Posted by: istop4books | April 4, 2010

INES DE MI ALMA by Isabel Allende

When I got this book it was with the realization that many people felt that it fell short of Isabel Allende’s earlier novels. I had no idea what it was about but being an Allende fan, I finally pulled it off the shelf and read it. Now I understand why people didn’t like it.

This is a departure from her magic realism and her beautiful non fiction works in that while it is a work of fiction, there is so much history and so many descriptions packed into this book, that at times it reads like a textbook. The names were hard to follow, even for me, and I grew up hearing them.  So if you are looking for one of Allende’s more typical books, such as Paula, or Daughter of Fortune – this is not for you; however if you love history, strong women and Latin America – this will be right up your alley. 

My profound apologies to Sra. Furió, my 10th grade history teacher, to whom I presented one of those “I’m bored to tears” faces day in and day out as she tried to pass along to her students her love of history.  Now I finally understand this part of history that you would excite you and animate you!

It’s the story of Ines de Suarez, a young lady who left Spain in search of her husband who had left her behind to conquer the New World and gain the riches of jewels and gold of which so many spoke. She left on her own knowing only that he was somewhere in the southern hemisphere and when she finally heard of him, found out she was a widow. And in the 16th Century most women would then have entered a convent or gone home to family, but Ines was made of different, stronger cloth. She hooked up with the young, handsome Spaniard, Pedro de Valdivia, and set off to conquer that slip of land known as Chile.

As Chile is the country of my birth and that of my grandparents and many times over great-grandparents, and since as a teenager I absolutely hated history, and paid more attention to the flies on the wall than the teacher in front of me, this book gave me a second chance to learn about the settling of the land which still has the power to pull at my heartstrings, and to know the woman behind the men (because there were several) who was instrumental in the settlement of Santiago.

My one bone to pick with the book is the awful awful translation. I know Allende has used Margaret Sayers Peden many times (or perhaps always) to translate – but she falls short every single time. Her knowledge of English is 99% terrific. It’s that 1% that starts showing up over and over again that impedes the flow of the language. While I know Allende’s spanish is perfect and her prose is lovely and flowing, when translated into English is becomes bumpy. Not wrong, just not how Allende would have written it had English been her first language.

For example: on page 239 of the hardcover edition, she says: “To ask my forgiveness, Pedro sent from La Serena, by swift horse, a love letter and an extravagant gold ring.” There’s nothing wrong with the sentence, it has all its parts – but it’s not smooth writing as it would be in Spanish.

Pedro sent me a love letter and an extravagant gold ring to ask for my forgiveness, from La Serena by swift horse.
By swift horse from La Serena, Pedro sent me a love letter and an extravagant gold ring to ask for my forgiveness??? I don’t know, I’m not a professional translator although I’ve done many professional translations, if that makes sense. So that’s my one pet peeve with the book. Otherwise, I enjoyed it immensely and just wish I had had the sense to pay more attention in high school!



  1. I love this book..perhaps for the history which I might never have learned. I understand Spanish but hardly on the level of someone from Chile, Perú or Colómbia so I can’t compare the prose. I love that she shed light not only on this woman but also on Lautaro and the Araucanian. I had already seen much of Mexico, Central and South America but this book opened up parts of Chile that make me want to spend months traveling though through chile to learn more. Because of it I also want to visit the area below the Bio Bio river and also Chiloe Island.

    • Thanks for your comment. Should you ever get the chance to travel to Chile and go south of the Bio Bio, you will find and enchanting land of mountains, rivers, valleys, a breathtaking coastline and very friendly people. Chiloé is a beautiful island with hardworking, rugged and very friendly people. I hope you get the chance to go. I haven’t been to Chiloé in many years, but remember it vividly.

      This book is on my list to reread, but this time in its original Spanish!

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