The House of the Spirits

The House of the Spirits

4.4 111
by Isabel Allende

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"Chilean writer Isabel Allende's classic novel is both a symbolic family saga and the story of an unnamed Latin American country's turbulent history." Allende constructs a spirit-ridden world and fills it with colorful and all-too-human inhabitants. The Trueba family's passions, struggles, and secrets span three generations and a century of violent change, culminating…  See more details below


"Chilean writer Isabel Allende's classic novel is both a symbolic family saga and the story of an unnamed Latin American country's turbulent history." Allende constructs a spirit-ridden world and fills it with colorful and all-too-human inhabitants. The Trueba family's passions, struggles, and secrets span three generations and a century of violent change, culminating in a crisis that brings the proud and tyrannical patriarch and his beloved granddaughter to opposite sides of the barricades. Against a backdrop of revolution and counterrevolution, Allende brings to life a family whose private bonds of love and hatred are more complex and enduring than the political allegiances that set them at odds.

Editorial Reviews

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt
Extraordinary...powerful...sharply observant, witty and eloquent.
The New York Times
Carol E. Rinzler
There are few trips more thrilling that those taken in the imagination of a brilliant novelist. That experience is available in The House of the Spirits by Isabelle Allende....Although remote from our country and our time, the characters, their joys and their anguish, could not be more contemporary or immediate.
Johathan Yardley
The only cause the House of the Spirits embraces is that of humanity, and it does so with such passion, humor, and wisdom that in the end it transends politics....The result is a novel of force and charm, spaciousness and vigor.
The Washington Post
From the Publisher
“Spectacular.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Nothing short of astonishing . . . In The House of the Spirits Isabel Allende has indeed shown us the relationships between past and present, family and nation, city and country, spiritual and political values. She has done so with enormous imagination, sensitivity, and compassion.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“A vivid, absorbing work of art . . . [Allende’s] characters are fascinatingly detailed and human.”—People
“Extraordinary . . . powerful . . . sharply observant, witty and eloquent.”—The New York Times
“Mesmerizing . . . a novel of force and charm.”—The Washington Post

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
4.15(w) x 6.85(h) x 0.95(d)
1280L (what's this?)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Rosa the Beautiful

Barrabás came to us by sea, the child Clara wrote in her delicate calligraphy. She was already in the habit of writing down important matters, and afterward, when she was mute, she also recorded trivialities, never suspecting that fifty years later I would use her notebooks to reclaim the past and overcome terrors of my own. Barrabás arrived on a Holy Thursday. He was in a despicable cage, caked with his own excrement and urine, and had the lost look of a hapless, utterly defenseless prisoner; but the regal carriage of his head and the size of his frame bespoke the legendary giant he would become. It was a bland, autumnal day that gave no hint of the events that the child would record, which took place during the noon mass in the parish of San Sebastián, with her whole family in attendance. As a sign of mourning, the statues of the saints were shrouded in purple robes that the pious ladies of the congregation unpacked and dusted off once a year from a cupboard of sacristy. Beneath these funereal sheets the celestial retinue resembled nothing so much as a roomful of furniture awaiting movers, an impression that the candles, the incense, and the soft moans of the organ were powerless to counteract. Terrifying dark bundles loomed where the life-size saints had stood, each with its influenza-pale expression, its elaborate wig woven from the hair of someone long dead, its rubies, pearls and emeralds of painted glass, and the rich gown of a Florentine aristocrat. The only one whose appearance was enhanced by mourning was the church's patron saint, Sebastián, for during Holy Week the faithful were spared the sight of that body twisted in the most indecent posture, pierced by arrows, and dripping with blood and tears like a suffering homosexual, whose wounds, kept miraculously fresh by Father Restrepo's brush, made Clara tremble with disgust.

It was a long week of penitence and fasting, during which there were no card games and no music that might lead to lust or abandon; and within the limits of possibility, the strictest sadness and chastity were observed, even though it was precisely at this time that the forked tail of the devil pricked most insistently at Catholic flesh. The fast consisted of soft puff pastries, delicious vegetarian dishes, spongy tortillas, and enormous cheeses from the countryside, with which each family commemorated the Passion of the Lord, taking every precaution not to touch the least morsel of meat or fish on pain of excommunication, as Father Restrepo had repeatedly made clear. No one had ever dared to disobey him. The priest was blessed with a long, incriminating finger, which he used to point out sinners in public, and a tongue well schooled in arousing emotions.

