Today I will talk about De amor y de sombra by Isabel Allende.
The novel depicts the ruthless military dictatorship of the Chilean Pinochet, in the second half of the twentieth century South America. The view is presented from the standpoint of two characters, Irene Beltran and Francisco Leal, which fall in love after discovering a big military secret.
Irene is a very open young woman, eager to discover and learn. She works for a magazine, and in her free time takes care of old men at her mother’s sanatorium. She is kind and warm, and somehow innocent to the world she lives in. She has a better social position in the circles she wanders, and she is highly respected by the members of the community. She has a very well-placed fiancee who works in the military, but somehow she is not very attached to him as he always leaves the country for prolonged missions in his work.
Francisco Leal comes for a somehow lower immigrant family, lower from the standpoint of everyone, as they are poor, but his father is a teacher, intellectual, and provides a good education and role model for his children. Francisco has photography as a hobby, and gets to work with Irene by helping her photograph different situations for her magazine’s articles.
The couple discoveres a dark secret by investigating a strange case of schizophrenia in their town, of a poor girl named Evangelina, which strangely goes missing. After a long investigation and finding her missing step brother, they discover her body together with other older bodies by digging up a military sealed cave.
The secret is too much to bear for both of them, and they try to get the attention of the press and other authorities. This only leads to them becoming targets for the political regime, that will attempt to murder Irene, which barely makes it alive. Irene and Francisco fall in love with each other and manage to escape the country.
The novel circles around a simple love between two people put in a strange situation where their life is threatened. How to deal with a dictatorship regime where people are suppressed and how to manage to try to change something, proves to be a very big challenge for both of them. The country is not yet prepared to face the crude reality of the military power that is dictating their lives. This starting rally point, that brings the people together to mourn and sorrow for their lost ones, finding out their true fate, will eventually bring a change to Chile. However Irene and Francisco are not allowed to live in their country anymore. Perhaps in a late future, they might return though.
The novel explores dark motifs, murder, rape, authority, even suggest themes like incest and abnormal sexual desires. It also explores pure love and affection, the need for truth, liberty and expression.
Overall the novel claims to accurately portrait Pinochet’s regime in 1970’s and 1980’s, with great refference for the simple life, the military and higher ranked life, together with the misery, secrecy and offenses that the Chilean people lived in that period.