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Ripper by Isabel Allende

Did I think Allende could do it? Yes, but still I had my doubts.

Ripper pulls the reader right in, it is 500 pages but it reads like 150 (I finished the book in two days). The suspense took a different turn around 40 pages left. I read mystery novels, but I was so invested in the characters from this book that I had to flip through the next pages. I know, I’m the worst, but I had to see what happened. I was going to get a heart attack if not.

Overall the novel is about a series of murders in the San Francisco area. Of course, the main characters are a family, drawn together by the voluminous, evanescence creature, Indiana (I seriously love the name Indi). Her family is strong, her friends are strong and I found the villain believable. I have to say I guessed it!!!! Not in a bad way, since I only guessed half of it, but still I was happy to guess “who dun it” as they say.

One of the things that I always found were Allende’s strengths were building characters that you could read, read into and read again. Do people like Agatha or Amanda really exist? I’m not sure, but Allende does a good job of showing us what it means to be human, to have different loves and interests and beliefs.

Thoughts the Ripper was funny and touching in a way that extended beyond the typical idea of a “mystery novel.” I thought it was a great read, interesting at every turn. I loved the characters and was captivated by Allende’s always stunning use of language (Did she write this in English first??)

Great Passage

He was so eaten up with jealousy that he hired a private detective, a man named Samuel Hamilton Jr., and instructed him to keep tabs on Indiana and a record of the men she met, including her patients at the Holistic Clinic. Hamilton was a short little man with the innocuous air of a vacuum cleaner salesman, but he had inherited the nose of a bloodhound from his father, a journalist who had solved a number of crimes in San Francisco back in the 1960s and was immortalized in the detective novels of William C. Gordon. The son was the spitting image of his father: short, red-haired, balding, keen-eyed. He was dogged and persistent in his fight against the criminal underworld but, overshadowed by his father’s legend, had never managed to truly develop his potential and so scraped by as best he could. Hamilton tailed Indiana for a month without discovering anything of interest, and for a while, Alan was reassured, but his calm was short-lived; soon he would call the detective again, the cycle of mistrust repeating itself with shameful regularity. Fortunately, Indiana knew nothing about these machinations, though she ran into Samuel Hamilton so often, and in such unexpected situations, that after a while they would say hello to one another.

Character Discussion, Blanca

Perhaps surprisingly, Blanca was my favorite character throughout a great of the novel.

Overall

Blanca was Clara and Esteban’s first daughter, she was very close to her mother, though she  herself possessed none of Clara’s skills. Blanca is characterized by her ability to love. She loves without reason of lack; she loves completely. It is this ability that saves her from all of her character flaws. We see that Alba criticizes her mother for not immediately running away with her lover, Pedro, and attributes this to her mother simply not loving him enough. Eventually, she does run away with him and they live, as they say, happily ever after (hopefully).

Other Thoughts

I found Blanca’s tale a tribute the the capacity of a woman’s love, and the capacity of the strength that one can draw from it. For example, Blanca is forced to marry a noble frenchman, who has rather queer sexual tastes and is perhaps hinted at having a sexual relationship with one of the male Indians that he employs. She is disturbed, and runs away at the exact moment that her water breaks. Yet Blanca had the strength to run, despite her fears.

Blanca is also stubborn and likes to live a comfortable life. When everyone is suffering, she fearfully hides food away, so much so that it goes bad. However, despite all of these qualities, her narrative is saved by her unyielding love for Pedro. It is this love that she draws from, and I found that strength, that pool of love, very moving.

Character Discussion, Jamie (THTS)

I’m going to start my character analysis / discussion by talking about Jamie, from The House of the Spirits (THTS). He was one of my favorite supporting characters of the novel, and a smaller task than looking at Clara, or Alba right away.

Background

Jamie is the son of Clara and Esteban. He is the younger brother of Blanca, and the twin of Nicolás. As Jamie grew older, he was sent with his brother to an English preparatory school. He then went to medical school, and became a doctor who mostly served the poor. Jamie was not very close with his brother Nicolás or his sister Blanca, or his parents (Clara / Esteban). He was very close with Alba, Blanca’s daughter, and slightly jealous of her romantic companions (Miguel).

