The House of the Spirits is like Latino Reading 101, to me, anyway. I have now read several works by Isabel Allende, and her writing is lyrical and moving. Her writing gallops at a wonderful pace, stopping here and there introspectively. The plots are wonderfully tangled and complicated. She plays the emotion in her characters like a harp. Incidentally, if you follow the Wikipedia page on Allende, you’ll find that she has faced as much criticism from her Latin American peers as she has found huge success worldwide. I won’t go into it here, but I do have to say that I am dumbfounded. I like her writing and her other books are even better than House, her debut novel.
This book was the first time I was introduced to magical realism, a popular writing style in Latin America. Magical realism is what it sounds like. In The House of the Spirits, it is introduced as a matter of fact that Rosa has green hair: “At birth Rosa was white and smooth, without a wrinkle, like a porcelain doll, with green hair and yellow eyes — the most beautiful creature to be born on earth since the days of original sin, as the midwife put it, making the sign of the cross.” Enter in giant dogs, an uncle who invents a flying machine, and the main character, Clara, who is both clairvoyant and can move things with her mind – and you get an interesting read. But wait, there’s more! The book takes place in an unnamed South American country that bears a striking resemblance to Allende’s home country, Chile. Hop on and gallop through the modern Latin American history while you’re at it.
Incidentally, the book was made into the Worst. Movie. Ever. I rarely ever like movies after I’ve read the book, but this movie was spectacularly awful. The acting, the rewriting that left out all the best parts, the mostly white cast – everything. I finally fell asleep watching Rose-uh and the Trew-A-buhs on Netflix. The movie really lost the Latin American feeling which permeated the book in a subtle, non-stereotypical way. Here’s a clip you can add to your awful movie files: