One of the most successful contemporary Latin American woman novelists, Isabel Allende was born in 1942. Although she was born in Lima, Peru, Allende is Chilean. As a child, she traveled throughout Latin America and beyond, thanks to her father and stepfather's diplomatic careers. In 1962, Isabel Allende married Manuel Frias. Allende soon gave birth to their daughter Paula and their son Nicolas. Allende worked as a journalist for a number of magazines and newspapers in Chile beginning in 1967. Her uncle Salvador Allende became, in 1970, the first socialist to be elected president of Chile. In 1973 Salvador Allende was assassinated in a military coup led by General Augusta Pinochet. Due to increasing political tensions in Chile, in 1975, Allende and her family fled to Venezuela. She lived there for thirteen years, continuing to work as a journalist, and beginning to write novels. In 1987, Allende and Frias were divorced. A year later, Allende married Willie Gordon in San Francisco and settled down in nearby San Rafael, California. In 1992, her daughter Paula died of porphyria.
Written and first published in Spanish in 1982, The House of the Spirits, was Allende's first book. It received enormous critical and popular acclaim and, in 1985, was translated into English. In 1993, it was released as a film with a star-studded cast. Following The House of The Spirits, Allende has written numerous other novels, including The Stories of Eva Luna, The Infinite Plan, and a biography of her daughter, Paula. She is still writing today.
Many elements in The House of the Spirits are based on Allende's own life. The political events in the unnamed country in the novel are quite similar to those that occurred in Chile. As Allende later explained in Paula, many of the characters in The House of the Spirits are based on members of her own family. In fact, The House of the Spirits began as a letter Allende wrote to a dying uncle. However, The House of the Spirits is a novel, and there is no exact correlation between it and any real events or characters.
The House of the Spirits is a prime example of magical realism, along with Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. Primarily a Latin American tradition, magical realism is characterized by the simple, straightforward presentation of strange, magical events. For example, characteristics such as Clara's clairvoyance are compared to her brother's lameness. The characters in magical realist fiction experience and accept the unbelievable with calm rationality. When Clara dreams that her mother's severed head is missing, for example, she borrows a car and goes to find it, and then she puts it in a hatbox and forgets about it. Magical realist novels are often long family sagas, told with little respect for clear temporal succession. They often employ strategies of foreshadowing and repetition which are prevalent in The House of the Spirits, especially in Clara's predictions of future events and in the recurrence of the names Pedro and Esteban.