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   Book Info

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Daughter of Fortune  
Author: Isabel Allende
ISBN: 038082101X
Format: Handover
Publish Date: June, 2005
   Book Review

Oprah Book Club® Selection, February 2000: Until Isabel Allende burst onto the scene with her 1985 debut, The House of the Spirits, Latin American fiction was, for the most part, a boys' club comprising such heavy hitters as Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Luis Borges, and Mario Vargas Llosa. But the Chilean Allende shouldered her way in with her magical realist multi-generational tale of the Trueba family, followed it up with four more novels and a spate of nonfiction, and has remained in a place of honor ever since. Her sixth work of fiction, Daughter of Fortune, shares some characteristics with her earlier works: the canvas is wide, the characters are multi-generational and multi-ethnic, and the protagonist is an unconventional woman who overcomes enormous obstacles to make her way in the world. Yet one cannot accuse Allende of telling the same story twice; set in the mid-1800s, this novel follows the fortunes of Eliza Sommers, Chilean by birth but adopted by a British spinster, Rose Sommers, and her bachelor brother, Jeremy, after she is abandoned on their doorstep. "You have English blood, like us," Miss Rose assured Eliza when she was old enough to understand. "Only someone from the British colony would have thought to leave you in a basket on the doorstep of the British Import and Export Company, Limited. I am sure they knew how good-hearted my brother Jeremy is, and felt sure he would take you in. In those days I was longing to have a child, and you fell into my arms, sent by God to be brought up in the solid principles of the Protestant faith and the English language." The family servant, Mama Fresia, has a different point of view, however: "You, English? Don't get any ideas, child. You have Indian hair, like mine." And certainly Eliza's almost mystical ability to recall all the events of her life would seem to stem more from the Indian than the Protestant side.

As Eliza grows up, she becomes less tractable, and when she falls in love with Joachin Andieta, a clerk in Jeremy's firm, her adoptive family is horrified. They are even more so when a now-pregnant Eliza follows her lover to California where he has gone to make his fortune in the 1849 gold rush. Along the way Eliza meets Tao Chi'en, a Chinese doctor who saves her life and becomes her closest friend. What starts out as a search for a lost love becomes, over time, the discovery of self; and by the time Eliza finally catches up with the elusive Joachin, she is no longer sure she still wants what she once wished for. Allende peoples her novel with a host of colorful secondary characters. She even takes the narrative as far afield as China, providing an intimate portrait of Tao Chi'en's past before returning to 19th-century San Francisco, where he and Eliza eventually fetch up. Readers with a taste for the epic, the picaresque, and romance that is satisfyingly complex will find them all in Daughter of Fortune. --Margaret Prior

From Publishers Weekly
Allende expands her geographical boundaries in this sprawling, engrossing historical novel flavored by four culturesAEnglish, Chilean, Chinese and AmericanAand set during the 1849 California Gold Rush. The alluring tale begins in Valpara!so, Chile, with young Eliza Sommers, who was left as a baby on the doorstep of wealthy British importers Miss Rose Sommers and her prim brother, Jeremy. Now a 16-year-old, and newly pregnant, Eliza decides to follow her lover, fiery clerk Joaqu!n Andieta, when he leaves for California to make his fortune in the gold rush. Enlisting the unlikely aid of Tao Chi'en, a Chinese shipboard cook, she stows away on a ship bound for San Francisco. Tao Chi'en's own storyArichly textured and expansively toldAbegins when he is born into a peasant family and sold into slavery, where it is his good fortune to be trained as a master of acupuncture. Years later, while tending to a sailor in colonial Hong Kong, he is shanghaied and forced into service at sea. During the voyage with Eliza, Tao nurses her through a miscarriage. When they disembark, Eliza is disguised as a boy, and she spends the next four years in male attire so she may travel freely and safely. Eliza's search for Joaqu!n (rumored to have become an outlaw) is disappointing, but through an eye-opening stint as a pianist in a traveling brothel and through her charged friendship with Tao, now a sought-after healer and champion of enslaved Chinese prostitutes, Eliza finds freedom, fulfillment and maturity. Effortlessly weaving in historical background, Allende (House of the Spirits; Paula) evokes in pungent prose the great melting pot of early California and the colorful societies of Valpara!so and Canton. A gallery of secondary characters, developed early on, prove pivotal to the plot. In a book of this scope, the narrative is inevitably top-heavy in spots, and the plot wears thin toward the end, but this is storytelling at its most seductive, a brash historical adventure. Major ad/promo; BOMC dual main selection; 11-city author tour. (Oct.) FYI: This book will also be released in a HarperLibros Spanish edition, Hija del la Fortuna (ISBN 0-06-019492-8). Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal
In this luscious saga, Allende reaches beyond her previous novels (e.g., Eva Luna) in both space and time. In 19th-century Chile, a baby girl is left at the doorstep of Jeremy Sommers, director of the British Import and Export Company, Ltd., and his spinster sister, Rose. Rose raises Eliza to marry well and is understandably nonplussed when as a teenager she falls passionately in love with a poor clerk in the company. Eliza possesses all the feistiness and passion that Rose herself has suppressed, and when her somewhat indifferent lover heads north to San Francisco in search of gold, she follows, pregnant, disguised as a boy, and assisted by Tao Ch'ien, a Chinese doctor forced to work as a cook on a ship captained by John Sommers, brother to Jeremy and Rose. Not surprisingly, Eliza has some trouble locating her lover, but through a host of richly detailed adventures, she does find something more precious: freedom. Obvious and at times sentimental, this is still entertaining reading. For all collections.-ABarbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

New York Times Book Review

Los Angeles Times Book Review
Allende is a genius.