Jamie developed a very big sense of self-sacrifice. He would do anything, for anyone who he felt needed it. As a young man, he was in love with Amanda (at first Nicolás’ lover), however she left. When they met again, she was in love with him and he was not, though he was too kind to shun her. As he became older, he became close friends with The President, which ultimately led to his death. He was killed during the military coup, quite brutally.

Analysis

Jamie embodies the idiom, “give someone the shirt off one’s back.” He will literally take off his clothes to give to another person in need. This idiom has a biblical connotation (Sweet Revenge, (Matthew 5:38-42, Romans 12:17-21)), which is interesting because Jamie, as a character, despises religion. When Alba joked about her propensity to become a nun, he was very, very against it.

He is a very selfless human being, who did everything to help the people of the nation come out of poverty, but there was simply too much to be done. As a character, Jamie does a good job in embodying the helplessness people in such a state of poverty feel. He is often overwhelmed by his work, but that does not stop him from trying. Additionally his senseless death exemplifies how the government of this country killed the ones who are trying to save it. Jamie, the embodiment of good, was murdered by the same government that was suppose to “help.”

Jamie loves Amanda as a young adult, yet when he gets older, he does not feel the same way. Though he tries to distance himself, he can’t bring himself to hurt her, thus is complacent in their relationship. Jamie wants to love her again. Even in matters of the heart, Jamie is completely selfless, and sees Amanda as an individual worth his love.

Physically, Jamie is also quite large. He was described as larger than Nicolás and use to defend him in fights that happened in school. This contrast, between his kind personality and his strong physicality, creates an interesting juxtaposition. It gives me Of Mice and Men  vibes, because even though Jamie is quite intelligent, he is too kind to ever use his immense physical strength anymore.

Overall

I found Jamie’s death the most shattering. It was a great juxtaposition, and a great show of the terrible things that Latin America does to itself. The violent regime changes that hurt its own people and its own country. RIP Jamie!

The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende

Here is some other angles to The House of the Spirits, in case anyone needs some more opinions!

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The House of the SpiritsFirst things first: I’ve been absent from the blog writing lately, and I feel terrible about it. It’s been a busy month – I spoke at two conferences, had several major projects for work, continue to work on my master’s degree, and I’m planning my wedding (which is on the 22nd of this month, so brace yourselves for another potential absence). I love writing my reviews, but when the heat’s on and it’s crunch time, they are the first thing I have to knock off my plate. With that said, I do hope to get back to a regular update schedule and build another buffer so I still have things posting while I’m on my honeymoon. And now, let’s talk about Isabel Allende!

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The House of the Spirits

Summary,

To start off with a brief summary, The House of the Spirits follows the del Valle family throughout many generations. They live in South America, though it is never specified which country they live in, the reader can assume based on the historical events that the family lives in Chile. The novel begins following the first generation:

Nívea and her husband Severo as they are raising their children. Nívea has a LOT of children, and the focus is on Clara and her sister Rosa. Clara, meaning clear in Spanish, has supernatural powers, while Rosa is supernaturally beautiful (seen below in fan art).

The House of the Spirits employs a dearth of magical realism, particularly at the beginning of the novel. Personally, I love reading magical realism because you read a description like, “more beautiful than ever, her hair strikingly green,” and you just go with it. After Rosa’s unfortunate death, Clara becomes an introvert, refusing to speak at all. She eventually marries Esteban, her dead sister’s finance. Esteban and Clara consummate a marriage that is loving, though perhaps platonic. They have three children: Nicolás, Jamie and Blanca. Nicolás is an eccentric soul, taken to salsa, religion and the most striking of which, nudity. Jamie is the most kind, giving character. He dedicates his life to the cause of helping others, literally giving clothes off of himself to give to those who do not have any. Blanca is characterized by her capacity to love, deeply. She falls in love with Pedro (the third) and they end up being together. Blanca’s child, Alba, is another central character to the novel. She is another powerful del Valle woman, and her power for compassion allowed many people during the Chilean revolution to escape from harm.

At the background, and later the forefront, of the family drama, is the Chilean revolution. If none of you are aware of the specifics, Chile was briefly controlled by a Marxist government, Salvador Allende, however he was soon overthrown in a military coup. To make this story even more convoluted, Isabel Allende, the author, is actually the niece (correct me if I’m wrong), of Salvador Allende, or ‘The President,’ as he is described in the novel.

I will go into more character analysis in another post, since we are forgetting about a lot of people here, to make it a bit shorter, but I am going to move on to what I liked, and what I didn’t like about the novel.

