In December 1992 Isabel Allende's only daughter, Paula, died after a year-long coma. During the long hours spent at her bedside Allende wrote her first memoir, which she named after and addressed to her unconscious daughter.Read More
In The Sum of Our Days Allende, the great matriarch of Latin American literature, picks up the conversation where she left it, telling Paula how she and her family have spent their time and, most of all, how her life has accommodated the abrupt, grief-induced onset of old age.
The overarching protagonist of Allende's memoir is her vast family in Marin County, California, where she came as an exile from the Pinochet dictatorship and has lived ever since. Like her slightly overwhelming 'tribe', Allende's narrative is sprawling and pleasingly chaotic.
She visits each family member in turn and charts the evolution of their relationships since Paula's death. We meet her lawyer husband, Willie, who campaigns for the rights of immigrant workers and looks quite like Paul Newman; her strictly Catholic daughter-in-law, Celia, who offends everybody with her strident homophobia before running off with a woman called Sally; and her indomitable mother, Abuela Hilda, who 'sees things that are invisible'.
But it's the family's spiritual life that gets the most attention.
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