The House of the Spirits.

Isabel Allende’s epic of the Trueba and del Valle families is filled with every provocative theme in literature: love, violence, betrayal, mysticism, wealth, poverty, and politics. My book club picked it in direct response to The Savage Detectives, whose author Roberto Bolano detested Allende along with the established canon of Latin American literature.

Stylistically and developmentally, they couldn’t be more different. The thread that runs through both of them is a desire to have life restored to what we (first person plural because I think that this is in all of us to some degree) feel it should be: beautiful. The following passages serve almost as a call to action from Allende’s voice herself: to tell the the stories that need to be told and to search for beauty in the broken. First:

“Cement walls were erected to hide the most unsightly shantytowns from the eyes of tourists and others who preferred not to see them. In a single night, as if by magic, beautifully pruned gardens and flowerbeds appeared on the avenues; they had been planted by the unemployed, to create the illusion of a peaceful spring.”

This creating of an illusion is present in the smallest of ways in our lives like not admitting to failure, or being more concerned with image rather than person and not wanting to get mixed up with other people’s messes. And in the largest: gated communities, displacement of people in the name of development, serving those with the most money to throw at the economy. I want to be a person who prefers to see the messes and know the people. Living in illusion to truth seems more dangerous than the other way around.

And second:
“Clara also brought the saving idea of writing in her mind, without paper or pencil, to keep her [Alba’s] thoughts occupied and to escape from the doghouse and live. She suggested that she write a testimony that might one day call attention to the terrible secret she was living through, so that the world would know about this horror that was taking place parallel to the peaceful existence of those who did not want to know, who could afford the illusion of a normal life, and of those who could deny that they were on a raft adrift in a sea of sorrow, ignoring, despite all evidence, that only blocks away from their happy world there were others, these others who live or die on the dark side.”

If we are to break down the illusion, we need books and art and music that are courageous enough to tell the story of the mess of humanity. And people who are not scared to steep in these stories for a while and be changed.

And I think that if we start letting grace seep into our own messes and of those closest to us, we’d be a step closer to abandoning the illusion and finding beauty and hope in the broken?

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