I've long been a fan of Isabel Allende, but somehow I missed her very first novel, The House of the Spirits. I went back and read it partly because I'd always meant to and partly because a few people suggested it as a novel to teach to my high school World Lit students. While I loved the novel, I can't imagine teaching it to high schoolers. There are just way too many brothel visits, for starters.
The House of the Spirits chronicles a period in Chilean history (although it's called an "unnamed country") through the life of the complex Trueba family. This is a family full of dynamic characters: Clara, the precocious, clairvoyant, telekenetic little sister who becomes the wife of Esteban after her older sister, Esteban's fiance, dies; Esteban himself, devoted to Clara but cold-hearted and cruel to everyone else, including all the peasants who work his plantation; Esteban's children, legitimate and otherwise; and a cast of other richly developed characters.
I'm not always a fan of magical realism, but I had little trouble accepting (or sometimes ignoring) the scenes that focus on Clara, her spiritualist friends, and the spirit world. Although I always gravitate toward realism, the crazy, accepted magic just becomes part of the chaos of the Trueba family and of the country's political upheaval.
This is the kind of novel you live in while you're reading it--the kind that you can't wait to get to each evening. I definitely recommend reading Portrait in Sepia and Daughter of Fortune as well as The House of the Spirits.