Set in an unnamed Latin American military dictatorship, Chilean writer Isabel Allende’s famous novel De amor y de sombra (1984) traces the tumultuous relationship between magazine editor Irene Beltrán and photographer Francisco Leal. As their story unfolds, Irene and Francisco reach a point where they must risk everything they know and love for the sake of truth and justice.
Summary and Synopsis
Irene is the unconventional daughter of a rich and bourgeois family. Her fiancé is the captain of the army Gustavo Morante. Irene and Francisco meet for the first time working together on a magazine article about Evangelina Ranquileo, a strange peasant woman near the town of Los Riscos who appears to possess supernatural powers.
Every day at noon, she has seizures that cause dancing between the silverware in the closet and the sound of hail on the ceiling. Locals flock to Evangelina’s house hoping that she can use her magic to perform miracles to cure them of their illnesses.
When Irene and Francisco arrive at Evangelina’s house, they discover that the army has also arrived. Evangelina’s brother Pradelio, who is in the military, told Lt. Juan de Dios Ramírez about his sister’s abilities. Thinking that she is faking it, Lt. Ramírez tries to scare her out of her state.
When he approaches her, Evangelina goes into a seizure and attacks him, dragging him out of the house. Later, Lt. Ramírez returns; In revenge for the humiliation he feels he suffered at his hands, he holds the family at gunpoint and arrests her, after which Evangelina was never heard from again.
Irene and Francisco try to help Evangelina’s mother Digna find her daughter. They go to the morgue to look for his body, but it is not there. What they do find, however, opens Irene’s eyes to a reality she has never faced before: the brutality of the regime under which she and her compatriots live.
Until now, her privilege and her voluntary blindness have prevented her from acknowledging the violence and oppression of life in her country. When he notices the proliferation of corpses in the morgue, people who had been tortured to death by the regime see for the first time. Irene’s consciousness awakens.
So does his affection for Francisco. Gradually they recognize their mutual attraction. Irene decides to break her engagement with Gustavo.
A military friend of the Ranquileo family, Sgt. Faustino Rivera, tells Digna that he saw Lt. Ramírez dispose of Evangelina’s body and imprison Pradelio. Sergeant Rivera has helped Pradelio escape to the mountains. Digna asks Irene and Francisco to help get Pradelio out of the country. They go to where he is hiding in the mountains, and he informs them that if Lt. Ramírez had killed Evangelina, Ramírez would have buried her in an abandoned mine.
Irene and Francisco go to the mine named by Pradelio and discover the body of Evangelina. Francisco has his camera with him and takes photos of the scene. Later, he and Irene return to the mine and discover more bodies buried there, all of whom are tortured and killed by Ramírez. Francisco again uses his camera to document the horrible discoveries.
Francisco gives the photos to his brother José, a priest. The Catholic Church is the only organization in the country that is not under the control of the dictatorship. Finally, José convinces the Church to convince the government to open the mine, recover the bodies, and begin an official investigation.
After Irene meets with Sergeant Rivera, and he tells her what he knows about Ramírez murdering Evangelina, a driver kills Rivera.
A few days later, an unknown assailant shoots Irene in the street. She has surgery, and Francisco stays with her at all times. The members of the military station are outside the hospital, and she and Francisco know that it is only a matter of time before they make another attempt on his life.
Ramírez is found guilty after the investigation that was first encouraged by the Church, but the military general grants him pardon.
Meanwhile, Irene’s ex-fiancé, Gustavo, is fed up with rampant corruption in the country’s government. He plans to overthrow the general, but the secret police discover his plans. He is summarily arrested and killed.
Irene and Francisco escape from the hospital and from the always vigilant eyes of the military in the front. Their friends help them flee the country, and when the novel ends, the couple travels to Spain, where they will build a new life together, and wait for democracy to return to the land they call home.
Genre: Romance novel
This is a chilling novel. The presence of the military junta acquires a Kafkaesque quality as young lovers become increasingly involved in uncovering the secrets of death squads. Isabel Allende has sketched a vivid portrait of what it means to be trapped in a world out of control of oneself and envelops a romance that struggles to survive against all odds and against even the principles they know.
- Irene Beltrán: She is the female protagonist of the play, she is a journalist, intelligent, beautiful, with clean and fresh vitality. She saw herself “as a comet sailing in the wind and assisted from within.”
- Francisco Leal: He is the male protagonist of the novel, photographer, psychologist, manager. He is a man of clear ideals, committed to the reality of his society and time.
- Evangelina Ranquileo Sánchez: She is the adoptive daughter of Digna and Hipólito Ranquileo, since she was changed at birth. He suffers from strange attacks and is believed to be able to work miracles.
- Mario: He is a homosexual, middle-aged, impeccable, refined, successful, sexually oriented hairdresser famous. Willing to secretly help whoever needed it.
- Captain Gustavo Morante: He is a soldier, cousin and also fiancé of Irene. He is faithful, honest, loyal, attractive, and upright.
- Hilda: She is the matriarch of the Loyalists. Mother of Javier, José and Francisco Leal, wife of Professor Leal. She is a Spanish immigrant.
- The Leal Professor: Father of Javier, José and Francisco Leal. And Hilda’s husband. He is a Spanish immigrant. He is also a professor of literature. Anarchist and peaceful.
- Javier Leal: Older brother of Francisco and José, active, reserved, unfortunately commits suicide due to the misfortune of not being able to get a job and feel useless. He was a biologist.
- José Leal: Younger brother of Javier and older brother of Francisco Leal. He is a priest and a plumber, as well as a very humble and very charitable man.
- Beatriz Alcántara de Beltrán: mother of Irene, interested, selfish, indifferent, superficial, aristocrat; she lived in an ideal, parallel world, where government abuse did not exist because she lived in a bubble within her high society neighborhood.
As in The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende reveals herself once again as a spectacular storyteller, deftly contrasting images of overcrowded morgues and mass graves with the colorful landscape of South America, bringing to life bold characters who leap from page: Irene’s deliberately ignorant and decadent mother; Francisco’s impulsive and foolish father; and Mario, a homosexual celebrity and a fearless subversive. Love and Shadow is a fascinating story of tragedy and ecstasy, of bravery and sacrifice, of family loyalty and state betrayal, a story that is deeply moving and very uplifting.