Inés of My Soul

Written by Isabel Allende Margaret Sayers Peden
Review by Bethany Latham

Doña Inés Suárez tells the epic story of her life and the conquest of Chile in this fictional biography. Inés, a Spanish seamstress, makes her way to the new world in search of her wandering husband. She arrives only to discover that he has been killed, and fate throws her together with the first real love of her life, conquistador Pedro de Valdivia. This power couple endures political machinations, the harshness of the South American landscape, and the enmity of the fierce Mapuche natives in order to found the nation of Chile.

A Chilean native herself, Allende easily conjures the beautiful but turbulent people and landscape of the country. Inés is an amazingly brave, passionate, and independent woman, and the panoramic tale she tells is both captivating and engrossing. The story is told through a letter/memoir the elderly Inés is writing for her adopted daughter, and thus allows for both foreshadowing and hindsight. Inés’s voice is powerful and her story epic, but she tells it with an engaging frankness and discernment which spares no one, not even herself or the loves of her life. All the characters are vividly drawn, and Allende uses them to illustrate the motivations behind and the human costs of conquest.

Like much of Allende’s work, Inés of My Soul often delves into dark territory—war, death, torture, murder, greed, and betrayal abound, but this is tempered by humor and Inés’s can-do attitude. Inés is perhaps a little more forward-thinking than seems probable for her time, but this allows Allende to show both sides of the conflict between the Spanish and Mapuche with sensitivity and perception. This story of Chile’s often-overlooked founding mother is an epic, absorbing read, and is highly recommended.