Isabel Allende: Overview

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Author: Jason Wilson
Editor: Tracy Chevalier
Date: 1993
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 1,364 words

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Isabel Allende broke into the ranks of the bestsellers with her first novel, La casa de los espíritus (The House of the Spirits), a book that confirmed the link between Latin American writing and the label “magic realism” imposed on it by critics. The novel is written in the hyperbolic style inaugurated by Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude) (1967) by Gabriel García Márquez (q.v.), and deals with the rise and fall of a family dynasty over several generations. Some of the female characters practice magic, predict events, talk to the dead, and have green hair. Allende's fluid, readable prose shares certain stylistic tics with García Márquez, such as sudden leaps into the future, long lists, and pithy dialogue. Allende, however, pegs the family history to a specific country, Chile, and a specific event in history: elected Marxist president (and Isabel Allende's uncle) Salvador Allende's overthrow and murder in 1973. There is an epigraph from Chile's great poet Pablo Neruda, who also died in 1973 and appears as the Poet in the novel.

Despite these influences, Allende does not plagiarize. Her first novel contains such a wide range of characters and destinies, described in such rich detail, that it is clearly something unique. The central male character—and sometimes narrator—Esteban Trueba, whose long life spans the entire novel, struggles to become rich after the death of his first love. He marries Clara who keeps a diary that becomes the source of the novel as narrated by her politically-minded granddaughter. Clara is the female antithesis to macho Trueba, with his violations of country girls, inability to love, and indifference to peasants. By the end Trueba is horrified by what Pinochet is doing to his country, but he cannot undo the damage he has caused in his own relationship, and prevent Clara's total withdrawal from him.

If Trueba's experience lies at the centre of the novel, it is the lives of the women that dominate; they constitute a secret power within this patriarchal family. Clara's daughter Blanca takes as...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420000156