrinking. The doctors tell him he must be imagining it.

  • Chapter 8

    The Count

    • Blanca and Clara write each other tons of letters while Blanca is living in the North with her new husband, the Count Jean de Satigny.
    • When she reads Blanca's first letter, Clara can tell that Blanca won't be gone for long. She sets up a bedroom for her daughter and puts a cradle in it.
    • Blanca is still in love with Pedro Tercero, and knows she'll never consummate her marriage to Jean de Satigny.
    • Jean has no intentions of having sex with Blanca, either. He explains to her that he's not interested in married life, and that they can live together without being intimate. Blanca is relieved. Jean acts like a brother to her.
    • The next day, Jean goes clothes shopping with the cash that Esteban Trueba gave them as a wedding present. Blanca gets bored waiting for him and takes a cab to her parents' house. Esteban is furious and says that people are going to think her husband sent her home because she wasn't a virgin on her wedding night. Blanca reminds him that she wasn't a virgin on her wedding night.
    • Jean and Blanca take an English ocean liner to the farthest northern province in the country, and Jean finds an ancient mansion to rent. His decorating style seems a little exotic to Blanca.
    • Jean hires several Indians to take care of the house, and dresses them up in gaudy uniforms. Blanca thinks they look "like costumes from an operetta" (8.16).
    • Blanca is uncomfortable in the mansion, and thinks that the servants dislike her.
    • One day Blanca notices that one of the servants has his feet stuck in a pair of antique shoes with twisted high heels and velvet laces. Clara responds in a letter that Blanca must be seeing things.
    • On another occasion, Blanca finds a small, dead lizard on her dinner plate, and suspects that the cook put it there intentionally, and with her husband's knowledge.
    • Jean designates a section of the house as his private photo lab, and asks Blanca never to enter without permission. He locks the door and carries the key with him everywhere he goes.
    • Blanca spends most of her time knitting and preparing for the baby's arrival.
    • Jean socializes, gambles at the local casino, buys antiques, and spends money on expensive imported liqueurs. He and Blanca only argue when she tries to look into their finances. So Blanca gives up and lets Jean spend their money however he sees fit.
    • Blanca feels pretty apathetic about everything. She lies around the house a lot, and doesn't do much. At one point she does try making her clay crèches again, but decides she can't compete with the beautiful Indian pottery of the region, so she gives it up.
    • Jean develops an illegal business that involves trafficking Incan relics. He organizes teams of Indians to dig up antiquities and smuggles them out of the country.
    • Every once in a while Jean's team of diggers unearth a mummy. The mummies remain in the house for weeks at a time until arrangements can be made to smuggle them abroad. Blanca is afraid of the mummies, and has dreams and hallucinations that they're walking around the house.
    • Blanca decides to spy on the mummies, and becomes convinced that she can hear them scurrying down the halls towards Jean de Satigny's secret photo labs.
    • Blanca tells Jean about the noises of the mummies, and he freezes. He attempts to convince her that she's just imagining things, but his overreaction makes Blanca suspicious.
    • That night Blanca decides to follow the mummies. She sees a tiny, crouched figure moving down the hall at midnight and follows it to Jean de Satigny's secret rooms. When she presses her ear to the door, she hears mysterious moans and becomes convinced that "something atrocious [is] going on in her husband's secret den" (8.29).
    • The next day Blanca waits for her husband to leave for his morning walk. She then sends the servants out on an errand and sneaks into Jean's photo lab, using a big knife to pry open the door.
    • The room is filled not only with photography equipment, but also with trunks full of costumes, a trapeze, a stuffed llama, and other exotic-looking objects. The walls are covered in erotic photographs of the household servants.
    • Blanca is "overcome with horror," and decides she has to flee the house before her baby can be born in that sordid environment (8.36). She packs a bag and waits for a train to take her to her parents' house.

  • Chapter 9

    Little Alba

    • 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).

