Daughter of Fortune – A Book Review

I found a copy of Isabel Allende’s “Daughter of Fortune” at a little used bookstore nestled between a Peter Piper Pizza and a Payless Shoe Store in a strip mall in Colorado Springs. The sky was gray; the great Pike’s Peak was visible through a hole in the low-lying clouds that were preparing to pound the little town with a blanket of snow. I needed something fast – lest the weather catch me without anything to read during the oncoming blizzard. As I hunted through the volumes, outside snowflakes had begun to fall in ones and twos, melting immediately upon the damp pavement. Then one flitted down to clutch stubbornly onto the roll-away bookshelf; joined by another and then another. Then at once the sky opened, blanketing the valley in a mantle of silence.

Pike's Peak

“This one,” I said – setting aside the pile of books by unknown authors I’d been thumbing through, always a gamble, electing instead something that I knew would be right. I paid my dollar and rushed to my car, outmaneuvering the shoppers hastening from the supermarket – plastic bags in one hand as they fumbled for car keys in deep pockets with the other.

Home – alone – I grabbed a craft beer for which Colorado is known and, snow starting to pile up outside I opened the book to the first page, feeling down the crease and smelling the earthen goodness of print on book-paper.

“Daughter of Fortune” is the story of a little Chilean girl who goes searching for her love; lost as he is among the hordes of adventurers in gold-rush California. He’d become a 49er, and she – disguising her identity to ward off unwanted advances from that indelicate lot – a teenage Chinese boy. Did she find him? Was he really her love? What did she learn in the process? These things you’ll have to read the book to discover.

What I like about the book was that it was about Allende herself just as much as it was about Eliza (the heroine). Allende’s life has been fraught with insecurity and anxiety; and like any good writer she infuses that into her literature. While born wealthy, she was forced into exile. She fled to Venezuela – where so many Chileans fled during the Pinochet years – and wrote for El Nacional until she moved again, and again. Until finally she found a place where her troubled heart was at rest, and the wandering stopped: California.

This book is permeated with those two worlds and her experience of them. Valparaiso, an exotic port town which was great and important for a season, but fell away when the Panama Canal shortened the distance. And California – the far-western flank of a great new empire. The old and the new – the past and the future: both a part of this great writer. She loves California – you can tell by the way she describes the mountains and the forests; the energy. But she is and always will be Chilean – Allende, a name vested with all the tribulations of that romantic old land.

I finished the book on a rainy morning in West Africa – life takes us so many places; it is at once so long and so very short – but tied together by the threads of what we believe and what we find important. So now, as I put this book down, satisfied, I hope that you will pick it up – you’ll be better for it. And isn’t that what we read for?

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About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright, author of the recently released novel "Lords of Misrule" about jihad in the Sahara. Joel has also written "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio".
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One Response to Daughter of Fortune – A Book Review

  1. Odile Donis says:

    I read “Daughter of Fortune”. It is a book that one cannot forget. An unbelievable life compared to so many easy lives.

    Like

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