Maya's Notebook (Allende)

Maya's Notebook
Isabel Allende, 2011 (U.S., 2013)
387 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780062105622

Neglected by her parents, nineteen-year-old Maya Nidal has grown up in a rambling old house in Berkeley with her grandparents.

Her grandmother Nidia, affectionately known as Nini, is a force of nature—willful and outspoken, unconventionally wise with a mystical streak, and fiercely protective—a woman whose formidable strength helped her build a new life after emigrating from Chile in 1973. Popo, Maya's grandfather, is an African American astronomer and professor—a gentle man whose solid, comforting presence helps calm the turbulence of Maya's adolescence.

When Popo dies of cancer, Maya goes completely off the rails. With her girlfriends—a tight circle known as the Vampires—she turns to drugs, alcohol, and petty crime, a downward spiral that eventually bottoms out in Las Vegas. Lost in a dangerous underworld, she is caught in the crosshairs of warring forces—a gang of assassins, the police, the FBI, and Interpol. Her one chance for survival is Nini, who helps her escape to a remote island off the coast of Chile.

Here Maya tries to make sense of the past, unravels mysterious truths about life and about her family, and embarks on her greatest adventure: the journey into her own soul. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—August 2, 1942
Where—Lima, Peru
Education—private schools in Bolivia and Lebanon
Awards—Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, 1998; Sara Lee
   Foundation Award, 1998; WILLA Literary Award, 2000
Currently—lives in San Rafael, California, USA

Isabel Allende is a Chilean writer whose works sometimes contain aspects of the "magic realist" tradition. Author of more than 20 books—essay collections, memoirs, and novels, she is perhaps best known for her novels The House of the Spirits (1982), Daughter of Fortune (1999), and Ines of My Soul (2006). She has been called "the world's most widely read Spanish-language author." All told her novels have been translated from Spanish into over 30 languages and have sold more than 55 million copies.

Her novels are often based upon her personal experience and pay homage to the lives of women, while weaving together elements of myth and realism. She has lectured and toured many American colleges to teach literature. Fluent in English as a second language, Allende was granted American citizenship in 2003, having lived in California with her American husband since 1989.
Early background
Allende was born Isabel Allende Llona in Lima, Peru, the daughter of Francisca Llona Barros and Tomas Allende, who was at the time the Chilean ambassador to Peru. Her father was a first cousin of Salvador Allende, President of Chile from 1970 to 1973, making Salvador her first cousin once removed (not her uncle as he is sometimes referred to).

In 1945, after her father had disappeared, Isabel's mother relocated with her three children to Santiago, Chile, where they lived until 1953. Allende's mother married diplomat Ramon Huidobro, and from 1953-1958 the family moved often, including to Bolivia and Beirut. In Bolivia, Allende attended a North American private school; in Beirut, she attended an English private school. The family returned to Chile in 1958, where Allende was briefly home-schooled. In her youth, she read widely, particularly the works of William Shakespeare.

From 1959 to 1965, while living in Chile, Allende finished her secondary studies. She married Miguel Frias in 1962; the couple's daughter Paula was born in 1963 and their son Nicholas in 1966. During that time Allende worked with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Santiago, Chile, then in Brussels, Belgium, and elsewhere in Europe.

Returning to Chile in 1996, Allende translated romance novels (including those of Barbara Cartland) from English to Spanish but was fired for making unauthorized changes to the dialogue in order to make the heriones sound more intelligent. She also altered the Cinderella endings, letting the heroines find more independence.

In 1967 Allende joined the editorial staff for Paula magazine and in 1969 the children's magazine Mampato, where she later became editor. She published two children's stories, Grandmother Panchita and Lauchas y Lauchones, as well as a collection of articles, Civilice a Su Troglodita.

She also worked in Chilean television from 1970-1974. As a journalist, she interviewed famed Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Neruda told Allende that she had too much imagination to be a journalist and that she should become a novelist. He also advised her to compile her satirical columns in book form—which she did and which became her first published book. In 1973, Allende's play El Embajador played in Santiago, a few months before she was forced to flee the country due to the coup.

