Book review: ‘Daughter of Fortune’ by Isabel Allende

By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton

Eliza Sommers is being raised by Rose and Jeremy Sommers in Valparaiso, Chile. She was found at their doorstep, an apparently abandoned baby. She was obviously of English heritage, as were the Sommers.

The Sommers were at the top of the social hierarchy in the English establishment in Valparaiso. Whether English or Spanish, there was a definite social structure in Chile in the 1800s. The Sommers were clearly high society. Though Eliza was not formally of the family, her “Aunt Rose” was raising her as though she was, thus her education and Rose’s plan of an advantageous marriage.

The marriage plans came to naught when Rose fell madly in love with Jaoquin Andieta, an extremely handsome common laborer. And Eliza’s plans were thrown asunder when Joaquin came under the spell of the California Gold Rush of 1849. In his mind, he would have much more to offer Rose, and importantly, her family, if the reported gold made him a rich man. Thus, off to California he sailed.

What’s a determined girl in love going to do but follow him? That’s where a Chinese doctor named Tao Chi’en comes in. Since he is not licensed to practice, he is presently employed as a ship’s cook; it’s in that role that he is able to smuggle Eliza on board and keep her hidden (a grueling trial for Eliza) for the duration of the trip.

California, then and now, is a big place. Since the ship Eliza arrived on landed in San Francisco, and it was a key starting point for many of the prospective prospectors, that’s where Eliza started looking for her “brother.” Afraid to leave Eliza alone in her weakened condition, Tao Chi’en also stayed in San Francisco and became essential in Eliza’s search. For a young woman to exist in a society of single men and prostitutes, it became necessary for Eliza to become Tao’s deaf and dumb brother. Much of her Gold Rush search for her lover was necessarily as a young male.

Allende presents an interesting picture of California’s gold rush. Made clear is the cruel treatment of the Chinese and the Hispanics by the “Yanquis.” Also clear is the harsh reality of life in California at the time. To say the least, it was a troublesome existence. The people who got rich were seldom the miners. Those enterprising enough to supply the wants and needs did well.

As often happens with me, it took me a while to get engaged in the adventure described. Initially Eliza’s life in Chile didn’t hold my interest. But her life there has a lot to do with the plot.

The author does considerable foreshadowing in the book. I thought it might spoil the ending. My experience was that it actually made me anxious to get to the end to see if it came out like I thought it would.

Comments are closed.

  • Book review: ‘Kitchens of the Great Midwest’ by J. Ryan Stradal

    September 16th, 2020
    by

    It is helpful to know that “Kitchens of the Great Midwest’’ has a goodly number of characters described in different stages of their lives.


    KVR managed-grazing program set for Sept. 26

    September 16th, 2020
    by

    The Kickapoo Valley Reserve will host a Ralph Nuzum Lecture Series program entitled “Can Managed Grazing Improve Soil Health and Water Quality in the Driftless Area?” on Saturday, Sept. 26.


    Monroe County Local History Room in Sparta wants you to vote for your favorite toys

    September 16th, 2020
    by

    The Monroe County Local History Room’s polls are now open to cast your vote for the most beloved toys made from the 1940s through 1990s.


    Book review: ‘Margaret’s War’ by Bill Stokes

    September 11th, 2020
    by

    World War II was well underway, and 13-year-old Billy Forrest was missing it. He had no chance to be a war hero, and what chance would he have with the girls when the heroes returned?


    Brookwood theatre’s performances set for this weekend

    September 10th, 2020
    by

    Commemorating, consoling, and persevering are a few of the adjectives invoked by Brookwood theatre’s fall production of “Women and War” and “Who’s on First?


  • Kendall Depot reopens

    September 10th, 2020
    by

    The Kendall Depot, which serves as the Elroy-Sparta State Trail headquarters, reopened to the public last week. Its hours are from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily until Oct. 31.


    KVR to host demonstration on copper bullets Sept. 19

    September 10th, 2020
    by

    The Kickapoo Valley Reserve will host a copper-bullet demonstration Saturday, Sept. 19.


    Book review: ‘Akin’ by Emma Donoghue

    September 3rd, 2020
    by

    Noah Selvaggio would turn 80 in a few days. As a personal birthday present, he was booked on a flight to Nice, France, the community of his birth.


    Scenic Bluffs to operate La Crosse dental clinic

    September 1st, 2020
    by

    A new dental clinic operated by Scenic Bluffs Community Health Centers is set to open Sept. 3 next to Gundersen Health System’s La Crosse Campus.


    Brookwood receives matching-funds offer for the replacement of stage curtains

    August 31st, 2020
    by

    Brookwood has received a dollar-for-dollar matching-funds offer from String Swing of rural Ontario for the replacement of the school’s stage curtains.


    Scenic Bluffs announces its decision on fall sports season

    August 28th, 2020
    by

    The Scenic Bluffs Conference today released its official plans for the fall sports season, according to commissioner Steve Atkinson.


  • Archives