  • Chapter 10

    The Epoch of Decline

    • This chapter starts off with Esteban Trueba narrating in the first-person.
    • Esteban says that when Clara dies, he's overwhelmed by grief.
    • The night Clara dies, Esteban locks himself in her room with her. He lies in bed with her and tells her all the things he's been holding back since he knocked Clara's teeth out and she stopped speaking to him. He takes off her nightgown and stares at her naked. He thinks she looks taller, but realizes it must be because he's shrinking. He finally feels reconciled with his wife.
    • At daybreak, Esteban Trueba dresses up his wife. He can't find her jewels (which she has given to Blanca), so he takes off the ring he's worn since their engagement and puts it on her finger. Then he lets the family in to say good-bye to her.
    • Esteban thinks he's shrunk four inches and that his hair has turned completely white overnight from grief.
    • Esteban tells his family they might as well bury Nívea's head when they bury Clara. Jaime and Nicolás sneak their grandmother's head into the coffin when no one is looking, to avoid a scandal.
    • Esteban is surprised by the huge number of people who attend Clara's funeral – the poor people, students, and artists who she's helped throughout the years, almost all of the tenants of Tres Marías, and her spiritualist friends are all in attendance. Pedro Segundo García comes to say good-bye to Clara, but he ignores Esteban Trueba.
    • Alba goes to the funeral, and when it's over she locks herself in the basement and waits for Clara's spirit to communicate with her. Esteban finds her there, smiling in her sleep.
    • Esteban can't sleep that night, thinking of the two loves of his life that he has lost – Rosa and Clara. He decides to design a huge, elaborate mausoleum so that he can be buried with both of them.
    • Esteban says that he wants to die as soon as possible, because his life has lost all meaning without Clara.
    • Flash forward. Narrator Esteban tells us that twenty years have gone by, and that Clara is with him again as a spirit. He says Clara is closer to him now than she ever was before.
    • The narrative switches to third-person here.
    • Alba is the first to notice that the big house on the corner is falling into a decline after Clara's death. The guests and the spirits depart, and the house seems more gloomy. Alba stops cutting flowers to put in all the vases.
    • Esteban Trueba seems to have aged overnight and turned into an old man. He dresses in mourning every day and wears Clara's false teeth on a chain around his neck.
    • Without Clara, the remaining members of the Trueba household feel like they have nothing to say to one another. Esteban realizes that Alba is the only reason he ever comes home.
    • Over the next few years the house turns into a ruin. Only Clara's blue bedroom remains intact.
    • Foreshadowing alert! Many years from now, the narrator says she'll sit in the empty house and "the silence of the dead and disappeared" and use Clara's notebooks to write this story.
    • Jaime works tirelessly at his job in the clinic. Esteban Trueba gives him a hard time about it, arguing that, "Charity, like Socialism, is an invention of the weak to exploit the strong" (10.15). Jaime argues that he doesn't believe in Esteban's theory of the weak and the strong, and that the world won't always be this way.
    • Nicolás acquires a group of disciples and leads them in spiritual exercises in the back rooms of the big house on the corner. When Esteban Trueba finds out, he kicks them out of the house. So Nicolás starts charging for his classes so that he can rent a house and start the Institute for Union with Nothingness.
    • Pictures of the disciples of the I.U.N. start showing up in the newspaper. Their shaved heads and loincloths attract attention, and when Senator Trueba's opponents find out that the I.U.N. leader is the Senator's son, they use the information as a political weapon against him. When Esteban comes home to find Alba with a shaved head, he has a temper tantrum, and hires a couple of thugs to go tear up his son's institute.
    • Esteban tells Nicolás that he doesn't want to see him again until after Alba's hair has grown back.
    • The next day, Nicolás and his followers march to Congress, bearing signs that demand religious freedom and respect for civil rights. In front of the Congress building, Nicolás takes off all his clothes and lies down naked in the middle of the road. The senators all come out to point and laugh. Esteban Trueba runs down the steps with the intention of trying to kill his son, but he's prevented by a sudden heart attack. Nicolás is taken away in a police car and Esteban Trueba in an ambulance.
    • Esteban spends three weeks in bed.
    • As soon as Esteban is up and about, he sends Nicolás overseas and tells him to never come back. He gives him plenty of money to settle down.
    • Nicolás winds up establishing a very successful spiritual academy in North America and living happily ever after.
    • Esteban waits for Alba's hair to grow back, and then enrolls her in a British school for young ladies.
    • Alba finds the British school incredibly boring, and the only useful thing she learns there is how to use a typewriter.
    • The headmistress tells Esteban Trueba she doesn't think Alba is cut out for a British education, but he insists that Alba stay because he wants her to learn English. In Esteban's opinion, English is superior to Spanish because it's the language of science and technology. He considers Alba too plain-looking to catch a rich husband, and hopes she'll go into one of these fields and make her living like a man instead.
    • Blanca supports Esteban in his decision to keep Alba in the British school, because she doesn't want Alba to wind up poor and without an education like she did.
    • Blanca is the only one in the family who tries to keep order in the house, but she's fighting a losing battle.
    • Esteban Trueba stops inviting his political cronies over, and only uses his bedroom and the library. He keeps himself busy outside of the house, because his family no longer interests him. Though he gives Blanca money to pay for household expenses, it's never enough, and she has to borrow money from Jaime or sell one of Clara's jewels to make ends meet.
    • Blanca and Alba have to wear worn-out clothes and hand-me-downs.
    • Alba starts to have nightmares that everyone in her family is dying and leaving her all alone. Jaime suggests she start to sleep in Blanca's room to soothe her nerves. Alba begins to look forward to bedtime every night.
    • Mother and daughter develop their own nightly ritual, in which Blanca tells Alba stories from Uncle Marcos's magic trunk of books. Blanca can never remember the same story twice, so Alba starts to write them down. Alba takes up the practice of recording important events, just as Clara used to do in the notebooks that bore witness to life.