The Good, the Great, the Mastery

For many, it is almost impossible to discuss The House of the Spirits without comparing it to a Marquez novel. It is true, both of these books heavily rely on the use of magical realism. But to do this is showing an ignorance in Latin American literature. Almost ALL books published by this genre of authors employs magical realism. Simply put, Allende and Marquez are just perhaps the two most well known and most masterful Latin American authors of their times.

(how great is this picture of Marquez)

I have heard critiques of this novel that she “tells, not shows,” and I would like to discount that. Magical realism is ALL about telling, and the reader accepting how something is. Allende employs a style which is very frank in her descriptions. Esteban is proud, Alba is stubborn. I found this style very easy to pace and read, but perhaps for others it was not the same way. Additionally I have heard critiques about the repeated use of foreshadowing in her novels. Personally, I found the foreshadowing interesting. It made me want to flip back through the book and think, where did she say this was going to happen? But I can understand this critique because, as a warning, foreshadowing is employed very often.

I found the most compelling part of the novel was Allende’s ability to weave through so many characters. Characters like Amanda, who you thought were never going to appear again suddenly take a main role in the narration. I thought that the characters were developed deeply and with apparent ease. For example, we never really hear much about Amanda, but I can imagine the woman who grew up too soon, has a jaded look on the world, sees Jamie’s love for her and immediately leaves. Additionally I think that the extreme characters like Jamie and Nicolás further add to the complexity of the story. Jamie is not meant to be a character that really exists in life. We all know the hyperbolic idiom, “give the shirt off one’s back,” which Jamie does. It is clear that Allende is using Jamie as a device in this novel, and personally I found it very effective (I cried when Jamie died…).

I also found these characters deep and powerful. The women of the Allende family made me proud, simply as a reader. Though we know that Esteban is the powerful patriarch, his power is diminished by Clara. It is Clara who brings the life into the household. After her death, it is silent, even the cats run away.

Additionally despite the very fast pasted and tumultuous topic that Allende was dealing with, the background being the Chilean revolution, I thought she did a beautiful job of weaving through scenery.

I want to start ‘The Bad’ section by prefacing, I really enjoyed The House of the Spirits, it captivated me throughout the novel, I laughed, marked down favorite quotes, and all of those good things you do with good books,

The Bad (and my apparent ignorance):

As I have said multiple times, The House of the Spirits discusses Chile’s complicated past, including the death of ‘The President’ and the military control the country later experienced. Personally, I did not know much about Chile’s history. That is a terrible oversight of mine, especially as a Latin American woman, however it was never really taught in schools, and I did not study history, so this novel was really my first take on the history behind these bloody events. The revolution happens very quickly in the novel. I would estimate that 4/5th of the novel covers the del Valle family, while 1/5 goes through their time in the revolution. Honestly, it might even be a smaller minority. I would like to say that this might be accurate, the revolution might have happened suddenly like that for the people in Chile at the time. Perhaps the election of the communist party really was as sudden as it seemed in the novel (although ‘The President’ did tell us it was going to happen). And perhaps the end of regime was as short as it seemed. It is hard to keep track of timelines in the novel, because we are going through four generations of del Valle women (if you want to say that Nana plays a key role, then five). So the communist party was really in power for three years in Chile (thank you wikipedia) but it feels like about 15 pages in the novel. Keep in mind that the novel must take place over around 60 years, so I guess comparatively, perhaps it is accurate. Personally, I felt like that section was a bit rushed. The novel was getting upwards of 500 words and it was time to end, and Allende seemed to rush through.

Overall

The House of the Spirits is a compelling novel, and Allende’s first of many. Today she is one of the most popular, if not the most read, Latin American writer and it is not hard to see why, after this novel. The book started off as a letter to her grandfather, discussing their history, after she found out that he was dying and then turned into this beautiful book.

I would definitely recommend The House of the Spirits to any reader who has a taste for magical realism, and simply beautiful prose. Allende has the ability to string together any sentence and make you go back and have to read it again. And, as my friend pointed out, it does a great job at characterizing the Latin American anger that is so common in the countries where the government has repeatedly failed them.

Rating

★★★★

Though I thought it was a powerful novel, it did not make me think or wonder as much as some of my other favorite books. But it is definitely worth a buy and a reread from me!