Adventures in Reading


Revisted Review: The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami

Unfortunately short story collections too often seem the bastardized relatives of novels and I so seldom see them appear on any award or reading lists. Murakami’s The Elephant Vanishes is a prime example of how perfect and well-crafted short stories can be. Murakami’s stories tend to follow the lives of the upper/middle class with a certain emotional distance or ambiguity and here and there an element will connect one story with a previous story. This perhaps was the first book that I couldn’t wait to finish because I was so exhilarated to read it again. My favorite story in the collection (read it even if it’s only in passing): “The Second Bakery Attack.”

Sometimes I find it difficult to describe Murakami and my attraction to his work. What I have read of his novels and stories always present a relatively standard and simple plot, but I suppose it’s his brilliance in taking these themes and infusing them with a dream-like quality that makes Murakami so appealing.



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.