I absolutely loved Isabel Allende’s novel Daughter of Fortune. I don’t often go in for Oprah Book Club books, but this one was truly wonderful. I love the style of storytelling, the way the story meanders from character to character, tying them all together. The book took some turns I didn’t expect – from Chile to the California Gold Rush – and I enjoyed every moment of it.
Allende’s novel traces the story of Eliza Sommers, from her mysterious birth and adoption through her ill-fated love for Joaquin Andieta, traveling the high seas and rugged unsettled California territory. Along the way we learn about the hushed up background of her adopted mother, Rose, and the sad story of her Chinese traveling companion, Tao Chi’en. We hear about the difficult life of the 49ers, and get a glimpse into the life of the women who lived as prostitutes during that era.
At its heart its a story about first loves. We learn about Rose’s first love, and we learn her brother Jeremy never had one. We learn about Tao Chi’en’s first love in an arranged marriage. Mostly, we learn about Eliza’s first love for Joaquin Andieta. Each of these first love stories is a tragedy, but through Eliza’s story we learn that love often shows up where we don’t expect it, from someone we never would have imagined. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Allende is trying to tell us that first loves always end badly, but I do think she’s warning us about the obsession that often comes with first love and how dangerous that can be.
Allende is a realist, but a romantic one. Her book reads like a romantic tragic-comedy, although in my opinion its missing the punchline. Perhaps because its supposed to, because Allende wants you to draw your own conclusions in a very Pygmalion sort of way. As a reader, I usually enjoy a nicely wrapped package, a la Jane Austen. At the end of a novel, Austen wraps it all up in a package with a neatly tied bow: we know who marries whom, who is happy and who is not, and what punishment went to those who deserved it. Not Allende, which surprisingly didn’t bother me in the least, because it means since I finished the novel last weekend, I’ve been living in it. Dwelling in the fantastic world of the 1849 Gold Rush, I’m wondering what Eliza’s future holds. As an optimist, and a romantic one at that, I know what I’m hoping for – but I won’t spoil it for you.
The book is a fabulous read, although for more conservative readers I will warn that there is some mature content, although nothing explicit. If you love a good story, and enjoy deep character development, I would highly recommend this book.
What are you reading today?