Review: Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende

I just finished or more accurately I am almost finished with Isabel Allende’s Daughter of Fortune for my Book Club — we met in Starbucks for a change of pace. Book Club was a huge success — talked about the book for almost the whole session which is very rare.

Written originally in Spanish this book chronicles the life of Eliza abandoned as an infant at the home of Jeremy and Rose Sommers, a brother and sister. The pair take Eliza in but do not formally adopt her. The circumstances of Eliza’s birth set the stage for the novel since Eliza is the lead character, but the novel is about much more:

– It is a historical novel set in Chile in the 1840s, also takes place in London, Europe, San Francisco, and China as well.

– It covers the life of comfortably off British expats in Chile who are shipping merchants.

– The author gives details about the life of the working poor in Valparaiso. Think shacks, no running water, threadbare clothes. A real rich v. poor situation.

– One of the characters is the captain of a ship and then a steamer. Part of the novel deals with a group of passengers who go to San Francisco during the Gold Rush. The passengers range from a prostitutes, a Chinese cook and holistic healer, sailors, men who are seeking their fortunes during the Gold Rush, and wealthy folk. Life aboard ship is very different from life on land — ship’s captain rules his crew with an iron fist, no insubordination is tolerated.

– Once in California the class system falls apart as it is every man for himself. Everyone wants to make money in the Gold Rush.

A good read. I am not overly fond of books translated from another language as the language can seem stilted, but this translation was smooth and readable. I loved learning about the life of both wealthy, high born people and common people in the same book. The author gave readers a glimpse in to what life was like in a bustling city like Valparaiso. Two thumbs up from me.

Allende wrote a sequel called Portraits in Sepia. I will read that one next when I finish Daughter of Fortune.

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