Friday, December 01, 2006

Ines of My Soul by Isabel Allende

Once upon a time, Isabel Allende was the doyenne of the weird and wondrous, the heiress to Gabriel Garcia Marquez's kingdom of magical realism. With early novels and short story collections such as "Of Love and Shadows" and "Eva Luna," and particularly her first novel, "The House of the Spirits," the Chilean writer proved herself one of the very few writers capable of following in Garcia Marquez's capacious footsteps, adding her name to the long list of remarkable fabulists from Latin America.

In recent years, though, Allende has turned her back on the literary style that brought her to the dance, preferring a more accessible but significantly less appealing method of historical adventure, of which "Ines of My Soul" is the latest installment. Allende's take on the historical novel in "Ines of My Soul" is solid, well-constructed and entirely arid. The effortless mystery and charm of "The House of the Spirits" are entirely lacking from the pages of "Ines," which seems to be written by a different writer altogether.

"Ines of My Soul" purports to be the last testament of Ines Suarez, a real-life 16th century Spaniard who was among the first Europeans to journey to present-day Chile. Inés is a seamstress and cook in the Spanish city of Plasencia who travels to the New World to chase after her feckless husband, Juan de Malaga. Once she arrives, she learns that Juan is dead, but discovers an entire world of opportunity for a capable woman. Aligning herself with the ambitious, ruthless soldier and politician Pedro de Valdivia, and through her erotic affiliations, her political skill, and her native-born compassion for her constituents, European and Indian, Inés becomes a gobernadora in a Chile still undergoing the bloody process of birthing itself.
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