The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende ( and is arguably the world’s most widely read Spanish language author. She has had a long and fascinating life which reflects so much of the history of our times. This magical realist novel catapulted her to literary fame, and it was in virtue of this and her wider oeuvre that she has received a barrowload of awards and prizes.

‘La Casa de los Espíritus’ (Trans. from Spanish as ‘The House of the Spirits’) was first conceived by Allende when she received news that her 100-year-old grandfather was dying. She began to write him a letter that ultimately became the manuscript of this modern masterpiece. Its story details the life of the Trueba family, spanning four generations, and tracing the post-colonial social and political upheavals of Chile. The country’s name, and the names of figures closely paralleling historical ones, such as ‘the President’ or ‘the Poet’, are never explicitly given. The story is told mainly from the perspective of two protagonists (Esteban and Alba) and incorporates elements of magical realism. The tone is calm and dispassionate, even while presenting extremely violent, and scarcely credible events. It has motifs of class struggle, political upheaval, women’s roles and rights, the power of writing, fate and free will, genealogy and inheritance, and the taking of revenge. In other words this is a huge, rich, demanding and absorbing read. Some books are forgettable. This will leave a lasting impression. I commend it to you.

Brought to the screen in 1993 by Billie August ( with Jeremy Irons, Meryl Streep, Antonio Banderas, Glen Close, Winona Ryder and Maria Conchita Alonso. Available on DVD at

496 pages in Black Swan

First published 1982

ISBN  978-0552995887

Isabel Allende

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