Searching for truth and finding love in today's Latin America
Of Love and Shadows, by Isabel Allende. Translated by Margaret Sayers Peden. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 274pp. $17.95. ``The House of the Spirits,'' Isabel Allende's first novel, captured the hearts and the imagination of audiences throughout the world, and now her second book, ``Of Love and Shadows,'' promises to do the same. Allende has mastered the craft of being able to intertwine the turbulent political history of Latin America with the everyday lives of her fictional characters caught up in recognizable, contemporary events.
``Of Love and Shadows'' also takes place in an unnamed South American country, with many of the characteristics of her native Chile. The substance of the book is to explore the lives of people living in the country or in a large city who are unwilling to live submerged under the shadows of silence imposed on the country by a dictatorship.
The central figures of the book are Irene Beltr'an, from a well-to-do upper-class family, and Francisco Leal, journalist and clandestine resistance worker, son of Spanish exiles who had fled the Franco dictatorship. While working together on an assignment for a magazine (Irene as reporter, Francisco as photographer), they discover the body of a 15-year-old girl, Evangelina Ranquileo, missing for months, in an unmarked grave along with other corpses.
This episode recalls a true event that happened in Chile in 1978 when bodies of a considerable number of peasants who had mysteriously ``disappeared'' were found in an abandoned mine at Lonqu'en. Allende has made the discovery of the bodies the central focus of this novel. One hint or clue leads to another, always spiraling closer to the truth to end with the discovery of the grave. Then the outward spiraling of the story brings all the ramifications of the discovery to light: the clear realization that the murders were an act of official terrorism, and that by revealing the secret, the lives of Irene and Francisco are put in real danger so that they must, in their turn, flee a country under dictatorship.
But above all, this is a love story of two young people sharing the fate of their historical circumstances, meeting the challenge of discovering the truth, and determined to live their life fully, accepting their world of love and shadows.
It is inevitable that ``Of Love and Shadows'' will be compared to Allende's first novel. There are similar components - the mix of the real and the fictional, the magical element of the style.
Finally, the book is not a political tract nor a dogmatic treatise; it is a novel in the best sense of the word. It has been beautifully translated by Margaret Sayers Peden, one of the best translators of works of Pablo Neruda. Here she very successfully recreates the beauty and lyricism of Allende's poetical prose.