16 May 2011

Book Review: Ines of My Soul

Title: Ines of My Soul
Author: Isabel Allende
Publisher/Year: Harper Perennial / 2006
Date Finished: 15 May 2011
Source/Format: TLC / Print

Buy | Borrow | Accept | Avoid

The Short and Sweet of It
Ines of My Soul takes readers deep into the heart of South America, specifically to the colonization of Chile by a small group of Spanish. The amount of detail is a wee bit overwhelming, but Allende manages to weave the social, political, historical, and personal into a complex and beautiful tapestry. But said tapestry is a bit on the heavy side and is probably best appreciated in small doses.

A Bit of a Ramble
I absolutely adore Allende's The House of the Spirits, the only (for some reason) book I've ever read of hers, so when I was asked to participate in an Allende tour, I jumped at the chance. I can't really explain why I chose Ines of My Soul out of all the options, but I think it may have something to do with the title. The emotion embedded in that phrase appeals to me.

And this is a very emotional book. Not to generalize or suggest anything too particularly gendered, but Ines of My Soul is a historical account from a female perspective. Women tend (or are portrayed as 'tending') to organize historical events through an emotional lens. As such, in this novel readers see the colonization of Chile but with a great focus on feeling and emotion.

In particular the story is structured around Ines's three relationships. Do not get me wrong: Ines in no way resembles a simpering, lovestruck, teary-eyed idiot. She is a woman who fought alongside conquistadors, tending their wounds, brandishing swords, even decapitating a few heads and flinging them at the enemy. Her perspective on her lovers is realistic, passionate, and in no way subservient. But the chronicling, the historical archiving feels beautifully feminine in its interweaving of the savage and the poetic.

Both the ugly and the beautiful side of life are presented, and in great detail. When I say that the book contains a lot of information, I am actually making an understatement. There are 313 pages of tiny print. Density. Definite density. And slow. It's probably that really artsy sort of slowness, like watching The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but still....the plot is a bit meandering. Most of the time I felt absorbed enough in the story to enjoy both the depth and the pacing; after all, I am a big fan of complex world building. From time to time, however, I felt a bit slogged down.

The pacing certainly contributed to my "Accept" rating, but what really qualified the book at that level was my inability to relate to any of the characters. I was completely intrigued by the story, and rather fascinated with Ines, but fascination is not the same thing as connecting. The battle being fought here is between Spanish colonists and native Mapuche; both sides are vicious. As Ines is Spanish, readers see the fight through her eyes, but she is very objective in her treatment, not idolizing the Spanish nor vilifying the Mapuche. Clearly readers are supposed to at least partially sympathize with Ines as she is the protagonist and the narrator; however, I am so horrified by the idea and practice of colonization that I had no ability to sympathize with a woman who, while she may have abhorred the atrocities, still supported the conquest. I realize my position is naive, that hindsight is 20-20, and that a historical perspective is necessary for reading novels like this, but what can I say, I had a problem with it.

Like any good historical fiction, Allende's novel certainly sparked my curiosity. Ines Suarez was not even a blip on my radar before reading, but her fascinating life and personality as presented by Allende have me thinking a biography may be in order.

This Book Around the Web
If I've missed your review, let me know!

I received Ines of My Soul as part of a TLC Book Tour to promote Isabel Allende's new book Island Beneath the Sea. Check out these reviews of other Allende books!

Allende is a fantabulous writer and a really interesting person, so I recommend heading over to her website as well.

Giveaway: If this sounds like your cup of tea, leave a comment doing two things: first let me know you would like to win the copy, and then include your email address so I can contact you if you win. US/Canada only this time around (my pockets are a bit empty after the 31 book birthday giveaway).


  1. The book is new to me so thanks for the review and the links. Do not count me in as I am overseas.

  2. I've only read two of Allende's books (her memoir Sum of Our Days and Daughter of Fortune) but it is very clear to me that the woman writes with a heart full of passion. She does drown you with historical facts, but she still manages to hold my attention. This tour was very hard to resist.

  3. I've only read one of Allende's books, and I think that might be a crime.

  4. I absolutely loved this book! Allende is a very talented writer, and I like how she showed both the good and the bad about her characters. I remember doing more research about Ines after I read the book.

  5. This is such a great review of this book; I too picked it for the TLC tour (maybe because of the name as well) and you articulated so well the feel (and strain) of the novel. I enjoyed it -- mostly -- although I found it very hard to fully empathize with Ines because of her role with the conquistadors. (Reading Allende's Q&A at the end slightly helped since Allende, of course, appreciates the tragedy the Spaniards wrought.)

  6. This sounds interesting...thanks for the review!

  7. I'm pretty sure this book isn't for me... but maybe I'll try her House of Spirits one day.

  8. I am sorry that you had some trouble connecting to the characters, and from your description, it sounds like this may not be the book for me. I do hope to try Allende soon, but this probably won't be where I start.

  9. I read this book a while ago and enjoyed it's sumptuousness. I also liked Ines's fierceness. But I too had a problem with the colonization aspects. Still, I don't regret the time I spent with this work--her use of language and her world building did move me into another time and place, which good historical fiction does so well.

  10. I listened to this one audio back in '09 and though I didn't love it at first, the more I thought about it (after I'd finished) the more I liked it. I wonder if it will grow on you as time goes by ...

    Thanks for being on the tour! I'm bummed I won't get to see you in NYC though. :(


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