24.10.10

'Inés of my Soul': another review

In this book Isabel Allende sets upon the difficult task of creating a narrative that strings together the pieces of history and distant records from the 1530’s conquest of Chile. The book is written in first person giving a voice to Inés de Suárez, a genuine female ‘conquistador’. Allende brings to us fleshed out characters who, through Inés de Suárez, are introduced to us as if we were part of an intimate conversation—Inés is in this way trusting her story to us. This book presents a superb insight on those gruesome and treacherous wars of conquest.


In her narration of the events, Allende has meticulously played with that fine line that separates her voice as the author and the voice of Inés de Suárez. That is not an easy task, particularly because Inés de Suárez, as a conquistador is herself part and occasionally the perpetrator of violent acts to save her life and the lives of those living in the recently established settlement, later known as “Santiago de la Nueva Extremadura”, or today, simply Santiago, the capital of Chile. Allende places herself in Inés’ shoes with an extraordinary ability that allows to suspend judgment (although sporadically we hear the author through Inés regrets) in order to be respectful of Inés de Suárez version of history—Inés’ own voice.

Independently of our contemporary view of the history of the conquest, Inés de Suárez—as a woman of her time caught in an unusual situation—is not repentant, on the contrary, she, is proud of her achievements and although somehow repulsed by violence, she is not completely condemning of it, nor of the atrocious behaviour of men towards women in general and indigenous women in particular.

Inés’ story adds an important dimension to our knowledge of the events—a Spaniard female version of history. While history has passed little and relatively unsavoury facts of the life of Inés de Suárez, history on the other hand, has been benevolent enough and much less judgmental of the character of Diego de Almagro, Francisco de Aguirre and Pedro de Valdivia among many others. This I believe is the important story within the story of this book.

Because of my general knowledge of Chilean history, I know that at least ninety percent of the names cited in this book are of real people who played their part in the history of Chile. For instance, among the indigenous people, Michimalonko, Lautaro (Felipe), Vitacura (one of Santiago’s municipalities is named after him), the Spanish officers and soldiers and many if not most of the women mentioned. However, for a non Chilean reader this important aspect of the novel and which adds to its value cannot be appreciated. For this reason, I would have liked to see footnotes to assist the reader to discern historical facts.

Having read many of Allende’s books and having grown a little tired of her use of ‘magic realism’, this book was like a breathe of fresh air. This is to me one of Allende’s best, if not her best book and I value the fact that she undertook much historical research in order to bring us a reliable narrative of the life of Inés de Suárez.      

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