History: Published in 1982. The book was first conceived by Isabel Allende when she received news that her grandfather was dying, and she began to write him a letter that ultimately became the starting manuscript of The House of the Spirits. Niece of deposed Chilean premier Salvador Allende, Isabel was persona non grata in her native Chile and made her escape to Venezuela. Her father was a Chilean diplomat.
Plot: The House of Spirits chronicles the lives of three generations of Trueba women of Chile.
The story starts, however, with the del Valle family, focusing on Clara and Rosa, mainly. The youngest daughter, Clara del Valle, has paranormal powers and keeps a detailed diary of her life. Using her powers, Clara predicts a death in the family. Shortly after this, Clara's green-haired sister, Rosa the Beautiful, is accidentally poisoned and dies as a result. Clara accidentally watches her sister's autopsy and afterwards, terrified, stops speaking, believing her words caused her sister's death. Rosa's fiance, a poor miner named Esteban Trueba, is devastated and attempts to mend his broken heart by devoting his life to uplifting his family hacienda, Las Tres Marías. He quickly earns/forces respect from the fearful peasants and turns Tres Marías into a model hacienda. However, he has needs, and he lacks compassion and respect for women. His first victim, Pancha García, becomes the mother of his bastard son Esteban García.
After his mother's death, Esteban decides to fulfill his mother's dying wish: to marry and have legitimate children. He goes to the del Valle family to ask for Clara's hand. Clara accepts Esteban's proposal, thus speaking for the first time in years. Esteban's sister Férula comes to live with the newlyweds in their mansion. Férula develops a strong dedication to Clara which fulfills her need to serve others. However, Esteban's wild desire to possess and be loved by Clara causes him to throw Férula out of the house. She curses him, telling him that he will shrink in body and soul, and die like a dog. Although she misses her sister-in-law, a passive and dreamy Clara finds happiness in developing her psychic powers. Spirits, artists, and spiritualists flock to the Trueba's big house in the city.
Clara gives birth to a daughter named Blanca and later, to twin boys Jaime and Nicolás.The family, which resides in the capital, stays at the hacienda during the summertime, and Blanca eventually befriends a young boy named Pedro Tercero, who is the son of her father's foreman. Blanca and Pedro Tercero eventually become lovers. After an earthquake which destroys part of the hacienda and leaves Esteban injured, the Truebas move permanently to Las Trés Marias. Clara spends her time teaching and helping peasant children, while Blanca, is sent to a boarding school in the capital and the twin boys back to the boarding school in England where they are educated. Blanca fakes an illness so as to be sent back to Las Trés Marias, where she can be with Pedro. Life runs smoothly until Pedro Tercero is banished from the hacienda by Esteban, on account of his revolutionary communist/socialist ideas.
A visiting French count to the hacienda, Jean de Satigny, reveals Blanca's nightly romps with Pedro Tercero to her father. Esteban furiously goes after his daughter and brutally whips her. When Clara expresses horror at his actions, Esteban slaps her, knocking out her front teeth. Clara decides to never speak to him again, reclaims her maiden name and moves out of Tres Marías and back to the city, taking Blanca with her. Esteban, furious and lonely, blames Pedro Tercero for the whole matter; he tracks Pedro Tercero to make him pay for taking Blanca's virginity. He only succeeds in cutting-off three of Pedro's fingers, and is filled with regret for his uncontrollable furies.
Jaime becomes an empathetic doctor while crafty Nicolás concocts money-making schemes. The two develop a strange relationship with a woman named Amanda. Nicolas and Amanda are originally introduced to the story together, but split later on due to her pregnancy. Jaime loves Amanda dearly at this point but will never admit to such around her. He agrees to help terminate her pregnancy not because his cowardly brother asked him to, but for the woman he cannot have. Years later Jaime and Amanda meet again and Jaime saves her from near death. Amanda remembers Jaime as the tender doctor and falls in love with him, but he realizes that she is not the same beautiful woman that bewitched him originally. He continues to have a relationship with Amanda though he does not love her.
Blanca finds out she is pregnant with Pedro Tercero's child. Esteban, desperate to save the family honor, gets Blanca to marry the French count by telling her that he has killed Pedro Tercero. At first Blanca gets along with her new husband, but she leaves him when she discovers his secret collection of disgustingly perverted pictures. Blanca quietly returns back to the Trueba household and names her daughter, who has inherited Rosa's shocking green hair, Alba. Clara predicts that Alba will have a very happy future and good luck. Her future lover, Miguel, happens to watch her birth, as he had been living in the Trueba House with his sister, Amanda. They move out shortly after Alba's birth.
