I did it! I finally finished The House of Spirits, a book I've been reading since, oh, October. Pathetic. The weird thing about the book is that it was really good, but it just took me forever to read it! But I loved it! I think the main delay was the whole new full-time job and moving thing. So there was a good two months in there that I wasn't even trying.
Anyway, I'm finally done, and I loved it. I haven't read much of Isabel Allende, except for Zorro. And this one was completely different than Zorro. This book was more of a family epic, starting with the great-grandparents and moving through the years. It reminded me strongly of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (and not just because they're both Latin American writers). Both were huge, sprawling family epics spanning decades of time. But even more strongly, both of them really emphasized the circuity of life--how in some weird way a child is destined to make the same mistakes as his great-grandfather. It's not something I usually subscribe to, but it makes a really interesting story, and it does make sense in a lot of ways. In Marquez's novel, it's a fatalistic approach that you can't escape it, but Allende takes that view and switches it around to say that people can better themselves despite destiny.
In The House of Spirits Allende does an amazing job of foreshadowing--I've never read a book with so much of it! She'll tell you then end of someone's story as she's introducing them, in a way you barely even realize, and it only hits you later how momentous that revelation is. For example, when Amanda tells her brother she'd die for him, Allende writes, "she did not know then that one day she would have to." It creates this amazing circle where you're always being reminded that it's a bigger story than the small section you're reading now. And every foreshadowed event actually happens--no hint is left at the end, and you see this huge story come together.
The book almost blew my mind because of the detailed and bloody story of a political coup. She never mentions the country in the book, but a quick internet search (I admit: Wikipedia) pointed me to Chile in the 1970s. I had no idea of the tumultuous, bloody politics the country went through (probably because the CIA had a small role in that, and they don't really want to spread that around).
And lastly, I love the characters of Clara, Blanca, and Alba (mother, daughter, and grand-daughter), who are shown from a woman's point of view, and therefore strong and real.