It took me a long time to read Daughter of Fortune. By some cosmic joke, which the reading gods seem to enjoy, I had paced my book choices in such a way that this book overlapped with Jane Eyre and that is quite a lot of heavy book to process all at once. What it did for me (besides slow me down a bit) was provide an opportunity to compare and contrast two different powerhouse women writers writing about the self-determination of their female leads. Isabel Allende is a white whale author for me. I first tackled her The House of the Spirits two years ago, and was simply blown away by it. She writes in an incredibly dense style, using history, allegory, and incredibly high personal stakes to weave her narrative together. Like The House of Spirits, Daughter of Fortune wasn’t a novel that I could power through, or skim, or wanted to. I felt the self-imposed deadlines nipping at my heels, but this remained a book that needed and deserved to be savored.
Daughter of Fortune is the story of Eliza Sommers. It starts as the orphaned girl who was left on the doorstep of the Sommers home in Valparaiso, Chile and is raised in Valparaíso’s British colony by well-intentioned Victorian spinster Miss Rose and her rigid elder brother Jeremy enters her teenage years. At the tender age of sixteen she meets and falls in love with Joaquín Andieta, a poor clerk who works for Jeremy and is not an appropriate suitor for a girl raised as a high class English lady. Then, as neither Joaquin or Eliza know how to proceed, gold is discovered in the hills of northern California and Joaquín takes off for San Francisco to seek his fortune. Eliza discovers that she is pregnant and decides to follow and try to find him in California. The first half of the novel displays the magical realism that I expected from Allende, and we are deeply rooted in the story of Eliza and her town.
Then, we have the fortunate meeting with Tao Chi’en and Eliza’s escape in the hold of a ship to California, and her terrifying miscarriage. At this point, the tone of the novel shifts entirely, we leave behind most of the magical realism components (Tao’s faith still play into that arena) and are instead on a journey with Eliza as she truly leaves her girlhood behind, first in search of the elusive Joaquin, and then as she discovers her true self and the kinds of relationships that are truly soul-filling. As I got to the end of the book it became a little easier to call, a little more by the numbers than I was anticipating. While I was deeply engrossed in Eliza and Tao’s intertwined stories the narrative felt unfinished. We are left for the most part without definite conclusions, and while that is certainly the author’s prerogative and a sign of surety, it left me a bit cold at the end of the day. But this is still a stunning work about what defines being fortunate, what lives can be carved out of seemingly limited possibilities, and the strength of faith in oneself.
This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend.