Until the publication of Isabel Allende's House of the Spirits, few female writers had emerged from the "Boom" of Latin American literature that began in the 1960s. When the translation of La casa de los espíritus appeared in 1985, however, Allende received the kind of international attention that had previously been reserved for writers such as Colombian Nobel Prize-winner Gabriel García Márquez. In fact, The House of the Spirits has frequently been compared with García Márquez's masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude because of Allende's mixture of magical and realistic elements and her multi-generational plot. While there are some similarities between the two works, The House of the Spirits is distinguished by its author's unique perspective as a woman and a Chilean.
The novel follows three generations of Trueba women—Clara, Blanca, and Alba—as they struggle to establish their independence from Esteban Trueba, the domineering family patriarch. The political backdrop to this family story is the growing conflict between forces of Left and Right, culminating in a military coup that leads to a stifling dictatorship. While the country is never specifically named as Chile, its political history reflects that of the author's homeland. In 1973, military forces deposed the legally elected administration of President Salvador Allende, Isabel's uncle. "I think I have divided my life [into] before that day and after that day," Allende told Publishers Weekly interviewer Amanda Smith. "In that moment, I realized that everything was possible—that violence was a dimension that was always around you." Because of this realization, The House of the Spirits has a political element that is more explicit than many other works of magic realism. This makes it "one of the best novels of the postwar period, and a major contribution to our understanding of societies riddled by ceaseless conflict and violent change," Bruce Allen observed in the Chicago Tribune Book World. "It is a great achievement, and it cries out to be read."