Author: Isabel Allende
Release Date: May 2006
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Genre: Contemporary Fiction; Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Book Summary: Orphaned at birth, Eliza Sommers is raised in the British colony of Valparaíso, Chile, by the well-intentioned Victorian spinster Miss Rose and her more rigid brother Jeremy. Just as she meets and falls in love with the wildly inappropriate Joaquín Andieta, a lowly clerk who works for Jeremy, gold is discovered in the hills of northern California. By 1849, Chileans of every stripe have fallen prey to feverish dreams of wealth. Joaquín takes off for San Francisco to seek his fortune, and Eliza, pregnant with his child, decides to follow him.
So begins Isabel Allende's enchanting new novel, Daughter of Fortune, her most ambitious work of fiction yet. As we follow her spirited heroine on a perilous journey north in the hold of a ship to the rough-and-tumble world of San Francisco and northern California, we enter a world whose newly arrived inhabitants are driven mad by gold fever. A society of single men and prostitutes among whom Eliza moves — with the help of her good friend and savior, the Chinese doctor Tao Chi'en — California opens the door to a new life of freedom and independence for the young Chilean. Her search for the elusive Joaquín gradually turns into another kind of journey that transforms her over time, and what began as a search for love ends up as the conquest of personal freedom. By the time she finally hears news of him, Eliza must decide who her true love really is.
Daughter of Fortune is a sweeping portrait of an era, a story rich in character, history, violence, and compassion. In Eliza, Allende has created one of her most appealing heroines, an adventurous, independent-minded and highly unconventional young woman who has the courage to reinvent herself and to create her won destiny in a new country. A marvel of storytelling, Daughter of Fortune confirms once again Isabel Allende's extraordinary gift for fiction and her place as one of the world's leading writers.
My Thoughts: I read Of Love and Shadows by Isabel Allende in the early ‘90s and thought it was wonderful. I purchased her 1999 novel, Daughter of Fortune, not long after it was first published but made the mistake of lending it to a friend. She loved it and lent it to another friend and so the stories goes! I never got it back but I heard great praise! I was thrilled when I saw that Daughter of Fortune was part of TLC Book Tours spring line up and signed up to read it as well as Portrait in Sepia.
Daughter of Fortune is the story of Eliza Sommers, abandoned as a baby and adopted into the wealthy Sommers family in the port city of Valparaiso, Chile. The Sommers family consists of Rose, a beautiful young woman and her two brothers. First is Jeremy, the upper-crust arrogant businessman for whom appearances and reputation are everything. Then there’s John, a ship's captain who loves and enjoys life fully. Jeremy never completely accepts Eliza as a member of the family and wouldn't have adopted her except for his extreme difficulty in saying no to Rose. Rose has no interest in marriage but has always wanted a child. Between them, she and John make sure that Eliza has the best of everything, though they are reluctant to ask more of Jeremy than he has already provided.
Early in the story, Eliza is revealed to be an intelligent, ingenious and observant girl. Ms. Allende brings her alive in the first few pages as she describes Eliza's curiosity about her birth mother and the day she was found. The Sommers refuse to talk about her birth and an air of mystery surrounds it. There are other secrets in the family and Eliza senses that, especially when Rose locks herself away in her room for days, ignoring Eliza. We're able to feel Eliza's confusion, too, when one minute Rose is doting on her, dressing her up and showing her off to her friends. Then, when she tires of her, Eliza is sent to the kitchen with Mama Fresia, the Somers Chilean cook and housekeeper. She speaks Spanish with Mama Fresia, who loves Eliza like a daughter, teaching and telling Eliza everything she knows. Eliza is torn between two worlds, spending time in both but not feeling she belongs in either one. Still, there's no hiding which woman Eliza feels more comfortable with since she refers to Rose as “Ms. Rose” while the cook is Mama Fresia. It's one of those small but significant details which make Ms. Allende's writing so compelling.