    • Here the narrative switches to Esteban's perspective again.
    • Work on Esteban's ostentatious mausoleum takes almost two years because he keeps changing his mind about the details. When he finally gets it right, the del Valle family refuses to let him move Rosa's body to the new tomb. He tries bribing them and using his political power to pressure them, but no dice. So Esteban tells Jaime he's going to steal the body, and he wants his son's help.
    • Jaime and Esteban bribe the cemetery guard and sneak into the graveyard to dig up Rosa's body. When they have the coffin above ground, Esteban insists they open it so he can look upon Rosa one more time.
    • Rosa's body remains perfectly preserved. Esteban leans down to kiss Rosa through the glass covering her face. As he does, a breeze slips through a crack in the coffin, and Rosa disintegrates into dust. When Esteban lifts his head and opens his eyes, Rosa is no more than a skull and moldy pile of skin and hair.
    • Jaime and the cemetery guard close the coffin and move Rosa to the place beside Clara in the new tomb.
    • Esteban sits down on a grave and thinks that his sister Férula was right – he's been left all alone, his body and soul are shriveling up, and all that's left for him is to die like a dog.
    • The text switches back to the third-person narrator.
    • Senator Trueba becomes obsessed with stopping the leftist political parties from gaining power. He considers all political parties but his own to be part of the "Marxist cancer" (10.38). He campaigns tirelessly and is re-elected in the parliamentary elections.
    • The Senator makes dire predictions about the Marxists taking over, and warns members of his party that "the day we can't get our hands on the ballot boxes before the vote is counted we're done for" (10.41). No one believes him. They say it would take a revolution to put the Marxists in power, and that revolutions don't happen in their country. "Until it happens!" Esteban warns.
    • Esteban's strong opinions and furious crusading eventually make him a widely recognized public figure and a "caricature of the picturesque, reactionary oligarch." Even though he's "fanatical, violent, and old-fashioned," he's also the politician who best represents family values and tradition (10.48). He wins elections by a landslide every time.
    • Esteban Trueba is the first to call the left the "enemy of democracy," never suspecting that (foreshadowing alert!) this will become the slogan of the military dictatorship.
    • Esteban's fortune starts to dwindle after Clara's death, but he's not concerned. He doesn't think his three children deserve to inherit anything from him, and he plans on leaving Tres Marías to Alba.
    • Tres Marías isn't doing very well, though, and Esteban has to invest more and more money just to keep the property afloat.
    • The foreman at Tres Marías warns Esteban that the peasants are growing restless and that the best thing for him to do would be to sell the property. Esteban refuses, echoing his old argument that "land is all you have left when everything else falls apart" (10.53).
    • Pedro Tercero García enjoys popularity and success as a folk musician, and can be heard singing about revolution on the radio. He has become an anarchist.
    • Esteban Trueba doesn't suspect that Pedro Tercero is Jaime's best friend, that he spends every weekend with Blanca, or that he takes Alba out on picnics and talks to her about poverty and oppression.
    • Blanca won't let Pedro Tercero García tell Alba that he's really her dad. But he's still proud of his daughter, and admires her "free spirit and rebellious nature" (10.55).
    • Pedro Tercero has affairs with lots of other women, but he always comes back to Blanca.
    • Blanca never gets involved with anyone else – for her there's only Pedro Tercero. But she won't marry him because she's used to life in the big house, and because she prefers the excitement of their passionate hotel rendezvous to the tedium of living together.
    • Blanca is horrified by Pedro Tercero's way of life in a working class neighborhood, so he gets an apartment downtown and unintentionally "[ascends] to the middle class to which he had never aspired" (10.58).
    • Alba suspects something fishy happened between her grandfather and Pedro Tercero García, but no one will tell her what it is.
    • Blanca has told Alba the lie that her father is Jean de Satigny and that he died in the desert so many times that she's come to believe it herself. When Jean really dies and they comes back from identifying him at the morgue, Blanca doesn't feel relieved or try to justify her lie. She and Alba bury him in the municipal grave. Even when Alba remarks that her father didn't have a single friend, Blanca doesn't tell her the truth about her paternity.
    • The narrative switches back to Esteban's perspective one last time in this chapter.
    • Esteban feels better after he transfers Rosa's body to his new mausoleum, because he knows that one day he, Clara, and Rosa will be reunited in the grave.
    • Esteban keeps Clara's room locked so that everything will stay exactly as it was when she was alive.
    • He begins to suffer from insomnia, and spends all night wandering the house.
    • Esteban eats breakfast with his granddaughter and discusses the newspaper, and then spends the rest of the day out of the house so he can avoid his family.
    • Esteban Trueba only has two friends. (Wait a second – Esteban Trueba has friends?) They drag him out to the Christopher Columbus to try to cheer him up.
    • The Christopher Columbus has become well-known and popular in recent years. When the three old men enter, they are greeted by a young girl in a schoolgirl costume who offers them a glass of wine on the house. A huge black man dressed in an Arabian outfit introduces himself as Mustafa and offers them a catalogue of prostitutes who are wearing different costumes. Esteban's two friends make their selections, but Esteban is uninterested in the options presented to him in the catalogue.
    • Mustafa offers to introduce Esteban to Aphrodite, and Tránsito Soto appears from behind a curtain wearing tulle and dripping with artificial grapes.
    • When Tránsito Soto takes off her costume, Esteban finds her more attractive than ever. He's impressed by the changes she's made to the Christopher Columbus and by her ever-present ambition. She explains that she's started a cooperative of sex workers and that the business has become very successful. No one feels exploited, and everyone is a partner.
    • Esteban feels tired and old, and doesn't think he'll be able to perform with Tránsito, if you know what we mean.
    • Tránsito has quite a way about her, though, and she manages to cheer Esteban up and show him a good time.
    • Afterwards, Esteban bursts into tears thinking about Clara. Tránsito consoles him and puts him to bed.

