Inés of My Soul is a daring novel, grand on any scale. Daring, because the writer has courageously confronted one of the bloodiest periods in South American history, taking sides neither with the conquistadors nor with the indigenous people; grand, because it is a vastly researched historical fiction as well as being a love story.
The story is told from the imaginary point of view of Inés Suárez from what she may have written in her diary when seventy years old. The diary’s existence is also imaginary. Only a writer of Isabel Allende’s stature would dare to tell this very complicated story in flashback and succeed so brilliantly.
In her diary, Inés addresses Isabel, her stepdaughter from her last marriage. In the first chapter, Inés Suárez says: “I beg you to have a little patience, Isabel. You will soon see that this disorderly narrative will come to the moment when my path crosses that of Pedro de Valdivia and the epic I want to tell you about begins.”
Inés, a poor seamstress from Plasencia–a town in Spain, comes to the new world in a ship with her niece to search for her husband Juan de Málaga. In reality, she is determined to escape from poverty and the backward thinking of the society she was born into. When she learns her husband is dead, she tries to make it on her own with her nursing and housekeeping skills. When a man who was in the same ship with her tries to attack her, she kills him out of self-defense, but the ship’s captain takes the body of the man from her house and discards it, keeping her name clear. After this, Inés wants to move on to other towns in the new world, partly with fear of being found out. It is at this time that she meets Pedro de Valdivia, the conquistador of Chile, and becomes his mistress.
Inés gets Pisarro’s permission by saying that she knows dowsing and can find water in the desert; so, together with Valdivia she travels to Chile, crossing an impossible arid region and facing many hardships to establish the city of Santiago in the Mapocho Valley as a Spanish settlement. They call the new town, “Santiago de la Nueva Extremadura.” The date is February 12, 1541.
In this settlement, cut away from Peru because of distance and dreadful travel conditions, the group faces a terrible struggle against chief Michimalonko’s fierce Mapuche Indians. Inés’s story continues until 1580 when she is writing her memoirs at age seventy as a rich and successful widow but somewhat boastful and full of pride.
Even if the story is filled with battles, cruelty, and blood and gore, the central theme is the passionate love and companionship between two lovers. The relationship between Pedro and Inés is that of a fairy tale, passionate, loving, and full of communication. Even if Pedro changes from an idealistic man to a man of greed eventually, his love for Inés survives to his last breath.
Although Isabel Allende, through Inés, does not lionize or conceal the brutality of the conquistadors, she romanticizes the idea of establishing settlements in the new world and the exploits of those who went through so much to conquer the continent. Inés, a remarkable woman who comes up with solutions to most problems the people of the settlement face in the new world, is portrayed as the modern women’s rights advocates would like to see a heroine. How much of this idealizing might have come close to the truth is debatable.
Inés of My Soul is the fifteenth book for Isabel Allende. In this book, too, her narrative style takes over the story, but her delightful storytelling with the exciting twists and turns in her narration grip the reader fully and make him want not to leave a word unread.
Isabel Allende is a Chilean novelist who was born on August 2, 1942 in Lima, Peru. His books are: The House of the Spirits (1982), La gorda de porcelana (1984), Of Love and Shadows (1985), Eva Luna (1987), The Stories of Eva Luna (1989), The Infinite Plan (1991), Paula (1995, Afrodite (1997), Daughter of Fortune (1999), Portrait in Sepia (2000), City of the Beasts (2002), My Invented Country (2003), Kingdom of the golden dragon (2004), Forest of the Pygmies (2005), Zorro (2005), Ines of My Soul (2006), and Dos Palabras.
The book is in hardcover and 336 pages with ISBN-10: 0061161535 and ISBN-13: 978-0061161537.
As expected from Allende’s wonderful storytelling, “Inés of My Soul” is a brilliant historical epic, full of excitement and suspense.