Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Inés of My Soul by Isabel Allende

There are things I have been too busy to tell you, and if I do not write them down now I will carry them with me to the tomb. Despite my desire to tell you everything, I have left out a lot. I have had to select only what is essential, but I am confident that I have not betrayed the truth. This is my story, and that of a man, Don Pedro de Valdivia, whose heroic feats were recorded by chroniclers in rigorous detail; his exploits will endure in those pages till the end of time. However, I know Valdivia in a way history could never know him: what he feared and how he loved. (from Inés of My Soul, page 99)

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.


22 comments:

bermudaonion said...

I've never read any of Allende's work, but I've been wanting to ever since I listened to an interview of her on Blog Talk Radio. After your review, I'm dying to get hold of one of her books.

Serena said...

I love allende's work, particularly Daughter of Fortune. I'd love to read her other works as well. Guess I'll have to borrow this one from you.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I listened to Sum of Our Days on audio, and it was fabulous. Allende has such a passionate voice, I knew I needed to read more of her work. I will add this one, and Daughter of Fortune to my list!

christina said...

I'm not very big on historical fiction, but the cover on this one is absolutely gorgeous!

Dawn said...

You've hooked me with this review Anna! You know I'm a historical fiction nut so I'll be looking for this one soon! :)

katrina said...

I love Allende, I haven't read this but it sounds another corker.

Blodeuedd said...

I do wanna read this book, sounds good. Allende, I read her long ago, and she is still on my to read list with all the rest :)

Dar said...

I have had Daughter of Fortune on my shelf for ages, probably longer. I'll have to read it and this one as well one of these days-it sounds really good. Thanks for the review.

Jules said...

This sounds like a pretty interesting book, thanks for the review.

I also came by to tell you I have an award waiting for you at my blog, heres the link, and hope your having a good week.

http://juliebooks.blogspot.com/2009/08/award-zombie-award.html

Nymeth said...

This sounds absolutely amazing. I've been meaning to read more Allende ever since I read her memoir My Invented Country. My first experience with her fiction wasn't very successful, but it was with one of her YA novels, so maybe she's one of those writers who don't make the transition to writing for younger readers very well.

S. Krishna said...

I thought this book was interesting, but slow. Nice review!

Kailana said...

I am glad you enjoyed this so much! I have owned it since it came out and still have not got around to reading it!

carolsnotebook said...

Sounds like a beautiful book. I think the only thing I've read by Allende was The House of the Spirits and that was a while ago.

Jenners said...

I've never read anything by this author but she is one of those "feel like I should read" authors as you see her name quite a bit. This might be a good place to start. Wonderful review.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

The only book by Allende that I've read is DAUGHTER OF FORTUNE, which is ... phenomenal. I'll have to add INES OF MY SOUL to my wish list, with your great review -- thanks, Anna!

Toni said...

I have Daughter of Fortune on my shelf. I should read it. I love your review. Your opening passage was great. Again.. that is a super stellar review.

Anna said...

Thanks everyone! I'll definitely be reading more Allende when my to-read mountain is tamed a bit. ;)

Jules: Thanks so much! That's so nice of you.

naida said...

Wow this sounds great. I have this author in my TBR. I need to read this one too.
Great review.
http://thebookworm07.blogspot.com/

Veens said...

I have this book - can you believe it. I have not read it yet. I will pick this up soon - you make me want to :)
thank u for the reminder!

Anna said...

~Naida: Thanks!

~Veens: You definitely should! Let me know what you think.

Darla D said...

I love Allende's writing. And it's been way too long since I've read one of her books. Thanks for the reminder!

Anna said...

~Darla: You're welcome! I'm glad I read another of her books. Her writing is absolutely beautiful.