Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende

Title: Daughter of Fortune
Author: Isabel Allende
ISBN: 978-0061120251
Pages: 432
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.

For more about Daughter of Fortune, Isabel Allende and her other books see her website.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to read and review Daughter of Fortune.


  1. Ha! My review of this one is up tomorrow! I read Allende's memoir Sum of Our Days a few years ago, and I fell in love with her passion and spunk. Knowing her personality then, you can totally see how that transfers to her characters. I listened to this on audio, and it was a very educational and enjoyable adventure into the US's gold rush.

  2. I love that you lent the book out before you read it and never got it back - just goes to show that it is a really great book! Not that I wouldn't want you get your own book back, but you know what I mean. :)

    I've only read one book by Allende but I found her writing to be beautiful. Looks like I need to make time to read more by here.

    Thanks for being on the tour. I'm so glad you loved this book, especially after waiting so long to read it!

  3. I have to get on top of reading this...after Ines... So much Allende, so little time. :)

  4. I listened to an interview of Allende and have been fascinated with her work ever since. This sounds fabulous!

  5. You have throughly convinced me that I must read this book! Eliza sounds like a fascinating character.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog and for your lovely comments. Anni is doing well. She LOVES the outdoors and is in her glory when I take her out for her supervised outings. She also enjoys sitting in her beach chair on the porch watching nature. :)

    Hope you and all your sweet kitties are doing well. I think of you often.

  6. By the way, every time I see the photo on the right of Bob stretched out checking out the nightlife I have to smile!

  7. I love love Allende but all in all, was mad about the ending on this one. It was so abrupt, and I felt cheated. But hey - I love everything else of hers that I've read, so I'll give this one a pass.

  8. I have never read anything by Allende before, but this seems like the place I might start. I do have Portrait in Sepia and The House of Shadows in my library though, and form the sound of it, I might have to try one of them sooner rather than later. Thanks for the great review and thoughtful perceptions!

  9. SANDY: I'm going to read your review shortly! I'm interested in your thoughts on the audio. It probably really brought Valparaiso & the gold rush to life.
    I'm putting Sum of Our Days on my tbr list, After reading this book and the interview with Isabel Allende at the back of the book, I'm looking forward to finding out more about Allende throughher memoir.

  10. HEATHERTLC: I know what you mean. I was both happy & annoyed that I didn't get my book back! It was great to hear my family & friends rave about this book, especially one woman who wasn't much of a reader. I don't know why I didn't pick up another copy at a store or the library, but I'm so happy I finally read Daughter of Fortune! Allende's writing is beautiful and engaging.

  11. TRISHA: That's it! So little time but she's written so many good books. I don't want to lose sight of Allende again like I did years ago after reading Of Love and Shadows. I'm very happy I have Portrait in Sepia to review in a few weeks. I want to read Allende's memoir and Ines, too! Ahhh...hopes & dreams... lol

  12. BERMUDAONION: I'd love to hear an interview with Allende. I read a brief interview included in the back of this book. Allende is such an intriguing woman & it sounds as if she's had an interesting &, at times, difficult life. I'm reviewing another of her books in a few weeks. But I really want to read her memoir, Sum of Our Days, that Sandy read a few years ago and mentions in her comment. I hope you get the chance to read one Allende's books soon!

  13. PESKY CAT: I'm thrilled you want to read Daughter of Fortune, now. I hope you love it when you do!
    Sweet, adorable Anni sounds like she's found the life for her. I can just see her sprawled comfortably on a beach chair! I love that you take her out for supervised's such a smart idea. I often sit outside and read when the cats go out so I can try to keep an eye on them!

  14. PICKY GIRL: The ending didn't bother me as much as it did you, but I understand what you're saying. I thought it was a strange way to end this book after all Allende put into it. Have you read Portrait in Sepia? I'm hoping it helps me accept the ending of this book a little more.

  15. ZIBILEE: I think you will really like Allende's books, she writes beautifully & because they're historical fiction. Portrait in Sepia continues the story of the Sommers family. I don't think you have to read Daughter of Fortune first but you may want to. I think The House of Spirits was her first novel. I've heard great things about it. When I discussed Galore with other readers, a couple commented on similarities between the two especially regarding themes of magical realism and folk stories. It sounds like a great start to Allende, esp. since you own it!

  16. I enjoyed this book and the sequel very, very much!

  17. I loved this book, it was my first Allende when I was in high school and I recommended it to pretty much everyone I know. I think it's high time for a reread, actually, as it's been something like 10 years!

  18. I love me some Isabel Allende and this was one of my favs! Glad you enjoyed it so much.

  19. Great review Amy! I believe I have a copy of this on my shelf from years ago which I always meant to read. I'm going to have to pull it out. I just love the cover on this one.

  20. I read this years ago and loved it. The first Allende book I read had be hooked. It was The House of Spirits which was her first book, I think. I remember falling in love with it. Think it's time for a reread.

  21. I read this book awhile back, but I don't remember much except that I loved it. (I'm so glad I started blogging about books so when I have this problem, I just have to pull up my review and refresh my memory, LOL) You've made me want to re-read it.

    Have you read Ines of My Soul? Its my favorite of Allende's so far. Absolutely loved it! Her writing is brilliant.