October 21, 2011

Daughter of Fortune

Coincidentally, this is two books in a row with daughter in the title! But Daughter of Fortune is nothing like yesterday's The Daughter of Time.

It tells the story of Eliza Sommers, a young orphan who is raised in Valparaiso, Chile, by Jeremy Sommers and his spinster sister Rose. Eliza is cared for by Rose, and the family's cook, Mama Fresia, who is also a medicine woman.

Although Eliza is raised as a proper Victorian young lady by Rose, she falls in love with a young Chilean named Joaquin Andieta, and when Joaquin leaves for California to try to find gold, Eliza follows him. She is helped along her way by Tao Chi'en, a young Chinese doctor who worked for Captain John Sommers, her adopted uncle.

I liked that this book, although mostly about Eliza, also delved into the past history of other characters, particularly Miss Rose Sommers and Tao Chi'en, plus a host of minor characters. These detailed characterizations lent validity to the plot, which was admittedly farfetched, but didn't actually seem so. It seemed quite believable that a spunky orphan could meet the challenges that Eliza had to face in Chile and California, and not be fazed.

Allende vividly portrays life in mid-nineteenth century Chile and gold rush California. She paints a picture of a very rigid and stratified society in Valparaiso, and a wild, lawless society of men and prostitutes in California.

The ending was rather anticlimactic. I like stories that I'm so invested in to finish with more of a bang. But the very likeable characters and interesting (if sometimes predictable) plot make up for that small complaint. I would definitely recommend this, and I think I'll give some more Isabel Allende a try.

Rating: 3.9 out of 5
Should I recommend this to my grandma? Yes, as long as she can handle an occasional love scene.

Have you read any books by Isabel Allende? 
Or any other books set during the California Gold Rush?