"There's the thief who steals from the collection box!" he shouted from the pulpit as he pointed to a gentleman who was busying himself with the lint on his lapel so as not to show his face. "And there's the shameless hussy who prostitutes herself down by the docks!" he accused Doña Ester Trueba, disabled by arthritis and a devotee of the Virgin del Carmen, who opened her eyes wide, not knowing the meaning of the word or where the docks were. "Repent, sinners, foul carrion, unworthy of our Lord's great sacrifice! Fast! Do penance!"

Carried away by vocational zeal, the priest had all he could do to avoid openly disobeying the instructions of his ecclesiastic superiors, who, shaken by the winds of modernism, were opposed to hair shirts and flagellation. He himself was a firm believer in the value of a good thrashing to vanquish the weaknesses of the soul and was famous for his unrestrained oratory. The faithful followed him from parish to parish, sweating as he described the torments of the damned in hell, the bodies ripped apart by various ingenious torture apparatuses, the eternal flames, the hooks that pierced the male member, the disgusting reptiles that crept up female orificies, and the myriad other sufferings that he wove into his sermons to strike the fear of God into the hearts of his parishioners. Even Satan was described in his most intimate perversions in the Galician accents of this priest whose mission in this world was to rouse the conscience of his indolent Creole flock.

Severo del Valle was an atheist and a Mason, but he had political ambitions and could not allow himself the luxury of missing the most heavily attended mass on Sundays and feast days, when everyone would have a chance to see him. His wife, Nívea, preferred to deal with God without benefit of intermediaries. She had a deep distrust of cassocks and was bored by descriptions of heaven, purgatory and hell, but she shared her husband's parliamentary ambitions, hoping that if he won a seat in Congress she would finally secure the vote for women, for which she had fought for the past ten years, permitting none of her numerous pregnancies to get in her way. On this Holy Thursday, Father Restrepo had led his audience to the limits of their endurance with his apocalyptic visions, and Nívea was beginning to feel dizzy. She wondered if she was pregnant again. Despite cleansings with vinegar and spongings with gall, she had given birth to fifteen children, of whom eleven were still alive, but she had good reason to suppose that she was settling into maturity, because her daughter Clara, the youngest of her children, was now ten. It seemed that the force of her astonishing fertility had finally begun to ebb. She was able to attribute her present discomfort to Father Restrepo when he pointed at her to illustrate a point about the Pharisees, who had tried to legalize bastards and civil marriage, thereby dismembering the family, the fatherland, private property, and the Church, and putting women on an equal footing with men—this in open defiance of the law of God, which was most explicit on the issue. Along with their children, Nívea and Severo took up the entire third row of benches. Clara was seated beside her mother, who squeezed her hand impatiently whenever the priest lingered too long on the sins of the flesh, for she knew that this would only lead the child to visualize with even greater accuracy aberrations that transcended reality. Clara was extremely precocious and had inherited the runaway imagination of all the women in her family on her mother's side. This was evident from the questions she asked, to which no one knew the answers.

