Chilean author Allende (Zorro, 2005, etc.) recounts the life of a national heroine in this historical novel.
Inés Suárez was born in a small Spanish village in 1507. By the time she died, in 1580, she had journeyed to the New World, become the lover of the first governor of Chile and defended the city of Santiago when it was attacked by natives. The conquistadora’s life was full of daring, intrigue and passionate romance, but much of the excitement of this extraordinary woman’s adventure is lost in Allende’s version. In a bibliographical note, the author explains that she spent several years doing research for this novel. It shows, unfortunately, as she frequently assumes a voice more suited to an encyclopedia: “The isthmus of Panamá is a narrow strip of land that separates our European ocean from the South Sea, which is now called the Pacific.” Such information ultimately overwhelms the story. Character development happens in dry, rushed bursts of exposition, and Allende frequently chooses cliché over real description: “My relationship with Pedro de Valdivia turned my life upside down. . . . One day without seeing him and I was feverish. One night without being in his arms was torment.” The narrative device that Allende has chosen—the novel is a letter from Suárez to her adopted daughter—is boring and distracting. Suárez frequently includes information that her adopted daughter surely would have known; she manages to transcribe whole conversations to which she was not privy; and many of the historical details—casualty statistics from the sacking of Rome in 1527, for example—seem much more like something the author found in a reference work than anything her protagonist was likely to have been privy to.
Turgid and detached—homework masquerading as epic.