I hate when I really, really love the first book I pick up by any particular author. It makes anything thereafter usually pale in comparison. I’m not saying that is always the case. However, I read Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende because her book The House of the Spirits is one of my all-time favorite books. If you haven’t read it, please please add it to your TBR list right away. The last time I was at the library, I decided to try to remove the stigma of the first great book and pick up another Allende.
From the blurb:
Orphaned at birth, Eliza Sommers is raised in the British colony of Valparaiso, Chile, by the well-intentioned Victorian spinster Miss Rose and her more rigid brother Jeremy. Just as she meets and falls in love with the wildly inappropriate Joaquin Andieta, a lowly clerk who works for Jeremy, gold is discovered in the hills of norther California. By 1849, Chileans of every stripe have fallen prey to feverish dreams of wealthy. Joaquin takes off for San Francisco to seek his fortune, and Eliza, pregnant with his child, decides to follow him.
Although it sounds promising, this book became really tedious for me at times. In fact, almost any book I read, I read in one or two sittings. This book took a bit longer, and I needed frequent breaks. I really enjoyed the historical aspect of this novel as well as the look into life in China during the 1800s and the Gold Rush. The character Tao Chi’en was my favorite. He is a zhong yi, or medicine man. As a young boy, he is sold into service but manages through his healing skills to be sold again as an apprentice to a Cantonese master. The man teaches Tao Chi’en and guides him through life. After a series of unfortunate events, Tao Chi’en is shanghaied into service at sea. Apparently, this was common practice. The sea men would get a man drunk and either force him to sign a document of service or use his thumbprint. Tao Chi’en wakes up aboard ship, but his skills as a healer are noticed early on, and the captain, John Sommers, comes to respect him. Tao Chi’en later helps Eliza follow Joaquin to San Francisco, and again, their relationship is interesting, but Allende doesn’t fully develop it.
The book drags. I could not stand Eliza’s character once she falls in love. Her actions are rash, and after a certain point, they are also completely unbelievable. She follows her lover to San Francisco and endures all sorts of hardship simply to find him. She continues her search, at times, out of principle only. Her exploration of a woman’s freedom is refreshing but a bit – again – unbelievable. Her foster mother, Rose, has a back story that also tries to reinforce the theme of female independence; it’s just not very convincing. Worst of all, the ending was the most abrupt I believe I have ever read. I really had to look (as this is a library book) to make sure no pages were torn from it. Nope. It just ended. There are a lot of things for which I will forgive an author, but an unsatisfying ending is not one of them. It felt shocking (outside of the story). Within the story, it just did not seem to make sense. There was quite a bit more I wanted to know upon reading the last sentence.