Monday, February 05, 2007

Ines of my soul

The good thing about plane rides is that they give you a large block of time to read. Going to and from Seattle, a five hour flight, I had plenty of time to start and finish the latest novel by Isabel Allende, Ines of My Soul, which was published last fall.

Allende, a Chilean author now living in California, tends to write about those two places, and this novel was no exception. Taking place in Peru and Chile during the Spanish conquest, Allende introduces us to the real-life Chilean historical figure, Ines de Suarez. Born in Spain, Ines travels to Peru in search of her husband and adventure. After learning of her husband’s death, she is determined to stay in the New World and later takes up with the Spanish conquistador, Pedro de Valdivia. Together, she and Pedro de Valdivia decide to found Chile, and conquer the native people in the process.

The book goes into many details about the wars between the Spanish and the natives, and does not sugarcoat the hostility between both sides. Yet, despite her role as conquistadora, Ines proves to be a very sympathetic character, a fictionalization I’m sure.

Actually, the sympathy I felt toward the Spanish was a little surprising to me. The Spaniards did terrible things to the native people, and the natives fought back with equal brutality. In the book, Ines says she does not blame the natives for fighting for their land, since the Spanish did the same when the Moors invaded Spain (if you look at the cover, you'll see that the figure they chose to portray Ines has some Arabic features...). This view, I’m sure, was not shared by the original Ines. However, one cannot help but feel sympathy for a group of people who, with their food supplies practically destroyed by the Indians, are forced to eat puppies in order to survive. Yes, puppies.

This sympathy leads to the question: which side do I root for? As a Mexican American myself, with both native blood and Spanish heritage, these types of things needed to happen in order for me to exist. Often times, we assign brutality to the Spanish side, but the natives were no less brutal. We forget that the Inca had systematically conquered other native tribes before the Spanish conquered them. And we find out that Pedro de Valdivia meets a terrible end at the hands of the Indian youth, Lauturo, who (according to the book, at least) he had treated like a favored nephew.

History is relative, however, and historical fiction even more so. My own research could uncover little more than what is widely known about Ines, mainly because most of the books written about her are in Spanish and have never been translated. I’m glad that Isabel Allende is giving Ines a greater audience than she had previously had before.

1 comment:

emma said...

That sounds like an interesting book. Remind me to borrow it from you at some point.

I've actually heard a scholar's take that the Spaniards' treatment of Native Americans was more humane (because it was brutal, warlike, and Natives could fight back) as compared to the British, who simply imposed upon them a system of law that subjugated them, deprived them of their property, and was in a language they did not understand.