The military coup in September 1973 brought Augusto Pinochet to power and changed everything for Allende. Her mother and diplotmat stepfather narrowly escaped assassination, and she herself began receiving death threats. In 1973 Allende fled to Venezuela.

Life after Chile
Allende remained in exile in Venezuela for 13 years, working as a columnist for El Nacional, a major newspaper. On a 1988 visit to California, she met her second husband, attorney Willie Gordon, with whom she now lives in San Rafael, California. Her son Nicolas and his children live nearby.

In 1992 Allende's daughter Paula died at the age of 28, the result of an error in medication while hospitalized for porphyria (a rarely fatal metabolic disease). To honor her daughter, Allenda started the Isabel Allende Foundation in 1996. The foundation is "dedicated to supporting programs that promote and preserve the fundamental rights of women and children to be empowered and protected."

In 1994, Allende was awarded the Gabriela Mistral Order of Merit—the first woman to receive this honor.

She was granted U.S. citizenship in 2003 and inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2004. She was one of the eight flag bearers at the Opening Ceremony of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.

In 2008 Allende received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from San Francisco State University for her "distinguished contributions as a literary artist and humanitarian." In 2010 she received Chile's National Literature Prize.

In 1981, during her exile, Allende received a phone call that her 99-year-old grandfather was near death. She sat down to write him a letter wishing to "keep him alive, at least in spirit." Her letter evolved into The House of the Spirits—the intent of which was to exorcise the ghosts of the Pinochet dictatorship. Although rejected by numerous Latin American publishers, the novel was finally published in Spain, running more than two dozen editions in Spanish and a score of translations. It was an immense success.

Allende has since become known for her vivid storytelling. As a writer, she holds to a methodical literary routine, working Monday through Saturday, 9:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M. "I always start on 8 January,"Allende once said, a tradition that began with the letter to her dying grandfather.

Her 1995 book Paula recalls Allende's own childhood in Santiago, Chile, and the following years she spent in exile. It is written as an anguished letter to her daughter. The memoir is as much a celebration of Allende's turbulent life as it is the chronicle of Paula's death.

Her 2008 memoir The Sum of Our Days centers  on her recent life with her immediate family—her son, second husband, and grandchildren. The Island Beneath the Sea, set in New Orleans, was published in 2010. Maya's Notebook, a novel alternating between Berkeley, California, and Chiloe, an island in Chile, was published in 2011 (2013 in the U.S.). Three movies have been based on her novels—Aphrodite, Eva Luna, and Gift for a Sweetheart. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 5/23/2013.)

Book Reviews
A gritty, violent, cautionary tale set firmly in the present…But the writing is still all Allende: driven by emotion…framed by her brand of lyrical description.
Miami Herald

Maya's story is soul-restoring in its fierce conviction that there is no damage done to a society, family or individual that cannot be eclipsed by hope and love. Allende makes you believe that, even if you don't, at least for a while.
Minneapolis Star Tribune

Longtime fans of Isabel Allende's work will find much of the author's beguiling mix of clear-eyed toughness and lightness of spirit in her new protagonist, and will welcome another chapter in Allende's continuing exploration of Latin America. Those introduced to Allende by MAYA'S NOTEBOOK surely will want more.
Seattle Times

Allende can spin a yarn with the grace of a poet.
Entertainment Weekly

Allende moves away from her usual magical realist historical fiction into a contemporary setting, and the result is a chaotic hodgepodge. The story, told through 19-year-old Maya Vidal’s journals, alternates between Maya’s dismal past and uncertain present.... Allende’s trademark passion for Chile is as strong as ever, and her clever writing lends buoyancy to the narrative’s deadweight, but this novel is unlikely to entrance fans old or new.
Publishers Weekly

International best-selling novelist Allende delivers a no-holds-barred story of Maya Vidal, a troubled 19-year-old American living in exile on Chiloe, a remote island off the coast of Chile. Over the span of one year, Maya records in her notebooks how she arrived on the island and regained her life there.... Verdict: Allende paints a vivid picture contrasting Maya's drug-clouded past and her recovery in Chiloe. Yet another accomplished work by a master storyteller that will enthrall and captivate. This is a must-read. —Donna Bettencourt, Mesa Cty. P.L., Palisade, CO
Library Journal

(Starred review.) An explosive novel…Every character is enthralling…This is a boldly plotted, sharply funny, and purposefully bone-shaking novel of sexual violence, political terror, "collective shame," and dark family secrets, all transcended by courage and love.

