Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende


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.

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8 responses to “Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende

  • kiss a cloud

    I felt the same way about this book. Even if it was the first Allende I’ve read. It didn’t impress me at all. And so I didn’t think I would read anything else by her after that. But then saw a hardcover copy of The House of the Spirits in a used bookshop, and it was only $4 so I flipped through and read the first page and thought it was captivating, so brought it home and absolutely loved the book. How so very different from Daughter of Fortune. Daughter felt forced, but the storytelling in Spirits was very natural, don’t you think? Will you be reading Portrait in Sepia? It follows the family still.. I’m iffy. Want to read it but also hesitant. Have you read Eva Luna? A friend of mine says it’s good. I’m hoping it’ll be at least more like Spirits than Daughter..

    • pickygirlfoodfilmfiction

      So glad you’ve read Spirits. Oh, it’s so wonderful. I have only read those two but picked up her newest at the library today. It’s called Island Beneath the Sea.

      I really couldn’t get over the difference. It felt like a totally different author. I’ve never had quite that experience, but I’m giving it another try because of Spirits.

      Sent from my iPhone

  • Nishita

    I don’t remember too much about this book, I read it a long time ago. But I recall feeling relatively satisfied with this book. I haven’t read any other book by Allende though, and I should try the house of the spirits, I think I will like that one too.

  • Jennifer (It Ain't Meat, Babe)

    I read Eva Luna first and loved it, then House of Spirits and loved it, too. Everything else of hers I’ve tried to read I have abandoned due to boredom. So I am not surprised at all with your review! Made me happy to know I’m not the only one.

    Have you read In The Name of Salome by Julia Alvarez? I read it around the same time I read Eva Luna (it’s slightly similar) and loved it so much. It’s still one of my favourite books I’ve ever read.

    • pickygirlfoodfilmfiction

      Isn’t that funny? I guess it’s human nature to not want to be the only one to not “get it.”

      I haven’t read any Julia Alvarez but will definitely add it to my list. Salome’s story fascinates me. Is it about her, or is that just the title?

      Sent from my iPhone

  • iliana

    I’m beginning to think that her writing changed now that she writes books set in the U.S. Sometimes her characters travel or have ties to Latin America but I think her earlier books which were set in Chile were really wonderful. The latest ones I haven’t had much luck with.

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