  • Chapter 11

    The Awakening

    • Alba reaches the age of eighteen and leaves childhood behind. She's in love. She paints a heart in the last empty space of her bedroom mural and throws away her paints and brushes.
    • Alba finishes school at the icky British academy and starts studying philosophy and music at the university, to her grandfather's chagrin. Esteban thinks his granddaughter should study something practical.
    • Esteban also feels that Alba should avoid falling in love and getting married, arguing that women can only lose by marrying.
    • Alba can't help herself – one day at the university she sets eyes on a guy named Miguel, and it's love at first sight.
    • Miguel is a leftist leader, so Alba doesn't tell him that she's Esteban Trueba's granddaughter. Instead she uses her legal last name, Satigny, and brags about being friends with Pedro Tercero García and the Poet.
    • Miguel talks about politics and revolution all the time. Alba's not really into politics, but she goes with him to meetings and demonstrations out of love for him.
    • Alba joins Miguel and a group of student activists in seizing control of a building in support of a workers' strike. The students barricade themselves in and stand off with the police.
    • Miguel takes charge and becomes the leader of the occupation, along with Professor Sebastián Gómez. He helps the students deal with the fact that the police shut off their electricity and water, and even improvises a little kitchen that makes cookies. For a little while it's like a camping trip, complete with singalongs and outdoor toilets.
    • Alba calls home to let her family know she's staying with her comrades until "victory or death" (11.10). Yes, it's cheesy. She realizes that.
    • Esteban orders his granddaughter to come home immediately and to stop hanging out with a bunch of Communists. When Alba refuses, Esteban changes his tactic and pleads with her to leave before the police storm the building with clubs.
    • Alba notices that the building is surrounded by tanks and men in combat gear, and realizes her grandfather's telling the truth. She starts to freak out.
    • Sebastián Gómez is optimistic that the students will triumph, the government will fall, and that the police won't dare to break into the building. Miguel is not so sure.
    • Alba starts to have stomach pains, and the students grow tired and irritable.
    • Sebastián Gómez never complains, even though he's twice the age of the students and has to move around on crutches because of his crippled legs. He's passionately dedicated to the leftist political movement, and Alba thinks that's kind of hot.
    • Professor Gómez gives Alba the nickname "the countess" because, on the first day of school, Esteban Trueba has his chauffer drop her off. Sebastián has no idea that Alba really is a countess.
    • Alba's abdominal pains start to get worse, and then she gets her period. She's embarrassed and curls up in the corner. After a few hours she's bleeding way more than she usually does.
    • One of the students, Ana Díaz, remarks that only rich women complain of menstrual cramps, and that she doesn't feel sorry for Alba. But then she notices that Alba is bleeding a lot and needs medical attention, so she goes to talk to Sebastián Gómez.
    • Sebastián tells Alba that she's in the way and needs to go home. Miguel goes out with a white flag to parley with the police.
    • Alba can barely walk, so Miguel and Ana Díaz help her leave the building. They are met by a policeman who aims a pistol at her face – it's Esteban García.
    • Esteban recognizes Alba and identifies her as Senator Trueba's granddaughter to Miguel and Ana Díaz. Miguel feels betrayed. He leaves Alba with the policeman and takes off without saying good-bye.
    • Alba orders Esteban García to take her home, using her bossy voice. García is tempted to let her rot in jail, but he knows he could get in trouble for that, so he has two police officers take her home instead.
    • When Blanca sees her daughter covered in blood, she thinks Esteban Trueba was right and that the police have attacked the students with clubs. She starts screaming.
    • Jaime examines Alba and reassures Blanca that she'll be fine after a couple of injections and some bed rest.
    • The student strike is peacefully terminated.
    • Alba spends two days in bed and has time to think about Esteban García. She barely remembers the incident in the library when she was six. The last time she had met him was on her fourteenth birthday.
    • Flashback to Alba's fourteenth birthday. Alba notices that her grandfather is meeting with a policeman in the library. She's outside, waiting for her Uncle Jaime to pick her up and take her to buy a birthday present. She waits for him in a gazebo in the garden. On his way to the front gate, Esteban García sees Alba and asks her if she remembers him. She doesn't. He sits down next to her on the bench and grabs her shoulder. Alba tries to struggle free, but he holds on to her. García tells Alba that she looks like a woman now, and Alba says it's her fourteenth birthday. He says that he has a present for her. He grabs her face in both hands and forces her to kiss him. He starts to strangle her, but she finally manages to push him away.
    • Esteban García asks Alba if she liked his present and laughs. He leaves, and Alba weeps.
    • When Jaime arrives to pick up Alba, she tells him she wants to become a nun.
    • Alba never tells anyone about the kiss. She has nightmares afterwards in which Esteban García is a slimy green monster that tries to asphyxiate her by shoving his tentacles down her throat.
    • Lying in bed after the student demonstration, Alba still feels that Esteban García is a threatening presence in her life. Foreshadowing alert! The narrator says her vision of García as a beast waiting to leap out at her from the shadows is a premonition. Uh oh.
    • Miguel gets over Alba being the granddaughter of his ideological enemy and they start going out again. After a while they want to do more than just kiss, so they start meeting in Miguel's boardinghouse. The landlords disapprove, and make Alba feel uncomfortable.
    • Sometimes Alba and Miguel borrow a motorcycle and drive to the beach or to the woods to make love. But Alba finally discovers that the safest place is her own house, where she and Miguel can hang out in the rear rooms of the house without anyone discovering them.
