Adventures in Reading

Nonfiction: The Sum of Our Days by Isabel Allende

“In the second week of December, 1992, almost as soon as the rain let up, we went as a family to scatter your ashes, Paula, following the instructions you had left in a letter written long before you fell ill.”

Perhaps the most interesting part of The Sum of Our Days by Isabel Allende is actually the narrative style of the autobiography: all 301 pages are written as if it were a letter to her dead daughter Paula. In small experience with autobiographies, they are often written as interviews (e.g. Barbara Walter’s) or tabloids. Allende, however, has infused The Sum of Our Days with the same polish and passion her fictional works receive.

Paula, Allende’s first autobiography (which I have not read), covers what easily is scene as the more interesting aspects of Allende’s life: her parents, life in Chile, escaping Pinochet, her first marriage and raising her children, moving to the U.S.A. and marrying the love of her life, and finally the death of her oldest child Paula. In contrast, The Sum of Our Days more or less is a collection of retrospective essays on Allende’s “tribe” or family and their growth, heartbreaks, and enjoyments.

Though this second book is more home based and family centered, it’s passionately written with inflections of Allende’s political and metaphysical beliefs. The collection covers estrangement, karma, travel, sexuality, and so much more. I confess that I now have a new appreciation for Allende (Dare I say I even have a bit of a crush on her?) and her novels.

Nonfiction: The Magic Lantern: An Autobiography, 2007

A magic lantern according to Wikipedia is “the ancestor of the modern slide projector … With an oil lamp and a lens, images painted on glass plates could be projected on to a suitable screen.” The flickering images from this instrument blossomed into Bergman’s life as a director, etc. and also served as a neat metaphor for the book as his stream of conscious musings tremble from one scene to the next. Yesterday afternoon I finished Ingmar Bergman’s autobiography The Magic Lantern and the conclusion of the book gave me the best advise (possibly ever) on friendships as well as a warm glimpse (unlike previous commentary) into the lives of his intriguing parents.

I first fell in love with Bergman after renting Wild Strawberries and recall upon my first viewing of the movie that I sat attentively near the screen amazed at what unfolded. In his autobiography Bergman spends a good deal of time discussing how any film that isn’t a documentary is a representation of a dream. This perhaps best explains a certain quality that exists to various degrees in all of his films.

According to the autobiography the reader may assume that Bergman had a bit of a wretched childhood, which then blossomed into relationship problems and alienation in his adult life. The sheer amount of autobiographical information that shows up in his movie astounds me. I would have to say my two favorite moments from the book are: one, when his brother told him he could jump out of the second floor window with their grandmother’s umbrella and Ingmar would safely float to the ground. He was stopped but recalled crying not because of the danger or getting into trouble but realizing that indeed he couldn’t fly with the umbrella. And two, a memory of swimming when he attempted to come to the surface but found himself under a raft. He recollects not being scared but opening his eyes to look at the world around him.

I was absolutely thrilled with the autobiography but I also feel safe in saying if you are not acquainted with his films a good portion of the book may be a lost on you. Otherwise splendid and I was thrilled to finish it just in time to watch the Passion of Anna.

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