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Inés of My Soul - Isabel Allende 3.5 Stars

This is my second book by Allende, and I can understand why people love her writing so much. She is a beautiful storyteller and her writing is so evocative and lovely and honest without being flowery or overdone. I love that quality in a writer - it's one of my favorite things about Colleen McCullough as well, especially in Tim. That book was my introduction to McCullough and it made a deep impression on me and instantly became one of my favorite books. Crap. Now I want to read it again!

Anyway, I was talking about Allende. The first book I read of hers was The House of the Spirits, and I really enjoyed it a lot more than I thought that I would. You see, I don't really care for magical realism and generally steered clear of it whenever I could. I'm gradually coming to the conclusion that, like anything else, there's good and bad magical realism, and I'd only read astoundingly bad examples of it... or read good examples of it and didn't recognize them as MR. But it took Allende and my friend Jackie recommending her books for me to see it.

Allende's books are beautifully written, and whatever mystical or magical or ethereal otherworldliness there might be is subtle and adds a little "Did you see that?" nudge in the ribs, but doesn't overtake the story, doesn't throw the narrative into confusion like some magical realism books I've read and hated with the fires of a thousand suns. I'm not going to name titles. You know who you are. >_>


So, this was another Jackie choice, and again I really enjoyed it, although I feel that this one lost something in the audio version. I wish that I had read this rather than listening to it. *sigh* Blair Brown did a passable Spanish accent, but quite often it was distracting. It just seemed to lack a fluidity and smoothness that native speakers have. Quite often, she'd hesitate for just a moment before pronouncing a word. It might actually only be a half second, but to me, it was a distraction. This is the kind of story that you need and want to just climb into and live for a while - and every one of those stutters pulled me out of it. I may not pronounce the Spanish correctly in my head, but reading for myself would have been smoother, since I probably wouldn't know it was wrong.

The second reason that I wish I'd have just read the book myself was that there were a whole lot of Spanish names in this one. People names, place names, historical names and Chilean native tribe names, and honestly, it was really hard to keep track of who was who when I had no visual link to the sound of the words being spoken. It didn't help much that, being told as a memoir type story, the narrative was less than linear. Wikipedia helped a lot here, and Google for being a good guesser at what I was misspelling. For instance, I'd type "Atawapa" and it would return "Did you mean Atahualpa?" Yes. Yes I did. THANK YOU GOOGLE! (And before any of you break out the ladder to get on your high horse, it's been a while since World History class, OK?) So anyway, Wikipedia helped a lot to keep the names and places and tribes and so on straight, so that I could enjoy the story and actually know who was being referred to.

I found this story fascinating. I don't really know much about Chilean history, but I feel like I know quite a bit more now. Because I was on Wikipedia and Google so much, I feel like I actually may have learned something.

This was a story about Spanish conquests and it was appropriately brutal. There were massacres and tortures and mutilations and subjugation of the indigenous people. All of that was to be expected. But there was also a softer quality to this story, a kind of empathy and understanding that Ines lent it. She claimed to not understand the 'indians' of Chile, but her description of them, and their customs and ceremonies and beliefs said otherwise. I thought several times while listening to this that she was confusing understanding with agreement. I think she understood them just fine. They wanted to live and be free and content in their lives just as she wanted to live and be free and content in her own. She could have said to the Mapuches "We're not so different, you and I." Too bad she wouldn't have gotten the Austin Powers reference. *sigh*

I really appreciated the religious aspect of the story, both from the Catholic standpoint and the Native standpoint. Allende represented both fairly, I think. Although, it seemed that there was a bit of the mystical on the side of the Christians, at least in Ines's eyes. I love that there was a little bit of that here, but also that it's interpretable. Was it a miracle that broke the rope and saved the man from hanging, or was it simply that the rope was frayed or weak? A comet, or a sign?

One thing I particularly loved regarding the religious aspect of the story was Ines, at 70, talking about how she sometimes forgets and calls God "Ngenechen", which is the Mapuche's name for their god or sometimes prays to the Earth Mother rather than the Virgin. It's such a throwaway reference, an old woman confused and mixing things up, but to me it signifies how similar beliefs can be, and how silly it is to try to force a "right" religion on someone else. What's in a name? Isn't what you believe and how you live and act more important? I think so, and I think that Ines did too. She worked for her people all her life, striving to make sure that they were as well looked after as it was in her power to do. She founded churches and hospitals and helped feed the poor and hungry, and defended the defenseless. She was definitely an awesome, if underappreciated, person.

I enjoyed this one, and might just have to read it for myself one day. I think it is a book that definitely deserves my full attention, and I couldn't give it that with the audio. But regardless, this was very good, and I'd definitely recommend it.