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Review: Inés of My Soul by Isabel Allende

Inés of My Soul
by Isabel Allende

At the end of her chaotic, adventurous life, Inés Suárez writes her memoirs for her adopted daughter, Isabel. There is much to tell. As a young girl in Spain, Inés falls for a handsome rake named Juan who soon leaves her to make his fortune in the New World. Not one to sit around pining for a man for the rest of her life, Inés follows him across the seas to Peru. When she arrives, she learns she is a widow; her husband was killed in battle. Inés quickly establishes herself as a seamstress and empanada-maker, and before long she has found a new love: Pedro de Valdivia, a well-respected soldier who wishes to leave his mark on history. Together, they embark on a great adventure: to conquer the lands south of Peru and found the kingdom of Chile.

Inés de Suárez was a real woman who lived a daring and fascinating life. (I wish there was an English biography of her available – but if there is one to be had for a reasonable sum, I’ve yet to find it.) Certainly, she was not afraid of defying convention. She came to the Americas to track down her missing husband, and stayed on after learning of his death. She lived openly as the mistress of Pedro de Valdivia, and – if stories are to be believed – during a battle in Santiago she decapitated seven caciques (Indian leaders) and threw their heads out into the Indian armies, scattering them and saving the Spanish settlement.

(One sentence review: I loved it, but I recognize the problems with the text and can understand why others might not care for this novel.)

Allende’s Inés is a woman of her time. Born in the sixteenth century, Inés believes in the superiority of Christianity and Spain. Although more open to the views of the indigenous people than many of her counterparts, she does think of them as savages in need of Christian taming. She fully supports the idea of colonization and the conquering of Chile, not just because it brings her wealth but because she sees it as right and proper. For these reasons, she might seem distasteful to a modern audience, which is more sympathetic to the indigenous perspective – but you can’t impose modern values on a character living hundreds of years ago. As it is, I think Allende did an admirable job of making Inés relatable and interesting to a twenty-first century audience without compromising the historic woman’s world view.

That said, some readers won’t be able to look past the romanticized conquistadors and the horrible, brutal tortures they inflict upon natives. This is a gruesome narrative full of bloodshed, revenge, and cruelty. It’s to be expected in a novel about the subjugation of the natives of the New World, but that doesn’t make it any easier to read.

But for those with strong stomachs and a taste for dramatic historical fiction, Inés of My Soul is a thrilling novel full of adventure, romance, betrayal and battle. It is truly an epic tale centering on a strong, passionate woman – definitely worth reading!

5 out of 5 stars

To read more about Inés of My Soul, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: Lunatics by Dave Barry and David Zweibel
2011: Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
2010: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith
2009: Neil Gaiman on The Colbert Report


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