Esteban Trueba eventually moves to the Trueba house in the capital as well, although he continues to spend periods of time in Trés Marias. He becomes isolated from every member of his family except for little Alba, who he is very fond of. Esteban runs as a senator for the Conservative Party but is nervous about whether or not he will win. Clara speaks to him, through signs, informing him that "those who have always won will win again" - this becomes his motto. Clara then begins to speak to Esteban through signs, although she keeps her promise and never actually speaks to him again. A few years later, Clara dies peacefully and Esteban is struck with grief.
Alba is a solitary child who enjoys playing make-believe in the basement of the house and painting the walls of her room. Blanca has become very poor since leaving Jean de Satigny's house, getting a small income out of selling pottery and giving pottery classes to mentally handicapped children, and is once again dating Pedro Tercero, now a revolutionary singer/songwriter. Alba and Pedro are fond of each other, but do not know they are father and daughter, although Pedro suspects this. Alba is also fond of her uncles. Nicolás is eventually kicked out by his father, moving, supposedly, to North America.
When she is older, Alba attends a local college where she meets Miguel, now a grown man, and becomes his lover. Miguel is a revolutionary, and out of love for him, Alba involves herself in student protests against the conservative government. After the victory of the People's Party (a socialist movement), Alba celebrates with Miguel.
Fearing a Communist dictatorship, Esteban Trueba and his fellow politicians plan a military coup of the socialist government. However, when the military coup is set into action, the military men relish their power and grow out of control. Esteban's gentle son Jaime is viciously and pointlessly killed by power-driven soldiers along with many others. The government goes from being very conservative (the side Esteban is on) to liberal (with the majority rule, popular support, democratic election) to a full military dictatorship. People are kidnapped during the night and torture becomes the weapon of choice. Esteban helps Blanca and Pedro Tercero, now being persecuted, to flee to Canada, where the couple finally finds their happiness.
The novel takes a gruesome turn and documents the violent atrocities that the wealthy try to ignore throughout the country. The military regime attempts to eliminate all traces of opposition and eventually comes for Alba. She is made the prisoner of Colonel Esteban García, Esteban Trueba's and Pancha García's illegitimate grandson. García got in to the military school with Trueba's help, although Trueba did not realize that García was his grandson, and thought he was just helping one of his hacienda's peasants. During his visits to the Trueba house, García molests Alba as a child and forces a kiss on her when she is older. He seems to enjoy Alba's discomfort/pain and in these ways expresses his hatred for her and the legitimate children and grandchildren of Trueba.
In pure hatred of her privileged life and eventual inheritance, García tortures Alba repeatedly. He rapes her, thus completing the cycle which Esteban Trueba put into motion when he raped Pancha García. Alba is also beaten and tortured for information on Miguel. When Alba loses her will to live, she is visited by Clara's spirit who tells her to not wish for death since it can easily come, but to wish to live since that would be a miracle.
Esteban Trueba manages to free Alba with the help of Miguel and Tránsito Soto, an old friend/prostitute from his days as a young man. After helping Alba write their memoir, Esteban Trueba dies in the arms of Alba, accompanied by Clara's spirit; he is smiling, having avoided Ferula's prophecy that he will die like a dog. Alba explains she will not seek vengeance on those who have injured her, suggesting a hope that one day the human cycle of hate and revenge can be broken. Alba writes the book to pass time while she waits for Miguel and advances in pregnancy.
Review: So many different story lines evolved, started, stopped. There was love, death, murder, kidnapping, mutilation, war, riots, revolt, marriage, a head in a box, a car crash, magic, green hair...there was so much. This family was an absolute train wreck. It should have been interesting in the "I can't look away car crash type of way". But it wasn't. Allende is the product of the political scene of S. America and this is what this novel is full of. Yes, it’s a family saga but throughout it’s a saga of politics. There’s love and revenge and wealth and poverty and all that good sagas are made of. Permeating all this though is politics.
Opening Line: “Barrabas came to us by sea,” the child Clara wrote in her delicate calligraphy.”
Closing Line: “It begins like this: Barrabas came to us by sea…”
Quotes: “…unfortunately she turned out to be an idealist, a family disease, one of those people cut out to get involved in problems and make those closets to her suffer; that she took it into her head to help fugitives get asylum in the foreign embassies, something she did without thinking, I’m sure, without realizing that the country is a war, whether war against international Communism or its own people it’s hard to tell, but war one way or the other, and these things are punishable by law, but Alba always has her head in the clouds and doesn’t realize she’s in danger, she doesn’t do it to be mean… “