The temperature inside the church had risen, and the penetrating odor of the candles, the incense, and the tightly packed crowd all contributed to Nívea's fatigue. She wished the ceremony would end at once so she could return to her cool house, sit down among the ferns, and taste the pitcher of barley water flavored with almonds that Nana always made on holidays. She looked around at her children. The younger ones were tired and rigid in their Sunday best, and the older ones were beginning to squirm. Her gaze rested on Rosa, the oldest of her living daughters, and, as always, she was surprised. The girl's strange beauty had a disturbing quality that even she could not help noticing, for this child of hers seemed to have been made of a different material from the rest of the human race. Even before she was born, Nívea had known she was not of this world, because she had already seen her in dreams. This was why she had not been surprised when the midwife screamed as the child emerged. 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. From her very first bath, Nana had washed her hair with camomile, which softened its color, giving it the hue of old bronze, and put her out in the sun with nothing on, to strengthen her skin, which was translucent in the most delicate parts of her chest and armpits, where the veins and secret texture of the muscles could be seen. Nana's gypsy tricks did not suffice, however, and rumors quickly spread that Nívea had borne an angel. Nívea hoped that the successive and unpleasant stages of growth would bring her daughter a few imperfections, but nothing of the sort occurred. On the contrary, at eighteen Rosa was still slender and remained unblemished; her maritime grace had, if anything, increased. The tone of her skin, with its soft bluish lights, and of her hair, as well as her slow movements and silent character, all made one think of some inhabitant of the sea. There was something of the fish to her (if she had had a scaly tail, she would have been a mermaid), but her two legs placed her squarely on the tenuous line between a human being and a creature of myth. Despite everything, the young woman had led a nearly normal life. She had a fiancé and would one day marry, on which occasion the responsibility of her beauty would become her husband's. Rosa bowed her head and a ray of sunlight pierced the Gothic stained-glass windows of the church, outlining her face in a halo of light. A few people turned to look at her and whispered among themselves, as often happened as she passed, but Rosa seemed oblivious. She was immune to vanity and that day she was more absent than usual, dreaming of new beasts to embroider on her tablecloth, creatures that were half bird and half mammal, covered with iridescent feathers and endowed with horns and hooves, and so fat and with such stubby wings that they defied the laws of biology and aerodynamics. She rarely thought about her fiancé, Esteban Trueba, not because she did not love him but because of her forgetful nature and because two years' absence is a long time. He was working in the mines in the North. He wrote to her regularly and Rosa sometimes replied, sending him lines of poetry and drawings of flowers she had copied out on sheets of parchment paper. Through this correspondence, which Nívea violated with impunity at regular intervals, she learned about the hazards of a miner's life, always dreading avalanches, pursuing elusive veins, asking for credit against good luck that was still to come, and trusting that someday he would strike a marvelous seam of gold that would allow him to become a rich man overnight and return to lead Rosa by the arm to the altar, thus becoming the happiest man in the universe, as he always wrote at the end of his letters. Rosa, however, was in no rush to marry and had all but forgotten the only kiss they had exchanged when they said goodbye; nor could she recall the color of her tenacious suitor's eyes. Because of the romantic novels that were her only reading matter, she liked to picture him in thick-soled boots, his skin tanned from the desert winds, clawing the earth in search of pirates' treasure, Spanish doubloons, and Incan jewels. It was useless for Nívea to attempt to convince her that the wealth of mines lay in rocks, because to Rosa it was inconceivable that Esteban Trueba would spend years piling up boulders in the hope that by subjecting them to God only knew what wicked incinerating processes, they would eventually spit out a gram of gold. Meanwhile she awaited him without boredom, unperturbed by the enormous task she had taken upon herself: to embroider the largest tablecloth in the world. She had begun with dogs, cats, and butterflies, but soon her imagination had taken over, and her needle had given birth to a whole paradise filled with impossible creatures that took shape beneath her father's worried eyes. Severo felt that it was time for his daughter to shake off her lethargy, stand firmly in reality, and learn the domestic skills that would prepare her for marriage, but Nívea thought differently. She preferred not to torment her daughter with earthly demands, for she had a premonition that her daughter was a heavenly being, and that she was not destined to last very long in the vulgar traffic of this world. For this reason she left her alone with her embroidery threads and said nothing about Rosa's nightmarish zoology.

A bone in Nívea's corset snapped and the point jabbed her in the ribs. She felt she was choking in her blue velvet dress, with its high lace collar, its narrow sleeves, and a waist so tight that when she removed her belt her stomach jumped and twisted for half an hour while her organs fell back in place. She had often discussed this with her suffragette friends and they had all agreed that until women shortened their dresses and their hair and stopped wearing corsets, it made no difference if they studied medicine or had the right to vote, because they would not have the strength to do it, but she herself was not brave enough to be among the first to give up the fashion. She noticed that the voice from Galicia had ceased hammering at her brain. They were in one of those long breaks in the sermon that the priest, a connoisseur of unbearable silences, used with frequency and to great effect. His burning eyes glanced over the parishioners one by one. Nívea dropped Clara's hand and pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve to blot the drop of sweat that was rolling down her neck. The silence grew thick, and time seemed to stop within the church, but no one dared to cough or shift position, so as not to attract Father Restrepo's attention. His final sentences were still ringing between the columns.

Just at that moment, as Nívea would recall years later, in the midst of all that anxiety and silence, the voice of little Clara was heard in all its purity.

"Psst! Father Restrepo! If that story about hell is a lie, we're all fucked, aren't we. . . ."

The Jesuit's index finger, which was already raised to illustrate additional tortures, remained suspended like a lightning rod above his head. People stopped breathing, and those whose heads had been nodding suddenly woke up. Señor and Señora del Valle were the first to react. They were swept by panic as they saw their children fidget nervously. Severo understood that he must act before collective laughter broke out around them or some divine cataclysm occurred. He grabbed his wife by the arm and Clara by the neck and walked out dragging them behind him with enormous strides, followed by his other children, who stampeded toward the door. They managed to escape before the priest could summon a ray of lightning to turn them all into pillars of salt, but from the threshold they could hear his dreadful voice of offended archangel.

