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Daughter of Fortune: A Fortunate Find


Isabel Allende has often been called one of Chile’s greatest writers. She has won multiple awards for her novels, which usually contain a bit of “magic realism”. Her fifth novel, Daughter of Fortune was published in 1999. If Daughter of Fortune is a typical Isabel Allende novel, she is well deserving of her awards and praise. Daughter of Fortune has wonderful characters, a brilliant plot, and portrays the era it is set in magnificently.

Eliza was abandoned in 1832 on the doorstep of the English Jeremy Sommers and his sister Rose in Valparaiso, Chile. Rose raises the girl like a daughter in the high class life they live. When she is a teenager, Eliza falls in love with a poor young man named Joaquin Andieta, and they have a secret relationship. Meanwhile, hold has been discovered in California, and when the headlines hit Chile Joaquin leaves to seek his fortune. Eliza, discovering that she is pregnant with his child, stows away on a ship and, with the help of Chinese doctor Tao Chi’en and others, follows Joaquin to California.

Allende describes her characters so in-depth that even seemingly minor characters get part or all of a chapter to themselves. She tells the past of most of her characters with so much detail one feels they have known them for years. Other writers have done this, but it often ends up boring and tedious. Daughter of Fortune’s characters are interesting and multidimensional. Take Eliza. Not many nineteenth century women would sneak aboard a ship, sail hundreds of miles, and go traipsing off around Gold Rush era California disguised as a boy.

On top of the characters, Daughter of Fortune has a wonderfully complex plot. Seemingly minor characters end up affecting the plot in rather large ways, whether directly or not. For example, the character of Jacob Todd originally seems like an unimportant person, but through his writing he starts the chain of events that ends with the conclusion of the book.

Speaking of the conclusion of the book, many people who read it say they were disappointed with the ending, saying it ended too abruptly. I agree that it does end quite abruptly, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was bad. In fact I was quite satisfied with the end. It got right to the point and wrapped up the story nicely.

The great characters and plot are also accompanied by the superb way the setting is described. The story starts out in Valparaiso, Chile. The city is described in two parts. There is the British part: clean and high-class, and the rest of the city: dirty and poor. There are always ships coming into the port. The part that I really liked though was California. Allende describes the Gold Rush in a way we would never learn about it in a textbook. She paints California as a place where violence is rampant, and nearly every woman is a prostitute. Racism is everywhere, and sickness kills many. A small amount of miners actually hit it big, and many people who do lose it gambling. It’s refreshing to read a historical novel that doesn’t sugarcoat history.

So if you are interested in novels about women searching for love and ultimately finding themselves, or if you like the history of the nineteenth century, I would definitely recommend this book. It has already become one of my favorite. If you are a number person, I give Daughter of Fortune a five out of five.

Daughter of Fortune is a wonderful story. It has deep and interesting characters that seem to jump off the page. The story is adventurous and complex. You will learn more about the California Gold Rush reading this book than reading a textbook, with gritty truth intact.. Allende deserves all the praise she gets if everything she writes is this good. It is one of my new favorites and it could be one of yours too.





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