My fondness for this book might be colored by its presence (though imperfect) in a particularly ego-stroking moment: There I was, in Santiago, Chile, hunched over local favorite Isabel Allende's latest book in a hip coffee shop, and the server delivers my cappuccino with "Viva Espana" written in the foam of the cup. I blush as I realize that the four words I uttered to request said cappuccino were still tinged with the accent lingering from a college study abroad and this guy thought I was actually Spanish. I have rarely been so excited. I didn't say another word and I tried to cover up English on my book's cover. That is, so long as I remembered to do so, which was briefly because I quickly fell back into the book's gripping plot.
Ines of My Soul is the story of (real-life heroine) Ines Suarez and her 16th century journey from Spain to the New World, where she eventually became involved with Pedro de Valdivia, a leader in Pizarro's company. Together they and a tenacious bunch of settlers crossed the Atacama desert to found what would become Chile. They battle thirst, disease, other Spaniards and, most interestingly, the local Mapuche Indians. While I'd argue that Allende makes Ines a little too modern in her respect for the Mapuche - I suspect Allende didn't have the heart to make her beloved character Ines as bigoted as she probably was in real life - it's most likely a more comfortable stance for the modern reader to watch. (At least this reader was grateful Ines wasn't a total jerk to the displaced and abused Mapuches.) That aside, it was a charming, educational and really fun read. I definitely recommend it, even if it weren't tied to that particular cup of cappuccino!
And for those interested in Isabel Allende's writing habits and personal life, she was featured in the NY Times just this weekend.