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher

“Spectacular.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Nothing short of astonishing . . . In The House of the Spirits Isabel Allende has indeed shown us the relationships between past and present, family and nation, city and country, spiritual and political values. She has done so with enormous imagination, sensitivity, and compassion.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“A vivid, absorbing work of art . . . [Allende’s] characters are fascinatingly detailed and human.”—People
“Extraordinary . . . powerful . . . sharply observant, witty and eloquent.”—The New York Times
“Mesmerizing . . . a novel of force and charm.”—The Washington Post

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The House of the Spirits 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 111 reviews.
Nonie15 More than 1 year ago
One of my favorite books of all time! I loved the characters.  It is definitely for someone who likes cultural books that transport you to another era.  I don't want to give much of the plot away.  There are some elements of fantasy in the book, but it is mostly just a beautiful novel.  The imagery is powerful.  The stories of the women in the family is a topic anyone could be interested in.   
Arlene54 More than 1 year ago
As a latinamerican I know what she is talking about: those big wooden houses, the importance of family, social classes differences, tabues, etc. She has recreated our early 1900's society quite accurately. Besides that magic surrounding the principal character! Spirits, unknown forces, besides the force of blood and family as life passes by are of great importance too! I bought the book as a gift, since I have to really, really like something in order to pass it to someone else. Buy this book, you won't regret it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book is beautiful -- it swept me away and I wanted to be reading it every second I could. Just wonderful. The characters are so alive and the book is enchanting.
dochile More than 1 year ago
Well written.
Mauvaisefille More than 1 year ago
This is one of my favorite books ever!! I read it when I was 13 years old in Literature Class and just fell in love with the story and the characters. This is a great South American story and it also makes me remember my family and country. It is A MUST READ.... A classic.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was in 5th grade when my older brother gave me this book. I didn't actually read it until I was in high school. This is one of the best books I have ever read. It makes you cry, it makes you laugh and ultimately live the life of the Truebas through and enchanting saga. I took my time readng it, relishing the details and love that Allende put into this beautiful novel. Once finished you feel as though you have come back from a very very long odyssey. Nothing seems the same anymore and you will never forget the Truebas, for their pain was your pain and their glory was yours as well. I recommend this to anyone to pick up and give it a shot. It is truly one of the most remarkable stories ever told.
Jordyn-Stokes More than 1 year ago
In “The House of Spirits”, an extraordinary novel written by Isabel Allende, the reader explores the world of a Family in Chile who are all a little different. The story is told from two points of view and enthralls the reader through both of their lives and when put all together depicts a chilling, yet magical, journey of three generations in a demanding time period. Allende use of the tone throughout the novel can almost be described as distant and cold at times. As an example, when Rosa the Beautiful died the man examining her body became so smitten with her beauty he actually molested her body. The only witness to this was Rosa’s little Sister Clara. When describing this scene Allende writes in quick short sentences as if what was happening was not that important giving a sinister vibe to the description. One key character in the novel and also a narrator in some parts is Esteban Trueba. His character goes through many hardships throughout the novel and although strange at times as we go throughout his life the problems he faces are still almost relatable. Another important writing technique used by Allende was the uses of two narrators both strung along together. At first it is a bit confessing because you go through the first couple of pages with the understanding that this story will be told through a third person omniscient and then all of the sudden the word “I” pops up. Pretty much the whole book you are slightly confused but go along with it, it’s not until the end when you finally understand that the writer is Alba, Esteban’s granddaughter, and, as you have already probably figured out early on into the book, Esteban. Giving two different perspectives help establish the reader’s opinions and help create conflict and conflict is a main aspect within the book. Allende writing style can be best describe as very flowing at times its almost repetitiveness which gives the effect that she is writing the story as she thinks up new ideas and goes on, never stopping to correct herself. This gives off comforting sense, because it makes the reader feel like the story is being told orally, like maybe beside a campfire or an old story your grandmother would tell. Over all I love this book and I highly recommend this amazing piece of literature to anyone looking for a great book to curl up with on a rainy Sunday, to dive into on a bus, or anywhere they could have enough light to read with.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Had a hard time putting it down. The characters are all so amazing and full of life! Written beautifully, you feel like your there with them through everything!
DoranneLongPTMS More than 1 year ago
A beautifully-written book, involving four generations, revealing vivid historical, personal, and spiritual lives in South America. The stories are sometimes hard to believe but feel very real.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have just bought this book,and read about 4 chapters. I love this book,and each time I turn each page I can not put it down at all. It's a must read book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Adriana_P More than 1 year ago
