I have a problem with Isabel Allende’s House of the Spirits. I can’t stop buying it. I just purchased my fourth copy today. That’s right, my fourth copy. It cost $22 from the World’s End bookstore in Puerto Natales.
The problem began three years ago when I purchased my first copy. I meant to read it, I really did. Instead, though, it ended up on a bookshelf in my parent’s house in Greensboro, North Carolina, the spine uncracked, while I attended college three hours away.
I purchased the second copy after I finished school, during the one of the summers I was leading outdoor adventure trips for Adventure Treks. I found it at a used bookstore I ran across on the side of the road in rural Washington State and thought, 'I've been meaning to read this.' Leading 25 teenagers through the woods leaves one little spare time, however, and the book spent the summer at the bottom of my duffel next to a pair of liner socks.
Copy No. 3 I picked up 15 days ago in Punta Arenas, after deciding I should read Allende’s work while in her home country (Incidentally, the random woman on the street I asked for bookstore locations would only tell me about one: the Krishna bookstore she runs out of her garage. I kindly accepted her address and moved on, eventually to find a more traditional book seller.) I bought the Spanish version of the novel, but the going was slow, and I didn’t want to miss the richness of the story for the language barrier.
That’s why, when I ran across my latest copy in Puerto Natales, I shelled out the 22 bucks.
I’m on page 13 now, just past the part where Uncle Marcos teaches the parrot with the Amazonian dialect to speak Spanish and tries to seduce his cousin Antonieta with military marches on a barrel organ. From what I’ve read so far, I think it’s going to be good. So good, in fact, that I might need another copy.
As a sidenote: I really like the Pablo Neruda poem that precedes the story:
¿Cuanto vive el hombre, por fin? ¿Vive mil days o uno solo? ¿Vive una semana o varios siglos? ¿Por cuánto tiempo muere el hombre? ¿Qué quiere decir para siempre?
How much does a man live, after all? Does he live a thousand days, or one only? For a week, or for several centuries? How long does a man spend dying? What does it mean to say “for ever”?