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.



Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende

So I’ve done it again: I have a growing stack of books I keep intended to write up but forget so the stack keeps getting larger. Even with the amount of studying and preparation I’ve been doing for my classes, I have still been reading fairly steadily.

Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende is my second book by Allende. After my disappointment with Inés of My Soul, I did not get around to picking up another book until nearly a year later. Daughter of Fortune is the story of Eliza, an orphaned Chilean taken in by British aristocrats in the colony of Valparaíso. She is seen very much as a daughter by the spinster sister Rose, who takes periodic interest in the child and the rest of Eliza’s youth is spent with Mama Fresia in the kitchen. Once Eliza hits puberty Rose takes a great interest into grooming Eliza into a proper young woman so the orphan can make a good and prominent match. That is, until Eliza falls in love with Joaquín, is impregnated, and hides a stowaway to track him through the California wilderness he left her for in search of gold.

Daughter of Fortune also is a book of class status and escaping one’s birth. Allende explores this with Rose, but also with the defiant and unsettled city of San Francisco compared to the strict and reserved culture of Chile. In this environment Allende also guides Eliza through racism, interracial relationships, and sexual exploration. Daughter of Fortune explores the power and lust of first love as well as how love can effect someone. In some ways, I found this novel very similar to Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Marquez, but admit that I am quite partial to Allende’s retelling of such themes of love.

Other opinions: Katrina’s Reads, Fizzy Thoughts.



Revisted: Inés of My Soul by Isabel Allende

I had heard a lot of good things about Allende and particularly about Inés of My Soul, and the book certainly did not live up to its reputation. It’s a work of historical fiction representing Inés Suarez who helped the Spanish conquistadors colonize Chile. Allende offers an interesting perspective trying not to over romanticize the Spanish conquest but still ensures that the native Chileans are indeed “savages.” The book never felt like it was Inés’ story and rather simply seemed like her perspective on how the men in her life lived their lives. The retrospective narrative told from the elderly Inés who faces death is reminiscent of Tristram Shandy with regularly diverging stories before she returns to the main plot. Overall, the book had interesting possibilities but read slowly and tediously.

I’m reading Allende’s Daughter of Fortune now and I love it, and I wonder if I was a little too harsh when describing Inés of My Soul. I do think it was a book that I heard a lot of hype about and Allende is certainly a familiar author. Perhaps I should have started off on what is considered an Allende classic rather than what was her latest book at the time. I definitely would like to reread Inés of My Soul in the future.