I just finished reading a book that I first encountered in high school, but never fully appreciated—largely because I just remember watching the movie as a way to fast-track discussions, as well as productions of other sections in my Sophomore year, each tackling a specific time period of the book. I am referring to “The House of the Spirits” by Isabel Allende.
“The House of the Spirits” tells the story of the Trueba family, which spans four generations. Their lives serve as a glass for us to peek through life in post-colonial Chile, coupled with traces of magic as part of the characters’ realities. Indeed, magic realism is a trademark of Latin American literature, but there’s more to this novel to appreciate.
One of the things that I appreciated most about the novel was how Allende managed to give life to ‘strong’ female characters—my use of the adjective is rather liberal, in the sense that each major female character that played a role in the novel manifested this differently.
Clara del Valle first displayed strength as a child, when she willed herself not to speak after predicting death in the family, which turned out to be her older sister, Rosa the beautiful. Clara spoke years after, only to announce her marriage to Esteban Trueba. While remaining faithful to her husband, Clara once again willed herself not to speak to him upon witnessing Esteban’s brutal actions to their daughter Blanca. Clara proved to be the life and anchor of the family, and even after her passing, her husband and granddaughter continued to rely on her, albeit privately, at the time when they most need it.
Blanca Trueba, Clara’s daughter, displayed strength of love. Among the Trueba women, she had faced the greatest adversity to be with the man she loved the most, and held on to such love (and perhaps, the belief that they would eventually be together) in all of twenty years.
Alba Satigny, Blanca’s daughter, was perhaps the most courageous of the women, owing to the time she lived in. Of all the women, it was she that experienced the most change, from a protected ‘countess’ to a woman actively doing her share in the country’s political upheavals, to the extent of being subjected to torture and rape.
While the situations may vary, more than the magic that runs in the old house in the corner, it is the strength and willfulness in these women that pushed the story forward (with all due respect to Esteban Trueba).
I can only wish I had read the novel much earlier to properly appreciate an exemplary piece of Latin American literature (I do think that the pulse of Philippine literature is not too far from Latin American literature, owing to similarities in political and social concerns, as well as Spanish influences—but this ought to be the subject of a different entry).
Edit: Well, what do you know? The timing of this entry couldn’t have been… divine? Chile has launched an inquiry into the death of former President Salvador Allende (widely believed to be The President in the novel). Now, there are also calls to open an inquiry into the death of Pablo Neruda (who is believed to be The Poet alluded to in the novel).