The House of the spirits published by Everyman's Library was a tragic and thrilling story. Isabel Allende did an amazing job with this novel. Estaban and his granddaughter Alba are looking back into Clara del Valle's journal to put their families story together. Clara is the main character of this novel she is Estaban’s wife (Estaban also narrates parts of the novel.) Clara is the mother of Jaime, Nicolas and Blanca. Thought the story something tragic happen between Clara and Estaban where they do not speak for years. Isabel Allende did an amazing job in showing the drama and pain of the Trueba family during those many years. This novel shows love and the struggle and heartache that comes along with it. This novel was great ! It had me wondering what was going to happen and having me unable to put the book down. Isabel Allende did a great job bring the characters to life sometime i would even feel for the characters as if I knew them. The house of the spirits was a great novel. It brought you along on the Trueba family’s journey. You go through three generations of struggle and violence. Isabel Allende really bring out the Spanish culture in this novel. Yes I recommend this book it is a page turner and overall a great novel.
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BookCore More than 1 year ago
An interesting story of a family in a Latin American country (Peru? not sure) - anyway, it traces the generations from the early 20th century until (I think) sometime in the 60s (it doesn't really make it 100% clear.) Some of the people are just plain weird - Clara, the grandmother, is the weirdest one. But most of them are likeable, with the notable exception of Esteban, the grandfather. He's one of those people who rants whenever those who are less wealthy than he is stand up and ask for more equitable treatment, arguing that "I worked hard, everybody else should too, if you don't want to do backbreaking work 24/7 then you're just worthless, blah blah blah." Give him credit - he DID work his ass off to get rich. However, he conveniently forgets that he owned a lot of land free and clear in the first place. There's never any mention of rent or mortgage payments. So he started out with a huge advantage - if he hadn't had all that land to begin with, his hard work would have made somebody else rich. But he expects other people not to mind working hard to make him rich. He's also a sexist jerk who rapes and abuses peasants on his estate and forces his daughter to marry a weird guy who's into *very* kinky stuff. However, the overall story is awesome, and it might not be possible without the horrible character of Esteban. If the book was full of nothing but nice people, maybe nothing interesting ever would have happened. One cool thing about Isabel Allende - she has a writing style that would get on my nerves if anybody else tried it. She doesn't always stay right on topic, she drifts sometimes from one seemingly unrelated thing to the next. She's one of those rare authors who can do that without irritating me into giving up on the book.
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carlosmock More than 1 year ago
La casa de los espíritus by Isabel Allende The House of Spirits is probably Allende's best book and the one responsible for her fame. The movie version helped spread her work in the EE UU. In it, she chronicles the life of a family, as the patriarch grows from a child to an elder, with the world changing all around him while he tries to keep it the same. Through the lenses of the Trueba family, we follow the portion of Chilean history that eventually leads to the 1973 coup, where the CIA deposed Salvador Allende. Of course, the author is the niece of Salvador Allende, the socialist president democratically elected that was removed from power and killed by Pinochet, aided by the American government. The book is based on clashes; old versus young, communists vs conservatives, landlords vs tenants. As the story unfolds, we view the extremist positions that each side takes: landlords attacking tenants, conservatives attacking communists, and vice versa. From the polarization of positions emerges a military dictatorship that no one wanted, but that was a product of the system setup by class warfare. The book tells the story of Clara del Valle, a young girl who is able to predict every event in her life although not able to change the future. When her uncle Marcos dies and his body is delivered to her house, along with a puppy called Barrábas, Clara decides to start keeping a journal, which is later used by her husband Esteban and granddaughter Alba to piece together the story of their family. Clara's sister, Rosa the beautiful is engaged to Esteban Trueba, until one day she is accidentally poisoned instead of her father. Clara stops talking as a reaction to this event. Esteban continues to work hard and through his determination makes a fortune out of his estate, Trés Marias. Nine years later he returns to the city and visits the del Valle family again. This time he intends to get engaged to Clara who surprises everyone by talking again and telling Esteban she will marry him. From then on, this compelling story continues to detail the lives of the del Valle / Trueba family as well as the social and political on goings of the country. Magical Realism follows the female characters of the Trueba family. The peasants at Trés Marias are a perfect example of this, where the fight between the social classes is so evident and this book gives you a view from both angles. Esteban oppressed the peasants andf sired a child that later haunts him. I liked how the personal and political aspects are woven together in a novel that analyzes the changes in the different generations of the family as well as those happening in the country, with the magical touch of the del Valle family to enhance the story but not ruin it with unrealistic occurrences. Along with "Paula," and "Hija de La Fortuna" they are the best from Allende. Lately her books are too commercial and not worth reading.
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