Reviewed by Aileen Paterson
I was very surprised to learn that this book had been banned in several US schools for its ‘frank treatment of sexual themes’. It had been some time since I had read it (maybe fifteen years or more) but I couldn’t remember it being particularly explicit.
I am fond of Isabel Allende’s writing as her stories have the air of modern day fairy tales: mystical, magical and always beautifully written. With this in mind, I thought it worth having a re-read of House of the Spirits, as it was the book that got me addicted to Allende.
This is an ambitious tale of one family’s fortunes and sorrows over three generations. Set in Latin America, this is an exotic landscape full of superstition and religious fervour, and old ways of life that are resistant to the changes that are slowly taking place.
The story begins when Senor del Valle’s political ambitions are threatened by the strange behaviour of his daughter, who apparently has the ability to move objects without touching them and to predict the future for those around her. The family comes under attack from an unknown person with murderous intentions, with tragic and unpredictable consequences. The loves, triumphs and sorrows of the Trueba family unfold as lovers meet and children are born, grow up, grow old.
Meanwhile, the country is in a state of flux, with political and social changes, the old values are coming into conflict with the new, the call for equality for women and for new rights for workers battles with age old traditions and prejudices, and violence and torture accompany the political unrest.
I would heartily recommend this book, as well as Isabel Allende’s other work. This is a heartrending story told in an unsentimental manner, with memorable and quirky characters. Well worth reading, and the sexual references are not particularly detailed or explicit, so maybe those schools were being a little over-cautious.