Sometimes you just come across the right book at the right moment for it to grip your imagination. So it was with The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende's masterpiece detailing one family's journey through the trauma of an unnamed South American country in the 20th Century.
The House of the Spirits was on a reading list for a course in Latin American politics I was taking as part of my under graduate degree at the University of London in 1992. At a time when the UK electorate had just returned a Conservative administration for the fourth consecutive election, what really appealed to me was that in the young Latin American democracies, everything seemed to be in play. The very future of nations was still at stake, whereas we were voting largely on which group of centrist politicians would better manage the economy.
Allende captured the excitement of that time - and of course its horrors and tragedies - in an absolute whirlwind of a novel. She never named Chile, but given her family history (her father was a first cousin of President Salvador Allende, who was ousted and killed in a CIA coup) she did not need to.
Beyond the politics are beautiful love stories, intense family dramas and an overlay of 'magical realism' that has been a feature of much of Allende's work.
I was utterly enchanted when I read it, immediately 'adopting' Chile as the country of my focus for the course and going to Allende's other works such as other works such as Eva Luna and The Infinite Plan.
Allende's writing is vivid and bursting with spirit, her characters natural and her story-telling fluid, bold and sometimes fantastical.
It was a new type of novel for me, opening new horizons of geography, history, politics and adventure.
It shocks me now to realise that it was 22 years since I first read it. It is time to read it again.