J. Kaye gave me Inés of My Soul by Isabel Allende several months ago, and I regret not reading it sooner. This book was amazing, fascinating, captivating, and a historical fiction treat I didn't want to end. I had no idea what the book was about when I picked it up. I remembered reading and enjoying Daughter of Fortune by Allende several years ago, and I thought it was about time I read something else by this renowned author.
Writing from the point of view of Inés Suárez, Allende immediately drew me into a world of Spanish conquistadors and the founding of Chile. The book covers the years 1500-1580 and drifts from the present to the past and back again. Inés, at age 70 and approaching death, decides to pen her memoirs for her daughter, and she proves to be a gifted story teller as she describes her early years in Spain, her failed first marriage, her travels to Peru to find her husband, her years as the lover of Pedro de Valdivia, the fierce battles against the Mapuche people of Chile, and her long and happy marriage to Rodrigo de Quiroga.
Inés also tells the story of Valdivia's early battles, his failed marriage, and his journey to Peru and later to Chile in search of honor and glory--not gold, like most of the other Spanish soldiers. She describes Valdivia's life in the years before they met as vividly as if she had been there. Theirs was a passionate love, but Valdivia changed in the years after he and Inés conquered Chile and began to build and rule cities together.
Inés is a strong woman, cooking and sewing to earn money to live on her own in the Americas, tending the wounded, and even wielding a sword against the Mapuche warriors. I admired her character for her strength, determination, passion, and willingness to admit her faults. She doesn't mince words or sugarcoat the facts. She acknowledges what the Spaniards did as conquerors--raping, burning, enslaving, etc. She even highlights the strengths of the Mapuche and sometimes speaks of them in an admirable tone. She doesn't condone the behavior of the Spaniards, but she does little to stop it. She acknowledges their weakness for gold, but she spends the riches and is proud of her achievements as a conquistadora. She was, in fact, the lover of Chile's first royal governor and the wife of a later governor. Allende used the few facts known about Inés Suárez to create a complex character who commands respect, flaws and all.
We will, as Valdivia feared, eventually exterminate the natives of this land, because they would rather die free than live as slaves. And if any of us Spaniards had to choose, we would not hesitate to make the same choice. (page 119)
He [Francisco de Aguirre] had the notion that the best way to serve his majesty in the Americas was to people it with mestizos. He went so far as to say that the solution to the Indian problem was to kill all the males older than twelve, sequester the children, and patiently and methodically rape the women. Pedro always thought that his friend was joking, but I knew that he meant it. (page 135)
"Women cannot think on a grand scale; they cannot imagine the future; they lack a sense of history; they concern themselves only with domestic and immediate realities," he [Pedro de Valdivia] told me once, but he had to retract his statement when I recited the list of everything that I and other women had contributed to the mission of conquering and founding. (page 191)Inés of My Soul is translated from Spanish by Margaret Sayers Peden. I'm sure something is lost in the translation, but the writing is beautiful nonetheless. Allende's rich descriptions make the scene come alive, and each word is carefully chosen and never wasted. The pacing is perfect, with the tension building as they await an attack by the Mapuche. I highly recommend the book, especially for historical fiction lovers. However, I think it's worth mentioning that there are some sex scenes and descriptive battle scenes, including some horrific acts of torture and executions. While the scenes aren't overly graphic, they are still disturbing. They never made me want to shelve the book, as they are necessary to the plot, but others might want to take care.
Disclosure: I received Ines of My Soul from another book blogger.