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The House of the Spirits
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Isabel Allende's magnificent novel The House of the Spirits tells the story of four generations of a family in postcolonial Chile, using the literary device of magical realism. The book delves deep into the intersection of complex personal and political issues during a time of warlike struggle between Marxists on one side and capitalists and militarists on the other. There are numerous incidents of rape, torture, and murder, many times (but not always) in the context of the political power struggle. Unrelated to politics, there are a number of unsavory sexual situations: one character photographs deviant sex acts, and some characters have sex with prostitutes (heterosexual and homosexual prostitutes are mentioned). Loving couples have sex as well, within and without marriage. Other potentially disturbing content includes a detailed description of an abortion. Alcohol is consumed, a couple of people smoke marijuana, and a doctor helps one woman recover from addiction to what seems to be heroin.
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What's the story?
THE HOUSE OF SPIRITS takes place in Chile and tells the story of four generations of characters, beginning with the intersection of the del Valle family and the Trueba family before the start of World War I. As a young man, Esteban Trueba becomes engaged to the beautiful Rosa del Valle, who looks strikingly like a mermaid. Later, Esteban becomes a wealthy landowner, or patron. He eventually marries Rosa's sister Clara, the youngest of the wealthy and politically active del Valles, who communicates with spirits and can see the future. Esteban becomes a senator, but his way of life is threatened by political war between the right-wing conservatives he supports and the Marxist underclasses, and then by a violent government takeover by militarists. Meanwhile, the Trueba children follow very different paths in their choice of lovers and careers. Two generations -- Esteban and his granddaughter, Alba -- tell their family's story, which intertwines with the story of Chile's 20th century political struggles.
Is it any good?
Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits is epic in its personal and political scope, and in its sheer beauty. Her elegant prose weaves easily between the two different points of view in the book: the patriarchal grandfather clinging to the past, and his forward-thinking, soft-hearted granddaughter. All of Allende's characters are complex and beautifully realized. This brilliant novel is a great literary achievement on every level, as it seamlessly intertwines the characters' personal and political passions and the momentous events of their times.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Isabel Allende's use of magical realism the blending of supernatural and realistic fictional elements. Do you believe that Clara could talk to spirits? Why do you think the author added this fantastical quality to The House of Spirits?
Talk about the ways gender/sex roles change over time in the book, and the ways they don't.
Can you see why an oppressed underclass of people would embrace Marxism or socialism?
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