At the beginning of The House of the Spirits, Alba Trueba says that she is writing “to reclaim the past and overcome terrors of my own.” Like Alba, Isabel Allende began writing in order to make pain bearable. After her uncle, the Chilean president Salvador Allende, was murdered during a right-wing military coup, Isabel Allende, her husband, and her children were forced to go into exile. One of those she most regretted leaving was her autocratic but much-loved grandfather, upon whom she modeled the character of Esteban Trueba. Fearing that she would never see him again, Allende began to write a letter to her grandfather, in which she expressed her love for him and assured him that even after his death, he would live on in her memory. The letter was never sent; instead, it evolved into The House of the Spirits. Thus Allende’s first novel was written to assuage her own pain and to call back into existence all that she had lost, her friends, her people, her country, her dream of social justice. While Allende insists that she is not Alba, she clearly shares with her narrator a faith in the power of the written word to defy repression and transcend time.
The House of the Spirits is built upon a number of contrasts and paradoxes. One of the latter can be seen in Allende’s description of the world, which she shows as being at one and the same time ordinary and magical. Like other Magical Realists, Allende moves easily from one...
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