A 19-year-old Californian escapes her troubled past when her grandmother sends her to an isolated Chilean community in the latest confection of spiritual uplift, political instruction and lyrical melodrama from Allende.... Despite her enthusiasm for her new life, Maya remains in danger: She knows secrets criminals might kill for if they can just find her. Allende is a master at plucking heartstrings, and Maya's family drama is hard to resist, but the sentimentality and a lack of subtlety concerning politics, Chilean and American, can grate.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Describe Maya. What are her greatest strengths and her worst flaws? How are these characteristics reflected in the choices she makes, and how do those choices complicate her life? What does she do to make things better?

2. Why does Maya keep her notebook? Do you think that recording the events of her life offers her insight about her life and her world? Do you think she sees herself—the person she is—clearly?

3. Maya went to a good public school in Berkeley. Why do you think she didn't feel like she fit in? What draws her to her schoolmates, Sarah and Debbie? Why are adolescents easily swayed by their peers? Can adults protect them from negative influences—and if so, how? Counselors try to reach Maya, but she rejects them. Why?

4. What is Maya's relationship with her grandparents like? What ultimately separates her from them? Might events have turned out differently for Maya if her parents had raised her? She claims that of her two grandparents, Popo is the most influential person in her life. Would you agree? In her darkest time, why didn't Maya reach out to her grandmother, Nini? Why doesn't Nini ever lose hope for Maya? Is it ever okay to let go of someone who engages in terrible and self-destructive behavior? How might things have turned out for Maya if her grandmother had turned her back on her?

5. Think about the adults in Maya's life: her grandparents, NIni and Popo, Manuel Arias, Mike O'Kelly, her stepmother Susan, Roy Fedgerwick, Brandon Leeman, Officer Arana, Daniel Goodrich. Choose a few of these adults and analyze their relationships with the teenager. What do adults do to help or hinder her? Do you think they understand her? Talk about how their choices and actions affected Maya.

6. Compare and contrast Maya's worlds in San Francisco, in Las Vegas, and in Chiloé. What adjectives would Maya use to describe each of them? What does each mean to her? How well does she adjust to life in Las Vegas and in Chile? What does living on a small island in a foreign country offer her? Do you think she misses anything about her old life in America? Would you be able to change the way you live easily or would it be difficult?

7. Think about the arc of Maya's journey. What is she like at the beginning of the story and at the end? How much responsibility does she bear for what happens to her, and how much is it the fault of others? Do you think she's feels any guilt or remorse? What did she learn from all that happened to her? What do you think she will do with her life going forward?

8. If you are a younger reader, how do your own experiences color your opinion of Maya? Do you have a favorite character, and if so, what draws you to this particular figure? Imagine Maya from an adult perspective. Do your impressions of her change? Would you be friends with a girl like Maya? What drives teens to acts of self-destruction? What would you, as a young person, want an adult to do to help troubled adolescents like Maya?

9. When she is sixteen, Maya's father sends her to an academy for "unmanageable teenagers" in Oregon. The academy focused on three questions: Who are you? What do you want to do with your life? And how are you going to achieve it? What would Maya's answers be when she first arrives there, and how would she answer those questions after a few months in Chiloé?

10. Think about what Maya learns about her family's past and the military dictatorship in Chile that transformed her grandparents' lives. How do events that occurred long before her birth touch Maya's life? Do you think her own experiences allow her to better appreciate the pain and terror that they endured?

11. The story is told in sequential chunks that interweave past and present. How does this plot structure impact your reading experience?

12. Why did you or your group choose to read Maya's Notebook? Did it meet your initial expectations? What was most memorable for you in reading the story?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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