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Allende introduction
by Asa Butcher
Issue 14
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Daughter of Fortune
Isabel Allende (Translation by Margaret Sayers Peden)
Harper Collins, 1999
My reading list of late had been particularly male-dominated, so Thanos suggested a book by Isabel Allende, a Chilean author and one of the most popular novelists in the world today, selling over 35 million copies and translated in 27 different languages.

My experience with Latin American literature had begun a few months earlier with Gabriel García Márquez 's One Hundred Years of Solitude and that book had dazzled me, so I approached Allende's book with eager anticipation. Daughter of Fortune disappointed me greatly because it ended at least 500 pages too soon and that is a conservative estimate.

To put it mildly, I loved the book from beginning to premature end. The characters, the locations, the dialogue, the emotions, the history and the clash of cultures fired my imagination at the turn of every page. I just did not want the story to reach a conclusion because a part of me felt emotionally connected to the characters' lives, especially the heroine of the book, Eliza Sommers.

Beginning in 1843, we are introduced to Eliza, an orphaned girl raised in the British colony of Valparaíso, Chile, by the well-intentioned Victorian spinster Miss Rose and her more rigid brother Jeremy. Eliza falls in love with Joaquín Andieta, a lowly clerk, but he decides to find his fortune in the Gold Rush of 1849. Eliza is left behind, pregnant with his child, so she decides to follow him.

Eliza is one of the strongest female characters I have encountered in literature. She is adventurous, courageous, independent and unconventional, although she does spend half of the story disguised as a boy due to the masculine world of 19th century California, with its single men and prostitutes. She is aided and later accompanied on her journey by a Chinese doctor named Tao Chi'en, whom is another of my favourite literary characters.

Readers are furnished with the history of many of the main characters, so we can better understand how they have arrived at this intersection and why they make certain decisions. In the case of Tao Chi'en, we follow him from childhood to the death of his wife to being shanghaied onto the ship captained by Miss Roses' brother. The background injects more realism into each of the characters and, in turn, brings further believability to the coincidences in the plot.

The blurb on the back of the book states, Daughter of Fortune is a sweeping portrait of an era' and that is no exaggeration. Readers are taken on a global journey through the latter part of the 19th century beginning on the docks of Valparaíso, Chile, and moving through countless other cultures. Hong Kong in the aftermath of the Opium Wars, the shantytown of Gold Rush San Francisco, Victorian London and the many other destinations visited by Miss Roses' brother on his ship.

Due to Isabel Allende only writing in Spanish, it is thanks to an excellent translating job by Margaret Sayers Peden that the book works perfectly in English. Margaret Sayers Peden has translated several of her books and Allende has said of her, 'Margaret and I are always in touch, I believe we have a psychic connection. She does a splendid job. I do not dream of correcting her!'

I would agree whole-heartedly with you because together they have produced a book that I will read again in the future. It has found a place into my heart and is reassured of a permanent place upon my bookshelf.
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