House of the Spirits Essay - Critical Evaluation

Isabel Allende

Critical Evaluation

Born in Peru, the Chilean writer Isabel Allende became the most widely read woman writer in Latin America after the publication of her first novel, The House of the Spirits, and foreign-language versions of the book established her international critical success and led to a major motion picture in 1994. After having worked as a journalist in Chile, Allende started writing fiction in Venezuela, where she lived in exile after the assassination of her uncle, President Salvador Allende of Chile. In 1988, she moved to the United States. Her first novel was followed by De amor y de sombra(1984; Of Love and Shadows, 1987), Eva Luna (1987; English translation, 1988), Cuentos de Eva Luna (1990; Stories of Eva Luna, 1991), El plan infinito(1991; The Infinite Plan, 1993), and Paula (1994; English translation, 1995).

In The House of the Spirits, Allende traces the lives of the del Valle and the Trueba families, their relations with one another, and their participation in the history of their times. The half-century historical span encompasses four generations chronologically and includes flashbacks and foreshadowing. The past is reclaimed by the use of Clara’s notebooks “that bore witness to life,” Blanca’s letters, and the memories of the first-person narrators Alba and her grandfather, who reconstitute the saga together. Narrative circularity is achieved in the epilogue, written by Alba, and the novel ends, as it began, with Clara’s words, “Barrabás came to us by sea.”

The book, a testimonial text inscribing a period in the history of Chile and Allende’s family, started as a letter to the author’s dying grandfather in Chile, in which she declared that all memories would be saved through her writing. The country is unnamed and characters often function...

(The entire section is 766 words.)