    • The first time Alba takes Miguel to the big house on the corner, he experiences déjà vu. But he doesn't recognize the dilapidated mansion as the bustling and well-kept home he visited in his childhood.
    • Alba and Miguel try out all the rooms, and eventually decide that the basement is their favorite. They build a love nest out of all the old junk that Alba used to play with as a girl, and spend all of their free time frolicking and having passionate sex.
    • Their constant love-making distracts Alba from her cello lessons and Miguel from his political meetings and dissertation.
    • Miguel makes Alba feel beautiful for the first time in her life. Aw.
    • After a year of wild passion, Alba and Miguel finally start to get serious about their lives again. Alba starts to pay attention in class, and Miguel resumes his political activities. He rents an apartment and they make love there because spending so much time in the basement has given them both bronchitis.
    • Alba offers to move in with Miguel, but he won't let her because he says bad political times are coming, and it's too dangerous. Alba promises to follow Miguel anywhere, but he says she can't get involved in his political activities for love – she has to do it for her own political conviction, and she doesn't have that.
    • Senator Trueba is old enough to retire, but he's as fired up as ever about his job. To give some historical context, the narrator tells us Trueba has lived to see a man walk on the moon, so we know it's probably some time shortly after Neil Armstrong's moon landing of July 20, 1969.
    • Trueba is nervous because he senses a revolution brewing in his country.
    • Jaime learns to not talk about politics in order to avoid arguing with his father. The only time he opens up is when Alba comes to visit him in his bedroom full of books. They talk about lots of things, including politics, and Jaime gives Alba a hard time for falling in love with a "café terrorist" (11.64).
    • Jaime makes fun of Alba's political ideas – he thinks the idea of armed revolution is way too extreme, and that it's better if change is accomplished through democratic means. Alba thinks the conservatives will never let the Socialists win an election, and tells Jaime not to be naïve. The two argue, but always end their discussions on good terms.
    • Jaime announces at dinner that the Socialists are going to win this time. Esteban disagrees, but the narrator tells us that Jaime knows what he's talking about.
    • Jaime's inside source is the Candidate, the man who has been running for President as a Socialist for the past eighteen years.
    • (Historical context note: in Chile in 1970, the Socialist candidate for President was a man named Salvador Allende. And, yes, in case you were wondering, he and Isabel Allende are related. He's the author's first cousin, once removed. In other words, he's her dad's cousin. Salvador's history and the story that we're about to hear about the Candidate are way too similar for it to be a coincidence. We'll point out more of the parallels as the story continues.)
    • Jaime and the Candidate become friends when Jaime makes an emergency house call one night. The Candidate opens the door, and ushers him into the maid's room to assist a woman who's having an allergic reaction to fish.
    • Jaime recognizes the Candidate from the days when he campaigned in the countryside around Tres Marías. He introduces himself to the Candidate using his mother's last name, del Valle, and never finds out when the Candidate learns that he's the son of his most formidable political enemy, Senator Trueba.
    • The Candidate tells Jaime that he's going to win this time, but cautions him not to tell anyone so that the conservatives will go into the elections sure of victory. Jaime responds that, even if they tell everyone, no one will believe it, and proves this point by telling his father.
    • Jaime has been trying to avoid politics altogether, and works really long hours at the hospital. He's frightened by the violent turn the campaign has taken. One day Jaime wakes up to find the big house on the corner filled with political posters showing a woman trying to rescue her son from the arms of a scary Communist soldier. It's part of a "terror campaign" organized by his dad's party and "foreign experts" who don't want the Leftist coalition to win the election.
    • (Historical context note: During the Chilean presidential campaign of 1970, "foreign experts" from the U.S. gave support to the Conservative party to try to prevent a Socialist victory. In the interest of fighting the spread of Communism during the Cold War, U.S. President Nixon authorized the CIA to finance the campaigns of Salvador Allende's political opponents.)
    • Jaime can't handle his dad's politics, and moves out of the house.
    • In the months leading up to the election, the city is alive with political demonstrations and with confrontations that sometimes turns violent. Alba is excited by the potential of a Socialist victory, but Miguel is skeptical, arguing, "You cannot make a revolution at the ballot box but only with the people's blood" (11.81).
    • Jaime grows jealous of Miguel's relationship with Alba – he doesn't want to admit that Alba could need another man more than she needed him. So far he's managed to avoid Alba's boyfriend, but that's about to change.
    • Alba asks Jaime to talk to Miguel about Miguel's sister, who's sick.
    • When Jaime finally meets Miguel, he finds he actually likes him.
    • Jaime asks Miguel to take him to see his sister. Miguel leads Jaime and Alba to a house in the bohemian quarter. They find Amanda, living in a small, dirty, under-furnished apartment.
    • Jaime hasn't seen Amanda in more than twenty years. And she's changed a lot – she's too thin, can barely stand, and is suffering the effects of a drug withdrawal. The narrator says that "to have recognized Amanda, [Jaime] must have loved her a great deal" (11.89).
    • Jaime admits to Miguel that he and Amanda knew each other a long time ago. Then he lays Amanda on the couch and examines her arms and legs, which are bruised and scabby (presumably from injections).
    • Jaime says that Amanda will have to be hospitalized and undergo a detoxification program.

