Caitlin Birch is an Archives Assistant at Northeastern University Archives & Special Collections and a co-chair of REPS. Caitlin earned her MA and MSLIS from Simmons College in December 2013. When she’s not in archives mode, Caitlin enjoys running, swimming, field hockey, and reading.
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
Over the course of 50 years in the lives of three fictional generations, Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits probes the concept of collective memory, animating it in a way that ought to appeal to readers of all types, but especially the archivists among us. Allende’s page-turner is set in post-colonial Chile and follows the Trueba and del Valle families as they become increasingly mired in the social revolutions and violence rocking the country. The story is narrated in non-linear fashion by a member of the family whose identity is veiled until the final pages of the book.
At the heart of the narration are the diaries kept by Clara del Valle. These “notebooks that bore witness to life” are filled with decades of family history and Clara’s observations over the course of her life, and as she prepares to die she collects them together, “arranging them according to events and not in chronological order, for the one thing she had forgotten to record was the date.” From this muddled original order, the narrator builds a looping family history, gripping and suspenseful as it darts back and forth through time. The words the narrator employs to describe the diaries apply with equal accuracy to Allende’s writing: “It was a world in which time was not marked by calendars or watches…the past and the future formed part of a single unit, and the reality of the present was a kaleidoscope of jumbled mirrors where everything and anything could happen.” If you’re an archivist intrigued by temporality, original order, and collective memory, or just a reader out for beautiful writing, an engaging story, and a deeply profound conclusion, I can’t recommend The House of the Spirits enough.
What do you think about The House of the Spirits? Tell us below!
Explore other REPS Recommendations. Interested in recommending something? Contact Abby (abigail.cramer[at]gmail.com).