Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits was the author’s first published novel and an immediate sensation. The House of the Spirits is set in an unnamed Latin American country (presumed to be Chile based on events of the novel), and it chronicles the multi-generational saga of the Trueba family. The novel is a classic example of magical realism, a literary genre characterized by the seamless blending of fantastical elements with the everyday. Published in 1982, the book remains a classic of Latin American literature.
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Esteban Trueba, the patriarch of the Trueba family, begins the novel as a desperate young miner. Following the death of his betrothed, Rosa del Valle, by an accidental poisoning, Esteban marries her younger sister Clara. Clara is clairvoyant and shares a special connection with her granddaughter Alba. Esteban dominates his family and allows none of them—save for Alba—to defy his wishes. Esteban exiles his own son Nicolás for eccentric behavior, including forming an “academy” known as The Institute for the Union with Nothingness.
TRES MARÍAS ESTATE
Esteban accumulates his wealth by restoring his family estate of Tres Marías. Esteban treats the estate as his personal fiefdom. He rapes many of his female tenants, including Pancha García. Esteban authorizes the tenant Pedro Segundo to serve as his foreman. He later attempts to kill Pedro’s son, Pedro Tercero, when he learns of the latter’s love affair with Esteban’s daughter Blanca.
COUNT DE SATIGNY
Blanca becomes pregnant with Pedro Tercero’s child (Alba), and Esteban forces her to marry the French count Jean De Satigny. De Satigny is an effete aristocrat with an interest in the arts. The Count praises the work of The Poet, a reference to Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Blanca leaves the Count when she discovers his collection of erotic photographs taken of their servants.
THE CANDIDATE The Trueba family drama unfolds in the context of wider Chilean history. A Marxist politician known as The Candidate runs for president and is elected. This character is a stand-in for the Chilean Marxist president Salvador Allende. The Candidate, called The President after his election, is overthrown thanks in part to the efforts of Esteban Trueba. Esteban’s own granddaughter Alba is caught in the military’s violent purges after the coup, and his son Jaime is killed by the military.
Alba is arrested by the military. While in captivity she is tortured and raped by Esteban García, the illegitimate grandson of Esteban Trueba. Esteban Trueba is able to finally free her from the military thanks to the intervention of Tránsito Soto, a prostitute who has steadily gained power and influence throughout the book.
Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:
Read this interview with Isabel Allende to learn about the circumstances that inspired her to write The House of the Spirits.
Want to learn more about magical realism? Start with this article.
The legacy of Pinochet’s dictatorship still lives on in Chile.
For a quick overview of the 1973 coup that overthrew Salvador Allende, check out this video!
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