Title: Inés of my Soul
Author: Isabel Allende
Pages: Hardcover, 336 pages
Summary: In the early years of the conquest of the Americas, Inés Suárez, a seamstress condemned to a life of toil, flees Spain to seek adventure in the New World. As Inés makes her way to Chile, she begins a fiery romance with Pedro de Valdivia, war hero and field marshal to the famed Francisco Pizarro. Together the lovers will build the new city of Santiago, and they will wage war against the indigenous Chileans—a bloody struggle that will change Inés and Valdivia forever, inexorably pulling each of them toward separate destinies.
Inés of My Soul is a work of breathtaking scope that masterfully dramatizes the known events of Inés Suárez’s life, crafting them into a novel rich with the narrative brilliance and passion readers have come to expect from Isabel Allende.
This was the first book that I read by Isabel Allende and the first book that I read for my month-long reading of books written by women, and let me say it I couldn’t have picked a better book to start with.
Inés my Soul has everything that I appreciate in a book: a strong female character, ethnicity, historically exact facts, great and vivid descriptions of exotic places, description of battles that don’t last for pages and pages, a lot of strong emotions, and also lots of elements of magic realism that fit perfectly.
Inés Suaréz is a real historical figure and she was one of the few women that had an important part in Chile’s conquest. In the book she is portrayed as a strong, practical, somewhat rebellious, pragmatic, maverick and passionate woman. Basically she is a force of nature, and a woman without equal in her time. She is the narrator of the book and her voice feels real and authentic, especially because the language used though it’s not exactly accurate to the time where the story is set, is accurate to Inés’s social background. Also her voice adapts perfectly to all the moments: the ones of reflection, the ones of passion, and the ones of fear.
Though Pedro of Valdivia is not my favourite Inés’s lover, he is certainly a great character during most of the book, except in the end when he becomes lazy, and turns obsessed with titles. I appreciated his courage, his idealism, his passion and devotion.
Rodrigo of Quiroga is Inés’s lover that I appreciated more,he is as brave as Valdivia but he keeps is integrity to the end.
One of the aspects that I most loved in this book are the descriptions of the Mapuche’s rituals and of their lives. Before this book I had never read anything about the conquest of Chile by the Spanish and about the indigenous habitants of South America so I can’t exactly attest the accuracy of the rituals that Allende describes, what I can say is that the scenes where those mythical rituals are described are very vivid and full of mysticism and I became very much engaged with the book during these parts. Actually the thing that I most appreciate in Allende’s writing is the way that she manages to engage the reader with the emotion full prose she writes.
Another strong scene is the one that describes the Mapuche attack at Santiago. I don’t want to give any spoilers so let’s just say that in this scene we see how brave Inés is and how dedicated she is to Santiago.
I can’t finish this review without talking about women roles and racism in this book.
Let’s start by the first. Inés Suarés lived in the sixteenth century when women didn’t have the same rights as men and when it was said that women were mentally inferior to men so they only served for sex, to take care of the house and of the children. Inés is the opposite to all that, as I said before she is a kind of nonconformist but still, she is very much aware of the women situation, and she despises it:
Courage is a virtue appreciated in a male but considered a defect in our gender. Bold women are a threat to a world that is badly out of balance, in favor of men. That is why they work so hard to mistreat us and destroy us. But remember that bold women are like cockroaches: step on one and others come running from the corners
I suppose they will put statues of me in town squares, and that there will be, certainly, roads and cities with my name, as there will be with Pedro of Valdivia’s and other conquers’ names, but hundreds of women that struggled so hard to found cities, while their husbands fought, will be, almost certainly, forgotten. (my tranlation)
I feel that the last quote especially is very important because this book tells us about Inés and about all the noble, and hard things she did while living and conquering Chile by Valdivia’s side, but the thing is that she is hardly known, and historians seem to have forgotten about her, and about the women role, not only in the conquest of Chile and in the founding and maintenance of cities, but also in other periods of History.
Now, to the second subject: racism. When we read this book, we have to remember the time when it’s set, because in the 16th century, people were racist and not only white people towards the other races; the other races had prejudices too, and we see that in this book, because the Mapuche had a strong hate towards other races and the Spanish weren’t the only ones they tried to kill. Their neighbours ,the Incas, also had some problems with them. Obviously this doesn’t justify what the Spanish did, they were cruel and brutal. So, just a heads up, if you decide to read this book, there will be some racism.
A well written book, with strong emotions, and a great plot.