Daughter of Fortune (Allende)

Daughter of Fortune 
Isabel Allende, 2000
399 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780061120251

From the acclaimed international bestselling author of The House of the Spirits and Paula comes this dazzling new historical novel, her most ambitious work of fiction yet—a sweeping portrait of an unconventional woman carving her own destiny in an era marked 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 from innocence to independence. (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 "rich cast of characters... a pleasurable story.... In Daughter of Fortune, Allende has continued her obsession with passion and violence. A fast-pased adventure story.
The New York Times Book Review

Allende is a unique and staggering storyteller with an enviable talent for intricate narratives.... Once the reader submits to her wizardry, a florid, detailed universe of hopes and lust, of class struggle and quarreling individual identities, unfolds.
The Boston Sunday Globe

Allende expands her geographical boundaries in this sprawling, engrossing historical novel flavored by four cultures—English, Chilean, Chinese and American—and set during the 1849 California Gold Rush. The alluring tale begins in Valparaiso, 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 Joaquin 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 story—richly textured and expansively told—begins 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 Joaquín (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 Valparaíso 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.
Publishers Weekly

Allende 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 she's 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 he's fallen in love with young Eliza. Some 200 pages later, Eliza falls in love with Joaquín 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 Todd—now a newspaper reporter—tells them he's seen her. Finally, after Eliza discovers that Joaquín, 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 don't 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 Allende's fiction.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
Can we control our own destinies? What does it take to change the course of our lives so that we may pursue our dreams? And how do we know that our decisions are the right ones, especially if we hurt others or ourselves in the process? These are the questions posed by Isabel Allende's fascinating story of bravery and passion, of a young woman's incredible journey from one world to another, from innocence to wisdom..... Spirited and sensual, willful and determined, Eliza is a modern woman living in a world that is just learning to be modern. Her courageous story compels us to look beyond the boundaries imposed on us by others and by ourselves. And it teaches us that by opening our minds—and our hearts—we are opening ourselves up to golden opportunities for love, happiness and good fortune.

1. Eliza thinks that the facts of her birth don't matter: "It is what you do in this world that matters, not how you come into it," she claims. Ta Ch'ien, on the other hand, cannot imagine "his own life apart from the long chain of his ancestors, who not only had given him his physical and mental characteristics but bequeathed him his karma. His fate, he believed, had been determined by the acts of his family before him." How do these different beliefs determine the way Tao Chi'en and Eliza make decisions about their lives? What are your own feelings about ancestry and self-determination?

2. Eliza grows up under the influence of a number of strong individuals—Mama Fresia, Rose, Jeremy Sommers and his brother, John. What does she learn from each of people? How do their differing philosophies contribute to Eliza's experience of the world? How do they shape her personality?

3. In 19th century Chile, a married woman could not travel, sign legal documents, go to court, sell or buy anything without her husband's permission. No wonder Rose doesn't want to get married! How would the lives of the women you know be different under those conditions? What are the consequences in a society that limits the freedoms of a segments of its citizens?

4. What do you think Allende means by referring to Eliza as a "daughter of fortune?" How are the different definitions of the word "fortune" significant in Eliza's story and the novel as a whole?

5. How is Tao Chi'en a "son" of fortune? What are the crucial turning points in his life, and where do they lead him? To what extent is he responsible for his own good and bad fortunes?

6. "At first the Chinese looked on the foreigners with scorn and disgust, with the great superiority of those who feel they are the only truly civilized beings in the universe, but in the space of a few years they learned to respect and fear them," writes Allende about the arrival of Western peoples into Hong Kong. How is this pattern of suspicion, fear, and resigned acceptance repeated throughout the novel? How does Allende illustrate the confusion of clashing cultures in Valparaiso, on board Eliza's ship, and in California? Do you think people of today are more tolerant of other cultures than they were 150 years ago?

7. While Eliza is vulnerable in California because of her sex, Tao Chi'en's prospects are limited because of his race. How do both characters overcome their "handicaps?" What qualities help them make their way in a culture that is foreign and often unwelcoming?

8. What do details such as Mama Fresia's home remedies and her attempts to "cure" Eliza of her love for Joaqu’n, or Tao Chi'en's medical education and his habit of contacting his dead wife say about the role of the spiritual in the everyday life? Must the spiritual and the secular remain separate? What about the spiritual and scientific worlds?

9. How have the novel's characters—Rose or Jacob Todd, for instance—managed to create opportunities out of the obstacles they've faced? What do you think Allende is saying about the role that fate plays in our lives, and about our capacity to take control over our own destinies? How are we all sons or daughters of fortune?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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