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Daughter of Fortune was a chance find; I had never heard of the author, Isabel Allende, I didn't know that she was a writer in the Spanish language from Chile, but what a find this book was. Having purchased it in one of those Times book sales that are such good value, it sat on my shelf: the cover is unappealing, the book purported to be romantic fiction - I am not a fan of romantic fiction. Or rather I should say, I am not a fan of unrealistic, materialistic Mills and Boon type romantic fiction and Daughter of Fortune is certainly not a book in that genre. To add to my initial preconceptions that this was a book that I was not going to enjoy, it is of course translated into English. I normally find that translations lose something but a Daughter of Fortune is translated superbly by Margaret Peden, so much so that I did not realise this fact until I had completed it and was reading all the author information, partly in preparation for this little review. Daughter of Fortune is a book that traverses continents and cultures; it is primarily set in the Chilean port of Valparaiso and gold rush California. However, it also features the geographic and cultural locations of Hong Kong, Canton, the village community of China and aristocratic London. Daughter of Fortune examines the Chinese philosophy of life; it compares it to the Western Ways and also incorporates many nomadic cultures of South and North America. This truly is a rich tapestry of a book, that is, in part about being able to live together in face of the basic instinct of greed, protectionism and racism. More specifically the story is about a young Chilean girl, Eliza, following her life, firstly in the home of her adopted family - the Sommers, English aristocrats domiciled in Chile for the purpose of the trade of the Empire and then in the California of 1849 - 1853, where she sheds the constraints of formality that contain the gentry to truly live as free as it is possi
ble to live in any kind of modern society. Her companion is the Chinese zhing yi (or physician) Tao Chi'en who has also thrown off the shackles of his desire to become a Chinese gentleman in order to wander the world in a nomadic fashion obtaining knowledge of all cultures, traditions and methods of healing the sick. Eliza leaves Valparaiso and her comfortable, but stifling life to chase after her first love Joaquin, a lowly worker in her adopted father's office. It is from this tale that a section of the love story arises, but this is by no means told in a slushy Mills and Boon fashion. Instead it is weaved into a rich story line that is about how the world would function in a better way if every culture worked together, it is about how every culture has something to offer and something to learn from each other. Most of all it espouses Nietzsche's theory that customary morality is inhibiting to free thought. People do (or do not do) things because custom and the morals of society say that it is right (or wrong), not because they exercise any free thought of their own. Perhaps the wild ways of California, as so beautifully and brilliantly portrayed in Daughter of Fortune also point to the fact that humanity's basic selfish desires, need some kind of rules and civilisation to quell them so that a majority can live with some kind of protection from the lawless. This book really is a diverse mixture of a gripping plot line, coupled with some very intelligent points about racism, humanity and our most basic desires and needs. To me this book managed to capture the essence of a place and period that played a major role in creating the multi-cultural west coast of America as we know it today. Daughter of Fortune captures the unbridled greed, the joy of living in a society where anything went and people could do as they pleased, with little moral and social judgment passed if you happened to wear the wrong thing or not drink from a cup in
the right way. The despair of living in the same place, where bandits and greed could wipe out your own labours and life force in a second. The despair of those that had thought that wealth was theirs just to take with little effort and most of all the joy of just being alive and being out in the open air. In addition there is a slight environmental theme to the book, the ravages of man on the Californian countryside and natives are brutally exposed, man is portrayed as selfish and self centred, not caring for animals or other people as long as the individual finds gold and becomes rich. The language used is poetic, the plot flows and the descriptions are vivid and beautifully expressed. This is one of those books that manages to transport the reader very easily to another world and another time, where women and natives were second class citizens: ""I would happily give my half my life to have the freedom a man has, Eliza. But we are women, and that is our cross. All we can do is try to get the best from what little we have."" It echoes a time when the world was changing at a rapid rate, where cultures were inter-mixing in ways not seen before and where the previously exploited lower classes were beginning to think for themselves; in the character of Jacob Todd/Freemont there is a strong expression of the Utopian movement of that time, wanting no government, just communities of co-operatives where everyone was equal. It was not called the Utopian movement for nothing! This is a book that has something for everyone, adventure, philosophy, social observation, history, beautiful and expressive characters from all walks of life (Mexican bandits, Chinese mafia, English and South American aristocrats....) most of all it is all linked perfectly and seamlessly. It is rather observant about love as well, contradicting the passion and fire of youth and first love with the more sedate and mature love that can arise between older
people who respect each other. The best piece of serious fiction that I have read for a long time and well recommended; if there is such thing, this is close to my perfect book. Daughter of Fortune is published by Flamingo, costs £6.99 and is 399 pages long. ""Nothing is in vain. You don't go anywhere in life, Eliza, you just keep walking.""
The only problem with this book, was that I couldn't put it down. Daughter Of Fortune is an utterly compelling tale that follows the adventures of Eliza, a foundling girl who runs away from her adopted family to follow her lover. Crossing continents and cultures, this is a magnificent tale of love and determination. Being something of a fan of Chinese fiction, I was both impressed and delighted by the long section following the life of Tao, the Chinese doctor who helps Eliza stow away on a ship, and who remains her friend once they find themselves in America. There are outlwas and romances, whores, humantiy, barbarity, foolhardniness and a little magic - all the ingredients Allende fans will expect, and that element of the unexpected that makes her work so very special. This is a fantastic book and I would wholeheartedly recomend it to anyone.
This is a wonderful tale of adventure, love, loss and self-discovery, set in the nineteenth century. Its heroine is Eliza, a girl left as a baby to the care of an English family in the city of Valparaiso, Chile. Her benefactors, the Sommers, have their own secrets and eccentricities: Rose, who adopts her, has vowed at twenty not to marry. In twenty years, the young Eliza crosses the world in a life of hardships and marvels. Constantly through the book we meet characters outcast or fugitive from their own societies, each with dark pasts or tragedies. Rose Sommers conceals a past that forced her to leave England, along with her reserved brother, to found a household in Chile. Their brother, John, a hearty ships captain brings stories of adventure across the globe, and also has a secret which only reaches light after Eliza's departure. Eliza herself is beautiful, compassionate, but also shows tremendous strength and determination. These sustain her when, at sixteen, she falls in love with a young Chilean, and follows him in the Californian gold rush of 1849. During the harrowing voyage she is saved by a Chinese doctor, Tao Chi'en, who is also starting to grow beyond the narrow bounds of his society. In the freedom and chaos of California in its infancy, it becomes possible for the injured and exiled to create a new life. I heard part of the story as a Radio 4 book at bedtime earlier last year, and picked up the book after reading House of the Spirits. I've found it very difficult to put down. The characters are all strongly portrayed, while the range of situations keeps changing with every chapter. Allende sympathetically presents those who suffered from rigid social laws, and there is a wealth of eccentric, independent characters. At one point, John Sommers sells bored miners novels and romances for quantities of gold dust. If Daughter of Fortune was sold in that way, it would still be money well spent.
A forbidden love affair with the charismatic, but capricious Joaquin Andieta leads to a journey for Eliza Sommers when he disappears suddenly for California.