Reading a book in translation is always tricky. How much of the author’s voice is hidden by the translator? How much of the character, in this case, Inés Suaréz, is lost behind broken thoughts and stuttering language?
In this case, the hesitation provides a distinctive voice to a character who is seeking to achieve a task quite beyond what she has been trained to do: write a comprehensive personal history of the conquering of Chile, that unbelievably long pencil of a country at the foot of South America. Writing and translation merge to create a strong sense of this effort:
“…this disorderly narrative will come to the moment when my path crosses that of Pedro de Valdiva and the epic I want to tell you about begins. Before that, I had been an insignificant seamstress in Plasencia… With Pedro de Valdiva I lived a life of legend, and with him I conquered a kingdom.”
And so through marriages and consorts; brutal battles and massacres; and creating towns and civilization where none existed, Inés dreams and succeeds. As leery as I am of bloody scenes and suspense, I found it moderated by domestic scenes, well drawn characters, and her assurance that her life was worthwhile in its contributions to Chile. She will stay with me, as will the evocative descriptions of the land and peoples she dealt with, both native and Spaniards.
Allende has become a best selling author, and I’m glad to discover her. I’d also recommend an older, last century author, a favorite of my grandmother, Nora Lofts. The Silver Nutmeg has similar style and subject. Moll Flanders, by Daniel Defoe, is a strong character much like Inés.
--Micaela Ayers, 2/14/2007