Return to The House of the Spirits (idea)

"With this spectacular first novel, [Isabel Allende] becomes the first [woman] to join what has heretofore been an exclusive male club of [Latin American] novelists."
[New York Times], May 12, [1985]

The House of the Spirits (translated from [La casa de los espíritus]) is a [family story] of multiple [generation]s. It plays in [Chile] (although the country is unnamed in the book) from the early 20th century to the 1970's. Like many of the great South American writers, Allende makes use of [symbolism] all the time. The book also gives an outline of the Chilean [political evolution] in the 20th century.

"The wonderful quality of [human beings] is that we can overcome even absolute [terror], and we do"
Isabel Allende

Short outline of the story

[Rosa] and [Clara] are two remarkable daughters of the Del Valle family, because of Rosa's [astonishing] beauty and Clara's power to move things without touching them and to [call spirits].

Rosa's fiancé [Esteban Trueba] gives up his work when Rosa dies of poisoning and rebuilds the [family estate] into a perfectly run company. After a few years, Esteban visits the Del Valle family and falls for Clara. She has not spoken a single word since her sister's funeral, but now this all changes and they marry. Daughter [Blanca] is born after which they move to the Trueba estate.

Here, Blanca and [Pedro Tercero García] ([foreman] on the estate) become friends and fall in love. Clara gives birth to a twin (Nicholas and Jaime) while on the same day discovering that her parents have died in a [car accident]. Esteban's sister [Farula] dies as well and he is hurt himself in an [earthquake]. To add to the tragedy, Pedro and the other workers turn themselves against their [patron], while Esteban also discovers that Blanca is [pregnant], with Pedro being the father. Pedro flees when Esteban wants to kill his daughter's [aficionado].

[Socialist]s grab power in the country and [senator] Esteban's workers occupy the estate and keep their manager [hostage]. Blanca asks Pedro to step up for him, which results in Esteban's [liberation]. He promises to make sure they will be able to live together.

When Esteban Trueba dies, his grand daughter [Alba] decides to write down the family story.

Main characters

  • Esteban: The [patriarch], a [hot-blooded] and proud man whose hunger for land is legendary and who is haunted by his despotic [passion] for his wife he can never completely [possess].
  • Clara: The mysterious [matriarch], who [foretell]s family tragedy and shapes the destinies of the house of the Trueba's.
  • Blanca: Their daughter, [soft-spoken] yet rebellious, whose [scandalous] love for foreman Pedro fuels Esteban's eternal [contempt], even as it produces the grandchild he adores.
  • Alba: The [fruit] of Blanca's forbidden love, a [luminous] beauty, a fiery and [wilful] woman. The family's break with the past and link to the future.


  • "The amazing Isabel Allende, the niece of Chile's ousted President [Salvador Allende], is creating the kind of literary sensation most writers only dream of. And The House of the Spirits is no ordinary [debut|first novel]. It is an exotic vision - a brilliant, [impassioned] [epic] - and a personal [coup] for the young journalist who 'had to write it'." - [Vogue]
  • "[Extraordinary]. [Powerful]. Sharply observant, [witty] and [eloquent]" - The New York Times
  • "That rarest of successes -- a book about one family and one country that is a book about the world and becomes the world in a book" - [Cosmopolitan]
  • "Mesmerizing! A genuine rarity, a work of fiction that is both an impressive literary accomplishment and a [mesmerizing] story. A novel of force and [immediacy], compassion and charm, [spaciousness] and [vigor]." - [The Washington Post]
  • "A novel to be cherished and remembered because [it comes from the heart]." - [The Women's Review of Books]


The original version of the book was published in Isabel Allende's native language [Spanish] under the title La casa de los espíritus. Although I've foldered the book here under its English title (since English is the [E2] language) the [bestseller] was translated in many languages. A list of translated titles I've encountered:

  • Dutch: [Het huis met de geesten]
  • English: The House of the Spirits
  • Finnish: [Henkien Talo]
  • French: [La maison aux esprits]
  • German: [Das Geisterhaus]
  • Italian: [La casa degli spiriti]
  • Norwegian: [Åndernes hus]
  • Portuguese: [A Casa dos Espíritos]
  • Turkish: [Ruhlar evi]

The movie

Danish director [Bille August] made a movie of the book in 1993. As happens to most depictions of true literary works, the movie resulted in little success. The lack of sensation had nothing to do with the impressive cast:

  • [Meryl Streep] plays Clara
  • [Jeremy Irons] plays Esteban Trueba
  • [Glenn Close] plays Ferula
  • [Winona Ryder] plays Blanca
  • [Antonio Banderas] plays Pedro
  • [Vanessa Redgrave] plays Nivea

The [Chicago Sun-Times] put it most clearly when saying:

"The movie works on a certain level simply because it tells an interesting story. The characters are clearly drawn, the story provides [ironic] justice, and the locations establish a certain reality. The [clutter]ed city homes of the rich families, where every surface is lined with expensive [bric-abrac], speak eloquently for their materialistic values and traditions.
But contrast this movie with another film based on a famous Latin novel of [romance] and [revenge], [Like Water for Chocolate]. That film breathes from its [root]s and informs us with its [passion]. The House of the Spirits seems like a [road production] - like a French [Guys and Dolls], an Italian [Three Sisters], a British [Streetcar Named Desire]. All of the characters have the right names, all of the necessary events occur, and indeed the very best local actors have been engaged. [But the soul has been mislaid]."