Thursday, December 28, 2006

Book Review: Ines of My Soul by Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende's new novel, Inés of My Soul, takes as its subject 16th-century Spain's conquest of Chile and the founding of Santiago. Meticulously researched and peopled by real historical characters, the novel is framed as the memoir of Doña Inés Suárez, sometimes described as Chile's "founding mother." The narrative moves from the sleepy towns of Spain to the harsh ferocities of Latin America's New World colonies.

Led by the lust for gold, the Spanish employ both cross and sword to overcome the Incans, then turn on each other in pursuit of riches. Inés becomes the lover and helpmate to conquistador Pedro de Valdivia, and proves indispensable to the proposed establishment of a society based on egalitarian principles in Chile.

Inés' rise from oppressed anonymity to power and fame embodies one of Allende's most persistent themes: the woman confined by a traditional culture but determined to alter her circumstances. Inés insists early in her memoir that she has never grown accustomed to the New World's "lack of order." But the remark seems tongue-in-cheek, as the "scrambling" of society she decries is partly of her own making and enables her transformation from poor seamstress in a Spanish back street to a "highly placed señora" in Santiago society.
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