Washington Post
Like a slow, seductive lover, Allende teases, tempts and titillates with mesmerizing stories.

Boston Globe Magazine
Allende is one of the most important novelists to emerge from Latin America in the past decade.

From AudioFile
In this extraordinarily vivid, earthy, picaresque historical romance, a bold Chilean senorita, pregnant by her young lover, follows him to San Francisco during the Gold Rush. Allende is a modern, female Cervantes, and this epic is alternately ironic, surprising, and touching, while always poetic. Blair Brown does a workmanlike job, but her flat, heavy tones do not sing as one needs to sing in order to do justice to this masterpiece. Y.R. © AudioFile 2001, Portland, Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine

From Booklist
The latest novel by one of the most internationally appreciated writers draws on two of the environments about which Allende knows much: Chile, her native land, and California, where she currently resides. Allende proves she has learned history well and that she knows characters instinctively as she reaches back into both Chile's and California's past to construct a story of family conflict, romantic love, and true adventure, all these threads spun into a fine, even beautiful, narrative of admirable force. Her tale begins in an intriguing milieu: that of the British colony in the Chilean city of Valparaiso (for which, of course, Allende has a wonderful feel) at the middle of the nineteenth century. A year and a half after Rose and Jeremy Sommers, sister and brother (the latter in the import-export business), arrived at the Chilean port city, they took in an orphan left at their doorstep; and little Eliza is raised with privilege, with the hopes of her making a smart marriage. But, as one might have predicted, Eliza falls for a young man much lower on the social scale than she; and when he goes popping off to California to partake of the gold rush there, Eliza, left pregnant, decides to steal away to follow him. En route she meets her soulmate, a Chinese herbalist called Tao Chi'en; and learning from both his and her own experiences in the California goldfields, Eliza grows up quickly, gaining an incredible reserve of strength and character. Brad Hooper

From Kirkus Reviews
Allende's first novel in six years (The Infinite Plan, 1993, etc.) delivers her gentle, often plush style at extravagant length to tell the life of Eliza Sommers, a Chilean woman who immigrates to San Francisco in the 1840s. Abandoned as a baby in the British colony of Valparaiso, Eliza is raised by Jeremy and Rose Sommers, a prosperous pair of siblings who consider the girl a gift. For unmarried Rose, Eliza is compensation for the child shes always lacked; brother Jeremy is pleased that the infant legitimizes their odd cohabitation. A thriving seaport, Valparaiso welcomes sailors and hucksters in abundance: Jeremy is a ship's captain, and one Jacob Todd a Bible salesman without official sanction. Todd quickly falls for Rose, though she misunderstands him and thinks hes fallen in love with young Eliza. Some 200 pages later, Eliza falls in love with Joaqun Andieta, who her pregnant and then sails for the promise of gold in California. Eliza follows, miscarries during her passage north, and is befriended by Tao Chi'en, a Chinese physician. (His early struggles and departure from Asia are treated in detail.) Meanwhile, Eliza wanders through California with undiminished hope. This takes years, and along the way Tao Chi'en is transformed from his traditional ways, while Eliza adopts the role of a man and encounters dozens of curious people. Back in Valparaiso, the Sommers pair regret their loss but are given hope of tracking Eliza down when Toddnow a newspaper reportertells them hes seen her. Finally, after Eliza discovers that Joaqun, having become a bandit, has been murdered, she and Tao Chi'en are free to explore their (so-far unexpressed) love for each other. Allende has clearly enjoyed providing rich elaborations that dont particularly advance the story here but affirm her theme of personal discovery. Each of her characters finds something different from what we were looking for. With this novel, the same may not be said of readers who enjoy Allendes fiction. (Book-of-the-Month Club dual main selection; author tour) -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

Daughter of Fortune


The Barnes & Noble Review

Isabel Allende's wide international readership will be well satisfied after the six-year wait for Daughter of Fortune, an ambitious romance laden with drama and sensuality. The Chilean author came to international recognition with her debut novel, the highly acclaimed The House of the Spirits (1985), a multigenerational saga of the Trueba family culminating in the horrors of the country's 1973 military coup. Allende has been consistently carving out her literary niche ever since, through the novels Of Love and Shadows (1984), Eva Luna (1988), and The Infinite Plan (1993); with short stories, a memoir, and eclectic musings on the erotic and culinary interspersed between them. In these works, Allende established an unmistakable voice and a set of concerns that form the essential foundations on which Daughter of Fortune is built, but beyond which the book attempts to expand.