  • Chapter 12

    The Conspiracy

    • The Socialists win the Presidential election as part of a Leftist coalition.
    • On election day, Senator Trueba and his party prepare for the celebration of their victory.
    • Blanca, Alba, and the servants watch the election results on TV. Soon the results indicate that the conservatives don't stand a chance. Blanca and Alba know that Senator Trueba is going to flip out.
    • The conservatives have to cancel their parties.
    • The people of the working class neighborhoods, on the other hand, take to the streets. Whole families get dressed up in their Sunday best and walk towards the center of the city, carrying radios to follow the election results. Everyone waits with baited breath…
    • At midnight the election results are announced. The Left has won. There's dancing in the streets.
    • The jubilant crowds march through the ritzy neighborhoods singing. The rich people cower in their mansions, afraid of rioting, but the marchers remain peaceful.
    • When the crowd passes by her house, Alba runs out to the street to join them.
    • Alba finds Miguel in the crowd, and they share a steamy celebratory kiss. Miguel reminds Alba that they'll have to defend their victory.
    • The next day there's mass hysteria. The wealthy storm the banks to withdraw their money and start shipping it overseas. All the flights out of the country are booked as people try to flee, afraid they won't be able to leave once the Socialists come to power. The people who voted for the Socialist candidate watch the conservatives freak out and laugh.
    • The country has split into two irreconcilable groups.
    • Senator Trueba and his allies are convinced that they can prevent the Socialist candidate from assuming the presidency through legal means. He meets with "other politicians, a group of military men, and gringos sent by their intelligence service" to plot to destabilize the new government through economic sabotage.
    • (Historical context note: Following the election, the Nixon administration and CIA officials supported Salvador Allende's political opponents in an attempt to destabilize his government. According to the Chilean Constitution of the time, if the winner did not secure an absolute majority of the votes, the Congress got to determine which of the top two candidates would serve as President. Salvador Allende's opponents hoped that they could convince members of Congress to vote for the candidate with the second highest percentage of votes by sabotaging the Chilean economy.)
    • At their secret meeting, Senator Trueba and his political co-conspirators sketch out a plan.
    • General Hurtado, a representative of the military, puts his gun on the table and suggests that, if economic sabotage doesn't work, violence will.
    • The head of Embassy intelligence (read: gringo) says they're not interested in a military coup, and that they'd rather make Marxism look like an economic failure so that people in the region lose interest. He recommends bribing members of Congress to vote against the Candidate's confirmation.
    • Esteban Trueba insists that "the Congress and the armed forces are above corruption," and suggests that they use their money to buy the mass media and attempt to sway public opinion instead.
    • The other men at the meeting worry that the Marxists will do away with freedom of the press, but Esteban reminds them that the Leftists have sworn to "respect democratic rights."
    • The narrator informs us that Senator Trueba is right in the end. The conspiring politicians fail to successfully bribe members of Congress, and the Candidate's government comes to power.
    • Pedro Tercero García's life changes after the election. The new government is in need of skilled people to fill ministerial positions, and they recruit Pedro Tercero for a desk job because of his huge popularity. Pedro Tercero is exhausted by his new job, and barely has the energy to make love to Blanca when he gets to see her.
    • Pedro Tercero proposes marriage to Blanca again, giving her an ultimatum: now or never.
    • Blanca won't accept, and she and Pedro Tercero separate angrily.
    • The narrator tells us it will be two years before they see each other again.
    • Blanca waits for Pedro Tercero to come crawling back to her like he always does. When he doesn't contact her after a few days, she calls his office at the Ministry. His secretary says Compañero García isn't in, and Pedro Tercero never returns Blanca's calls. Blanca goes to his apartment, but her key no longer fits the lock. She's turned away by the doorman.
    • Blanca comprehends that she's lost Pedro Tercero, and bursts into tears.
    • Blanca busies herself with her ceramics classes and starts participating in political activities in the city.
    • Opponents to the new government, with the support of "the gringos," are mobilizing to sabotage the economy. They have plenty of financial resources and control the mass media (12.34).
    • One major effect of their efforts to "tear the economy to shreds" is a shortage of pretty much everything in the grocery stores (12.34). People wait in long lines to buy whatever they can, even if they don't need it. The black market flourishes.
    • Gasoline is rationed, and people have to wait for days to fill up their tanks. City workers have to go to their jobs by foot or by bicycle.
    • The right organizes a teamster (or trucker) strike, meaning no one can ship goods around the country. Produce rots in the fields. The army can't take control, because the truck drivers have dismantled their engines.
    • The President appears on television and blames the teamster strike on his political enemies. He tells the public that the truck drivers are "in the pay of the imperialists," and advises them to plant their own vegetable gardens (12.35).
    • The people on the political left keep their spirits up in the face of surmounting economic pressure, but they begin to squabble amongst themselves.
    • Esteban Trueba is invigorated by the new challenge of ousting the Socialists from power. He travels all over the country and makes "numerous conspiratorial trips abroad" (12.35). At first he clings to his democratic principles and insists upon using legal means to overthrow the government, but when that doesn't work he gets over his qualms about using illegal ones. He starts calling for a coup.
    • Esteban Trueba starts trying to provoke the military into revolting. He has to hire a couple of bodyguards to protect him from the people who he irritates.
    • He tries to hire a bodyguard for Alba as well, but she refuses. He doesn't insist, because Alba is the only member of his family with whom he still gets along.
    • Blanca organizes a system for obtaining goods through the black market, and starts storing them in the abandoned rooms of the big house on the corner. She keeps the provisions under lock and key, and carries the key around her waist. Alba says she looks like a jailer.
    • Jaime tries to convince Blanca to donate, trade, or sell perishable items before they rot, but Blanca stubbornly refuses to share her treasure trove of food.
