three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
26-Jan-Feb-2007
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A-Ines of My SoulAt age 70, Doña Inés Suárez (1507–1580), a real historical figure, decides to write her memoirs about her role in the Spanish conquest of the Americas. Born into a modest household in Spain, she travels to the New World as a young wife in search of her husband Juan, who had set his eyes on South America in the hopes of striking it rich. When Juan dies in battle, Inés stays in Peru and falls in love with Don Pedro de Valdivia, one of Francisco Pizarro’s former officers. The two dream of founding a Christian society in Chile, but as the ideals of power and glory prevail, they must first wage a brutal war against the native Chileans.
HarperCollins. 336 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 0061161535

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"Allende renders a thorough and unflinching account of the conquest of Chile, painstakingly describing period details, from the clothing and food to the brutal military tactics. … [Her] reserved writing style … prevents a great deal of emotional attachment." Ashley Simpson Shires

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"Allende, who has stumbled in recent books, has written her surest work since The House of the Spirits. The story suits her, giving her events to recount that, while real, have so many surreal elements she doesn’t have to ladle on any ersatz magic realism." Celia McGee

Miami Herald 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Ultimately it is Allende’s imagination that delivers the enchantment. … The only shortcoming is that except for some references early on to the cleanliness of the indigenous population vs. the Spaniards, there is not much from the other side of the conquista story beyond the Spaniards’ view of them as savages." Fabiola Santiago

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram 2 of 5 Stars
"Inés’ audience is clearly defined from the first few pages of the novel, Allende casts the net for her own readership in two disparate directions, trying to capture both fans of historical fiction and those of the romance novel. In trying to please each group, she risks alienating the other." Catherine Mallette

Minneapolis Star Tribune 2 of 5 Stars
"When she is not explaining her own actions, though, Inés has the unfortunate tendency to outline history. … As a result, the book has a choppy feel, a syncopation that feels born out of the author’s rather than the narrator’s attempts to retrieve history." John Freeman

Washington Post 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Unfortunately, though, the demands of fidelity to basic historical truth have fettered Allende’s imagination more than they have liberated it. … [Her] ambition in taking on the novel’s big subjects is admirable, but Inés of My Soul—the title comes from Valdivia’s affectionate term for his lover—does not fulfill it." Jonathan Yardley

Critical Summary

If Inés of My Soul isn’t among Isabel Allende’s best novels, it still tells a remarkable, ambitious, and heretofore untold story about one of the first female conquistadors of the New World. Allende finds so many surreal subplots in Inés’s own story that the author’s imagination, rather than magical realism, prevails in her attempt to recreate the 16th-century Americas. All aspects of the story entertain and educate. At the same time, the detractors have some complaints: Allende embarks on too many historical detours; she romanticizes the Spanish conquistadors; she takes a one-sided view of the native Chileans; and, in an attempt to appeal to fans of different genres, she creates a lightweight story from a very serious topic.