The story begins in mid-19th century Valpara￯﾿ᄑso, Chile, then a thriving British port and the most compelling of the narrative's many settings. Enter Jeremy and Rose Sommers, a brother and sister pair who have established themselves at the head of expatriate society, valiantly tending the delicate flower of Victorian ways on the harsh alien soil. When an infant is abandoned on their doorstep, Rose considers the child a divine consolation for her forgone motherhood, and the foundling completes their unconventional familial situation. The baby, whom they name Eliza, is destined to become a courageous and deeply individual young woman. She grows up between worlds, spending her days half with her native-Chilean nanny immersed in the bustle of the kitchen and household chores, and half with Rose, practicing the piano, shopping for small luxuries, and bathing in tubs of skin-softening milk. The tension in her divided identity climaxes when Eliza encounters Joaqu￯﾿ᄑn Andieta, a destitute but passionate revolutionary, and immediately falls madly in love with him. After a somewhat unfulfilling affair, Joaqu￯﾿ᄑn dashes off to California to try his luck at the newly-discovered gold mines. Soon after Joaqu￯﾿ᄑn leaves, Eliza discovers that she is pregnant, and circumstances force her to pursue him as a stowaway in the hold of a ship.

The events that follow this crucial decision fall like a series of dominoes set in motion. Eliza meets the traditional Chinese healer Tao Chi'en, who will become a crucial part of her life. She has a miscarriage and nearly dies in the two-month sea journey; upon disembarking, she is forced to disguise herself as a Chinese and later a Chilean youth; under the guise of looking for her "brother" Joaqu￯﾿ᄑn, she voyages up and down the bitter landscape of the Gold Rush, eventually settling for a time as a piano player in a brothel of kindly whores. Despite an astonishing amount of historical detail, Allende is weaker on American soil, flattening characters and situations with a heavy hand. Ultimately, Tao tracks Eliza down and brings her back to San Francisco, where together they vigorously set about extricating prostitutes from the evil clutches of the avaricious madams in Chinatown. All this time, Eliza has not ceased her search for Joaqu￯﾿ᄑn, but eventually a shocking twist of events causes her to finally relinquish him. Liberated at last, she and Tao are now free to act on the love they have gradually found for each other.

Allende deftly weaves a lush tale of four continents into this absorbing page-turner. Her writing is passionate, earthy, and sensorially overwhelming, richly evocative of exotic locales, sexual exploration, and the driving force of destiny. Yet the novel's epic proportions and scope are at times achieved at the expense of character development and realism: Jeremy and Rose verge on fossilized Victorian clich￯﾿ᄑs, while Tao is far too much the stereotypical Chinaman, another of the "mute ants" invading the American Pacific Coast in droves. Allende's storytelling, while retaining the spellbinding quality of The House of the Spirits, here navigates new territory. Perhaps deliberately attempting to evade the label of magical realism that has been conferred, all too often, upon her earlier work, Allende skirts around the supernaturalism her readers may be expecting. Gone are the clairvoyance and long green tresses of House, the closest Daughter comes to magic is in a brief visitation from Tao's dead wife Lin. On the other hand, the feminism and the emphasis upon journeys of personal liberation which have come to be associated with Allende are everywhere in evidence in this text. In fact, it reads in many ways like a feminist allegory, in which the conventions of Victorian society, Chilean chauvinism, and even American materialism are eschewed in favor of multicultural blending and a blurring of gender roles. In the end, after experiencing the rough new land of exploding possibilities in the guise of a man, Eliza is sufficiently liberated to freely choose her femininity for herself in her new life with Tao. It is an optimistic and triumphant conclusion to an extravagant odyssey.

—Monica Ferrell


From acclaimed international bestselling author Isabel Allende comes this dazzling historical novel, a sweeping portrait of an unconventional woman carving her own destiny in an era defined by violence, passion, and adventure. An orphan raised in Valparaiso, Chile, by a Victorian spinster and her rigid brother, young, vivacious Eliza Sommers follows her lover to California during the Gold Rush of 1849 -- a danger-filled quest that will become a momentous journey of transformation. In this rough-and-tumble world of panhandlers and prostitutes, immigrants and aristocrats, Eliza will discover a new life of freedom, independence, and a love greater than any ever dreamed.


Miami Herald

A passionate storyteller￯﾿ᄑ.Her writing is lyrical, mystical, ribald, funny.

Washington Post

Like a slow, seductive lover, Allende teases, tempts and titillates with mesmerizing stories.

Boston Globe Magazine

Allende is one of the most important novelists to emerge from Latin America in the past decade.


Allende projects a woman's point of view with confidence, control and an expansive definition of romance as a fact of life.

Entertainment Weekly

Allende details her plot and settings richly. Read all 28 "From The Critics" >


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