Book Review: Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende

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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 novel Daughter of Fortune. 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 hard-won destiny in a new country.

This is more adult fiction, but it was so good.

Eliza was definitely a complex and layered and awesome heroine. Her single-minded passion, her internal struggle, her journeys, everything is just completely believable and there.

ALSO, THE SETTING. Not everyone can pull off historical fiction as achingly realistic as that. In fact, like I've said before, I usually don't even like historical fiction. But the world can surprise a girl. The richness of description make you feel not as if you are walking the streets of Valparaíso or San Francisco, but as if you already have had these streets in your bones all your life.

Tao Chi'en had an intriguing backstory and he was a good guy. He also had complexities, and that really got me about this book - how easily believable and honest every character was. How there were no flat characters. Each one had a definite and honest story.

The writing style was a bit heady, somewhat difficult to take in all at once, which meant I read slower than usual. However, the end result was totally worth it - the story, while seemingly shapeless while you're reading, takes on a whole new form once you're finished.

So if you feel you're ready to make the transition to adult fiction, then by all means, give it a shot.
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