A Really Great Storyteller
Recently I’ve been spending time reading anything written by Isabel Allende. Some of her stories are entwined with truth about historical events in Chile, as she is the granddaughter of the 29th president of Chile during the people’s uprising in the early 1970s. Salvador Allende was assassinated on September 11, 1973 during the infamous 1973 Chilean coup d’etat staged by the Chilean military. For Isabel Allende this time period and the historical events surrounding her grandfather’s assassination are explored in her early stories pieced together with some fantastical magical realism.
I love her debut novel The House of The Spirits – it is epic! First published in 1982, it’s a great story full of familial crisis and generational shifts explored during their struggles through a changing society. Parts of this story are really harrowing and shows the baseness of humanity, but from this darkness comes great wisdom:
“She tried not to breathe or move, and began eagerly to await her death . . . When she had nearly achieved her goal, her Grandmother Clara, whom she had invoked so many times to help her die, appeared with the novel idea that the point was not to die, since death came anyway, but to survive, which would be a miracle.” (Allende 413-14)
The point of life is to live because death comes anyway – what a beautiful notion? I find Allende’s philosophical explorations in this novel display her depth of perspective on life and all that is precious to life. Hollywood got a hold of this story and turned it into a movie featuring Meryl Streep, and while the movie is pretty good, the novel is far superior and more detailed.
I also love Isabel Allende’s novel Eva Luna, which looks at the people’s uprising in Chile from another perspective. The House of The Spirits is all about the daughters and granddaughters of a prominent Conservative Party Leader before and during the people’s uprising, while Eva Luna is about a girl who gets involved with a series of people that are fighting for the People’s Party and against the Conservatives and against the Military. The most fascinating character Eva Luna befriends is a child who grows up to be a guerilla leader living in the jungles of Chile. Allende recreates the smells, sights, and sounds of Chile in such a beautiful way that I want to visit the country so much. I want to see San Pedro, Santiago, the beautiful rainforests and mountains.
You would think it was the rich history and vivid landscapes (I had such amazing dreams of hiking through the Chilean mountains while reading Eva Luna) that pull me in, but it is Allende’s magical realism that draws me back to her writing. The fantastical and phantasmagorical in Allende’s early stories are just such a delight to the imagination, and makes her writing unforgettable. Allende weaves beautiful imagery with ghostly folklore and rich cultural Chilean history it’s a real treat to read her work. At the moment I am reading her novel Of Love and Shadows, and saving The Stories of Eva Luna for spring break on the beach. It’s a collection of the stories the character Eva Luna wrote during her lifetime in the novel Eva Luna. If you like magical realism and haven’t read anything by Allende I recommend The House of the Spirits or Eva Luna, the latter is not an epic.
Allende, Isabel. The House of The Spirits. Bantam: New York. 1986.