The House of the Spirits (1982)

by Isabel Allende

Although it’s not named, Chile before and during the 1973 military coup that overthrew Salvador Allende is the setting around which Isabel Allende, a relative of the slain president, constructs the story of the fictional Trueba family. Three women share the spotlight with Esteban Trueba, who rises from poverty to wealth and becomes a powerful Conservative Party politician. His wife, Clara, is an otherworldly clairvoyant. Their daughter, Blanca, and granddaughter, Alba, both fall in love with revolutionaries.

Esteban’s making a fortune rebuilding an abandoned mining town, Clara’s magical powers, and their children’s eccentricities are interesting but not as gripping as the final chapters about the coup. Trueba supports the toppling of a Marxist president, only to see his son killed and his granddaughter tortured by the military. Yet the book ends on a hopeful note, with Alba restored to the elderly Trueba before he dies and continuing the writing of family stores that had sustained her during her captivity.

Like Alba, Isabel Allende arranged safe passage for people on wanted lists after Pinochet took over. When she herself was added to the list, she fled to Venezuela and stayed for 13 years, during which time she wrote The House of the Spirits, her first novel. She later moved to California.


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