Eliza falls deeply, desperately in love at fifteen with Joaquin Andieta, a young, very poor Chilean man a few years older who writes her amazing love letters. Many of us can relate to the feelings Eliza experiences and empathize with her distraction and restlessness after he’s gone to California in search of gold. That desperation she’s feeling is very familiar, one we recognize from our own teenage years. We wish we could give her a reassuring hug. So it comes as no surprise when, a few months later, she leaves Chile in pursuit of him, believing they are destined to be together.
Daughter of Fortune is divided into 3 parts. In part one we come to know many of the characters who will be a part of the rest of the book. Life in the port city of Valparaiso, Chile, is described by Allende in rich detail and vivid imagery enabling us to imagine it as if we’d been there. In part two, gold is discovered in California. As we read about men frantic to get to California and claim their fortune, what was an already engaging story now becomes riveting.
The narrative picks up as Eliza struggles to figure out how to get to California to find Joaquin. Although her upbringing has been traditional and unadventurous, Eliza is not a typical girl. She isn’t going to sit at home, lick her wounds and mourn her fate. She’s going to get what she wants, yet, despite her determination, the author has infused Eliza with very human fragilities. We see genuine moments of fear as she searches for an answer to her plight, making her all the more real to us. In short, Allende has given us an intriguing, unconventional heroine.
At this point in the novel, Eliza meets the fascinating Tao Chi'en, a cook on one of the ships her Uncle John captained. He becomes a significant part of Eliza's life for the remainder of the book. Allende takes us on a detour to the province of Kwangtung just outside Canton in China, showing us where Tao Chi’en grew up. In these pages Tao Chi’en becomes more than a name on the page. Allende has a talent for bringing characters to life. Tao Chi’en becomes a three-dimensional human being as we read his history and learn he was trained by a zhong yi, a traditional physician and acupuncturist. Things haven’t always gone smoothly for Tao Chi’en because Chinese men aren’t respected and have few rights once they’ve left their homeland. Still Tao Chi’en is happy, intelligent, and observant. His skills serve him well. I was more than a little surprised when I, an American woman over forty, found myself relating and identifying with him, a young, displaced Chinese man, in many ways.
The author uses foreshadowing throughout the book to great effect, perhaps the best example is found here, as we know both characters will be tested when Eliza and Tao Chi’en arrive in California. It would be a tremendous “spoiler” if I went into detail about the foreshadowing. But suffice to say you’ll know things will be more difficult then they could have ever imagined and that they are going to have to rely on each other as much as two people ever have.
At this point, I found it extremely difficult to put Daughter of Fortune down. Allende describes people, places and happenings so vividly, with such rich detail, that we feel as if we are there. Eliza and Tao Chi’en will need to use ingenuity and creativeness to fit into this society, particularly Eliza since there are extremely few women in California. We’ll see Eliza grow into a woman and discover who she is and what she’s capable of as she traverses the terrain of this new place in search of her lover.
In part three, we’ve come to know Eliza fully. I couldn’t help but care about her. I sympathized with her frustrations, breathed freely when she was happy and worried about her well-being. She becomes as real to us as our friends and family and we want to reach out and hug her one moment and smack some sense into her the next! We watch as Tao Chi’en grows into a man, honing the humane qualities that make him a healer people can trust. Tao Chi’en, who has already been through so much in his young life, realizes he has more to learn not just about himself, but also other people and the world around him. I felt privileged to be able to read along as Eliza and Tao Chi’en travel California together, both searching for something. What they find is so much better than they expected!
There is more to Daughter of Fortune than I’ve said here in my review. It’s a multi-layered story with several terrific secondary characters and even a good deal of humor. Universal themes of love, loss, family, growing up and finding your way weave their way through the story. Some characters learn difficult lessons, such as nothing good comes from secrets and deceit isn’t the way to accomplish things. My only complaint about this book is the ending comes rather abruptly. I would have preferred a more gradual approach with more information about the character‘s lives. But then, I’d have loved another 100 pages of this wonderful story! There is something for everyone in Daughter of Fortune, a remarkable, compelling story you don’t want to miss. I highly recommend it.
Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to read and review Daughter of Fortune.