    • Alba develops a method of sneaking food from her mother's pantries by cutting a hole in the wall. She gives the food to Miguel, who distributes it throughout the poor neighborhoods.
    • Miguel warns that "the right is arming itself!" (12.40).
    • Alba believes Miguel's prediction, because she's seen enormous wooden crates unloaded in the courtyard of the big house in the middle of the night. Esteban Trueba stores these crates in a locked room and carries the key with him.
    • Alba tells Uncle Jaime about her grandfather's mysterious crates, and Jaime tries to ask Esteban about it at the dinner table.
    • Foreshadowing alert! Jaime's days are numbered. The narrator mentions here that Jaime will be preoccupied "until the day they [kill] him" (12.41).
    • Esteban Trueba angrily refuses to talk about the boxes, so Alba and Jaime decide to sneak into the locked room to investigate. When they manage to pry open the boxes, they find guns. Lots of guns.
    • Jaime and Alba steal the guns and fill the boxes up with rocks so no one will notice their absence. They hide the weapons in Jaime's room until Alba can smuggle them out of the house in her cello case.
    • Jaime and Alba decide to bury the guns in a secret location. They plan a camping trip and drive out to the mountains. After hiding the weapons, they spend the rest of the weekend fishing, building campfires, and drinking wine.
    • Alba jokingly tells Jaime, "If you weren't my uncle, I'd marry you" (12.44). This makes Jaime sad, because he's secretly in love with his niece.
    • Jaime's in a relationship with Amanda, even though he doesn't love her anymore. Amanda is off drugs, living more healthfully, and is completely in love with Jaime. But Jaime's only dating her out of compassion.
    • To make matters worse, Jaime actually likes Miguel a lot. He thinks Miguel's political ideas about revolution are ridiculous, but he respects Miguel's conviction, courage, and generosity. Still, he worries about Alba being in love with Miguel, because he sees Miguel as an idealist fated to bring danger into the lives of those close to him.
    • Jaime's secret crush on Alba makes his relationship with her uncomfortable.
    • Tres Marías is expropriated under "the agrarian reform" (12.50).
    • (Historical context note: As President, Salvador Allende continued a program of land seizure and redistribution that was actually started earlier by a more conservative party, the Christian Democratic Party of Chile. The government seized large haciendas and either nationalized them or turned them over to cooperatives of workers.)
    • When the peasants take control of Tres Marías, the foreman gets scared and leaves. No one is left in charge of the hacienda.
    • When Esteban finds out that the government is forcing him to sell his hacienda to the state, he grabs a machine gun and orders his chauffer to drive him out to Tres Marías. This can't go well.
    • When he arrives, the peasants knock him out with a blow to the head and tie him up. Esteban wakes up in a locked room. The peasants inform him that he's being held hostage.
    • Esteban's bodyguards, members of the Conservative Party, television crews, and the National Guard show up at Tres Marías. The peasants guard their hostage with the machine gun that Esteban Trueba brought.
    • Blanca and Alba learn of the showdown on the news. Blanca drags Alba to the Ministry to ask Pedro Tercero García for help.
    • Blanca storms into Pedro Tercero's office, despite protests from his secretary.
    • Pedro Tercero has grown old and haggard, and he misses Blanca.
    • Blanca says they're going to Tres Marías to rescue Senator Trueba. She also spills the beans about Alba being Pedro Tercero's daughter. Finally.
    • The trio leaves for Tres Marías, armed with Pedro Tercero's guitar.
    • The peasants welcome their old hero Pedro Tercero García, and allow him to see the Senator. Pedro Tercero convinces the tenants that it's better for him to take Senator Trueba home now than to allow the National Guard to come in the next day and carry him out like a hero.
    • When Pedro Tercero García and Esteban Trueba come face to face, it's the first time they've seen each other since Esteban cut off Pedro Tercero's fingers. The two men know that they should hate each other, but neither one of them can muster up "the old fire of hatred in their hearts" (12.78). They're too old and tired for that stuff.
    • Pedro Tercero tells Esteban he's come to get him out of there because Blanca asked him to. Esteban tells him to go to hell. Pedro Tercero says, "Fine. That's where we're going. You're coming with me" (12.83).
    • Pedro Tercero leads Esteban Trueba to the gate of the property. Esteban drags his feet dejectedly until Alba hugs him and manages to cheer him up a little bit.
    • Playing chess with Jaime that night, the President brings up Senator Trueba's situation, but Jaime gives no indication that he's related to the crazy old conservative.
    • Alba notices that the city has been transformed. The streets are full of garbage, lights are broken, and lampposts are covered in political propaganda. Night watchmen patrol the streets, protecting government buildings from roaming gangs of right-wing vandals.
    • "Youth brigades" of idealistic communists wage graffiti wars with the opposition. They're unaware of the significance of the word "Djakarta" painted in enormous letters (12.91).
    • (Historical context note: Djakarta, known today as Jakarta, was the site of an anti-Communist purge in which about half a million people were killed in 1965 and 1966.)
    • Alba thinks about the "Djakarta" mural and all the people who died in the political violence in Indonesia, and worries about Miguel.
    • School at the university has been postponed indefinitely because the professors are on strike. Alba spends her free time volunteering at the hospital with Uncle Jaime. They need all the help they can get because the school of medicine has ordered them to stop work in order to sabotage the government.
    • Amanda volunteers at the hospital, too, to be close to Jaime.
    • Rumors and allegations fly back and forth between the government and its opposition. The political right charges the President with drunkenness, sexual immorality, and corruption; the President accuses his opponents of intentionally trying to subvert the economy and provoke a military coup.
    • Luisa Mora, the only surviving Mora sister, rings the bell of the big house on the corner. Clara's ghost is with her.
    • Luisa warns Esteban Trueba that, according to her astrological predictions, the future looks bleak. Lots of people are going to die, she says. Esteban will be on the side of the winners, but winning will make him miserable.
    • Luisa has a second and more important message for Alba from her grandmother Clara. She warns Alba, "Death is at your heels," and advises her to leave the country.
    • Esteban thinks Luisa Mora is a crazy old bat, but (major foreshadowing) ten months and eleven days later Alba will be taken away by force in the middle of the night, and he'll remember Luisa Mora's prophecy.

