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AT FIRST GLANCE, The House of the Sports is the stuff of which television mini-series are made: A poor miner from a fallen family longs to marry the eldest daughter of a wealthy senator. But his beautiful bride-to-be dies before the wedding. Disconsole, the miner returns to his family's ancestral home, a once-great plantation which has gone to seed.
Sternly but fairly he works with the peasants who live on his land to restore the ruined estate to its former greatness. He returns to the senator's house a rich man intent on finding a suitable wife. After the lavish wedding he builds his new hidden passages and secret Storerooms.
Over the next decades the wealthy landowner and his numerous progeny, legitimate and otherwise, become the confidantes and friends of national leaders, intricately involved in the and cultural life of their nation.
But in Isabel Allende The House of the Spirits, this conventional plot line is infused with a flair for fantasy and magic pecliar to the gfreat I am American author of the last 25 years Like Miguel Angel Asturials and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Children Allende presents such oddities as a child who can see the future, a beautiful woman with almost transparent skin and green hair and a dog larger than a horse with utter disregard for any possible disbelief. Like the best of Marquez, The House of The Sports retains the innocence. Which comes from writing about the bizarre as if it were commonplace and presenting magic as an integral part of life.
Allende pays her debt to her stylistic forbears through imitation. As has been noted by several reviewers, a few characters in The House of The Spirits bear more than passing resemblance to creations of Marquez. Rosa the Beautiful, the daughter of Senator del Valle who dies before her marriage to poor but proud Esteban Trueba, is a stand-in for Remedios Buendia of One Hundred Years of Solitude. And Allende's description of the huge Trueba mansion in decay reads like a passage from The Autumn of the Patriarch.
But The House of the Spirits' stylistic similarly and occasional outright borrowing should not obscure the important differences between Allende's writing and that of Marquez. One Key deistinction lies in the treatment of time and place In Marquez's work, despite the 'One Hundred Years' in the title of his greatest work, the book's chronological frame is deliberately left vague.
Similarly, although those with a good understanding of Colombian history could infer that Marquewz was writing about his native land, the author provided scant clues to the location of mythical Macondo.
In The House of the Spirits, however, both setting and time frame are abundantly clear, despite Allende's refusal to name explicitly the nation in which her tale unfolds. It doesn't take long even for the casual student of South American history to realize that Allende is writing about her native Chile--the nation from which she has been excited since 1973.
THE EVENTS of that year have a special significance for Allende. As the niece Salvador Allende, the nation's last freely elected president, she observed firsthand the bloody coup in which her uncle was killed and her nation's tradition of democracy destroyed.
Allende presents the coup from different angles, the most affecting of which is that of Esteban Trueba, the landed patriarch and protagonist Trueba's lifetime spans the years between the turn of the century and the coup's bloody aftermath. First a penniless gold miner, then a landowner struggling for prosperity, he finally becomes a wealthy leader of the nation's conservative political factions.
But even Trueba's stalwart anti-communism does not prevent his rapid disenchantment with the tyranny and bloodshed which follows the accession of the military leaders. In one of the book's most touching scenes he helps his granddaughter's lover, a high official in the administration of the deposed socialist President, escape sure death by smuggling him into a foreign embassy in the trunk of his chauffeured Mercedes.
It is in the book's final pages, in her decision of the coup and the dislocation which followed it, that Allende steps out of the shadow of Marques and other South American novelists. As she describes the unification of the Trueba family, split by political differences but unified by their faith in democracy and their abhorrence of torture, her writing glows with is real eloquence.
Unlike Marquez, whose numerous stories set in Columbia during the near-civil war of the early 1950's are written in a terse style, quite unlike the expensive prose of One Hundred Years of Solitude and other more recent works, Allende shows that writing about politics need not mean abandoning the enchanting style which has put such writers as Marquez, Alejo Carpentier, and Marie Vargas Llosa in a class of their own.
Allende retains her mellifluous style even when writing about the torture and repression which accompanied South America's bloodiest coup. In one beautiful passage she describes the through of Alba Trueba, Esteban's leftist granddaughter. By day Alba.
Wwas absorbed in the task of tracking down the disappeared, comforting the victims of torture who returned with their backs flayed and these eyes unfocused. Still, in the silence of the night, when the city lost its stage-set normally and its operetta peace, she was besieged by the agonizing thought she had repressed during the day. At that time of the night, the only traffi consisted of tracks filled with bodies and detainees, and police cars that roamed the streets like lost wolves howling in the darkness of the curfew.
It is writing like this, writing which contents the social and political issues so important to the people of Latin America squarely without becoming potential or losing its special beauty, which distinguished Isabel Allende and The House of the Sports from authors like Marquez who have maintained a barrier between their prose and their politics. By breaking the barrier. Allende has produced a novel important for both is timing and its grace.
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