House of The Spirits (Chile)

Chileby Isabelle Allende, 1982

Wine & Olives Rating: OOOO (Four Olives)

SUMMARY: Uber-priveleged right-wing landowner Esteban Treuba; a man with more money than sense; haunted by the spirits of mystical realism that seem to inform all South American novels, gradually boards the Better Person Train for a more liberal Chile. Unfortunately, it takes the whole book.

This Book Made Me Want To: Grab the first hundred Chileans I could find and apologize profusely to them. America’s role in promoting the Pinochet dictatorship was shameful and finding out about at the age of 42 shocking.

Chile MapI Would Like to Ask the Author: What it is like to be related to the late great Salvator Allende.

Random Fact: The nearest Chilean restaurant is 1,196 miles from my house in Spokane, WA. (Chilenazo, in Los Angeles. Would it be worth the estimated $187.50 in gas to drive down and experience the pastel de choclo, Chile’s national dish?)


The first time the narrator raped someone I almost put the book down for good. It is a testament to Allende’s skill that I kept reading and even, by the end of the book, almost found myself liking the man or maybe feeling sorry for him.

The way the landowners are portrayed, treating the peasants, the Indians, women, and animals as badly as possible, just confirms what I already think about wealth without work and commerce without morality (two of Gandhi’s “seven sins of passive violence”); Communism, and the struggles of the working class.

House of the SpiritsAnd if we’re not careful, America could go the way of Chile as far as a right-wing, military-led dictatorship where people disappear and oppressive economic capitalism is carefully propped up by a corrupt system.

I was especially struck by the passage in the book where she describes the widening gap between the landowners and the poor (wealth creates poverty) and between the liberal and the conservative factions, which gradually became dangerously extreme.

Yep, sounds like here.

Allende’s writing is beautiful and reminds me of The Hummingbird’s Daughter, a fantastic novel of Mexico, as well as the convoluted but lovely sentence structures of Jane Austen.

5 thoughts on “House of The Spirits (Chile)”

  1. I also liked the novel, and was struck by its liveliness, by the dramatic gap and tension between rich and poor, between poor natives and rich newcomers, between generations, between social conventionality and the dissolution of barriers by the young, I was left above all with that feeling, that propensity for the miraculous specific to the Latin American literature, In this book the women and especially the blood ties with the native population and with the land, with the earth generated this miraculous, “spirited” experience. Hey you know what, I would have liked to ask the author the same question like you. Cheers and good luck with the other around the world books. pat

  2. Absolutely! Lively is the perfect description. It’s really interesting how the land is sort of a character too, and how Esteban is so in love with it when he is so cut off from everything else. My book group read “The Good Earth” by Pearl Buck this fall and the land is huge in that novel also–the Chinese peasants see it as a way out of poverty and a treasure to be passed down through the generations; but then their children/grandchildren end up becoming educated and well-to-do middle class and you know they’re going to sell the land when the father dies.

    1. Oops – forgot to say that this recipe has chopped the eggs and olives but the more traditional way is to halve the eggs and leave the olives whole… here’s a more traditional recipe 🙂 …
      along with a bit of history of the dish 🙂
      For the standard Chilean recipe, the obvious source is the classic Chilean Cookbook, the 700 page La Gran Cocina Chilena (8th edition, 2000):

      Pastel de Choclo

      8 ears of corn [see note, below]
      1 kg. ground beef
      1/2 kg. chicken pieces
      6 onions
      2 cloves garlic
      1 tablespoon cumin
      1/8 kg olives (5 oz)
      1/8 kg raisins (ditto)
      2 eggs
      Salt and pepper
      Cut the onions into a small dice and fry, then add the ground meat, garlic, salt, pepper, and cumin, and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes. Boil the chicken and cut into pieces. Boil the eggs and cut into rounds.
      Grate the corn and blend to a purée in a blender, add a little milk and fry the mixture in a little oil without burning it.
      In an oven proof pan [or ideally in individual earthenware bowls of greda de Pomaire] place the pieces of chicken, separated, and the olives and raisins and over that the prepared filling and the egg rounds, topped by a layer of the corn purée, sprinkling a little sugar on top to aid in browning. Bake in a hot over for 15 minutes.
      Note: The corn used is “field corn,” which is starchier than sweet corn and will cook into a thick paste. See Chilean Corn (Choclo Chileno). If field corn is not available add corn meal to thicken the mixture. In Chilean supermarkets prepared corn dough for humitas and pastel de choclo is available frozen.

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