  • Chapter 13

    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.

  • Chapter 14

    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.

  • Epilogue

    • The Epilogue is told in the first-person, but it's not Esteban Trueba who tells the story – it's Alba.
    • Alba begins by saying that her grandfather died last night. Esteban Trueba died in her arms, not like a dog as Férula predicted.
    • As Alba writes, Esteban's body is laid out on the blue bed that used to be Clara's.
    • Barrabás is back in the room, in the place that Esteban had originally intended for him.
    • Alba jumps back to the morning she returned to the big house on the corner after her prison stay.
    • She arrives in a wagon drawn by a scrawny horse. The house looks sad and run-down.
    • Alba rings the bell, and the door is opened by a maid she doesn't know. Alba runs to the library, knowing her grandfather would be waiting for her in his armchair. The two embrace joyfully.
    • When Esteban sees Alba's hand, he begins to curse and smash things with his cane, just like in the good old days. (Guess those were Alba's fingers he received in the mail, huh?)
    • Esteban wants to leave the country with Alba that day, but she refuses. He knows the reason she doesn't want to leave is Miguel. Alba is surprised, because she's never told her grandfather about her boyfriend.
    • Small flashback to soon after Alba is arrested. Miguel shows up at the big house on the corner and nearly gives Esteban Trueba a heart attack. The two work together to try to bring Alba home. Miguel has the idea to go to Tránsito Soto. Esteban tries to convince Miguel that, after Alba is free, she and Miguel should flee the country using safe-conduct passes that Esteban will procure for them. But, as we know, Miguel is way too dedicated to his revolutionary activities for that.
    • Esteban asks Alba to tell him everything that happened, so she does. Here we go:
    • Alba's hand becomes infected after they chop off her fingers, so they transfer her to the secret clinic where they take the prisoners they don't want to die. The doctor is a sadistic jerk who won't give her any painkillers. Her nurse, however, is a kind man named Rojas who sneaks her injections to help relieve the pain.
    • After talking to enough prisoners, Rojas has realized that most of them are neither traitors nor killers, and treats them with kindness. Some of the prisoners ask him to help them die, and Alba thinks that he does.
    • Rojas remembers everyone who enters and leaves the clinic. He swears to Alba that Miguel hasn't passed through, and that gives her strength. Rojas does tell Alba that Amanda came to the clinic and died under his care. Amanda never revealed any information about Miguel, thus fulfilling the promise she made to her brother in Chapter 7.
    • Alba's hand starts to heal and a group of guards comes to take her from the clinic. She's afraid they're going to take her back to Colonel García, but they take her to a concentration camp for women, where she finds her friend Ana Díaz again.
    • The women have formed a community in which they support each other and share responsibility for daily tasks. They comfort Alba.
    • Ana Díaz gives Alba a notebook so she can write down her story. Alba ruefully shows Ana her hand, but Ana won't take that as an excuse. Just as Father Dulce María convinced Pedro Tercero García to play the guitar without his fingers, Ana insists that Alba learn to write with her left hand.
    • The women in the camp refuse to let Alba sink into despair. They make her work, encourage her to write, and have her tell stories to the children.
    • The women spend the whole day singing, and dare the guards to make them stop.
    • Alba records the small events of the women's prison in her notebook.
    • She's at the concentration camp for only a few days before the police come to get her. Alba panics, thinking they're going to take her back to Colonel García, but the women reassure her that, because the men are in uniform, they aren't part of the secret police.
    • Sure enough, the men put Alba in a van and drive her to a poor section of town. They leave her in a dump and instruct her to not move until sunrise, when the curfew will be over.
    • A small boy appears and sneaks Alba through the slum to a run-down hut. A kind woman gives her a cup of tea, and explains that the sound of a van during curfew usually means someone is dumping a body.
    • Alba tells the woman that she's run an enormous risk in rescuing her. The woman's response, a smile, fills Alba with hope.
    • The next morning the unnamed woman takes Alba to a friend who owns a horse-drawn cart and asks him to take Alba home.
    • Alba looks out at the city on her ride home, and reflects upon its different neighborhoods – the slums surrounded by cement walls to give the impression that they don't exist; the grey center; and the High District where her grandfather lives, and where everything is clean and orderly. Alba describes this neighborhood as existing in "the solid peace of a conscience without memory" (Epilogue.37).
    • Esteban decides that, since they're going to stay in the big house on the corner and wait for Miguel, they should fix up the place. They hire cleaners and gardeners to come in, and within a week the house looks as good as new.
    • Alba's grandfather gives her the idea to write this story. (Ah ha! Now we know who's been telling the tale all along!) They get out the old family albums and Alba uses them to piece together her family's history.
    • Alba begins to write, with her grandfather's help. His memory is sharp, and he even writes a number of pages in his own hand. (So that explains all the passages told in Esteban's voice.)
    • When Esteban writes everything that he has to say, he lies down on Clara's bed and falls peacefully asleep. He dies in his sleep.
    • During Esteban's last days, Clara appears to him more and more clearly. Her ghost follows him around the house. Thanks to Clara's presence, Esteban can die happy.
    • Alba thinks back on the hatred that she felt towards Colonel García while she was in the doghouse and finds that, after a few weeks of being home, she no longer desires vengeance. She believes that everything happens for a reason, and that her fate was decided by events that occurred long before her birth.
    • Alba sees herself as part of a pattern. Two generations ago, her grandfather raped Esteban García's grandmother, and now "the grandson of the woman who was raped repeats the gesture with the granddaughter of the rapist" (Epilogue. 45). Perhaps forty years from now, Alba speculates, her grandson would do the same to Esteban García's granddaughter.
    • As Alba uses her grandmother Clara's notebooks and many other documents to piece together their story, she gains perspective on the events that have shaped her life and the lives of everyone around her. She feels connected to Clara through her notebooks, as if she had been the one to live those events and write those words. The notebooks and documents help Alba "see things in their true dimension," just as her grandmother did.
    • Alba comes to realize that she must let go of her hatred if she hopes to "break [the] terrible chain" of vengeance that has pursued her family through the generations (Epilogue.45).
    • Alba states that her mission is not to prolong hatred, but to record life. So she writes as she waits for Miguel, makes plans to bury her grandfather, and (surprise) carries a child in her womb.
    • Alba says that her daughter may be Miguel's, or may be the product of one of the many rapes she suffered but, most importantly, the child is her own daughter.
    • Alba sits with her grandmother's notebooks at her feet, in which Clara recorded fifty years' worth of events. She says that Clara wrote them to help her "reclaim the past and overcome terrors of [her] own." The first begins with the words, "Barrabás came to us by sea…" (Epilogue.46).