Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Isabel Allende: The Sum of Our Days

Miranda France reviews Isabel Allende's The Sum of Our Days.
sabel Allende appears to lead a charmed life. The Chilean author of The House of the Spirits and Eva Luna has sold more than 50 million copies of her books and has loyal fans all over the world. Each morning she leaves her Californian home and walks through the garden, past the swimming pool, to the summer house where she writes her novels. That's after her lover has donned a "jaded sheikh dressing gown" and made her freshly ground coffee. Why can't my lover do that?

Of course, where families are concerned, nothing is ever as perfect as it seems. The first few pages of her third volume of autobiography hint at discord in Allende's extended family, which she calls "the tribe". By the end of the book it has been exposed as gloriously dysfunctional, requiring the services of psychoanalysts, astrologers, Zen Buddhists and anger-management consultants, among others. There are three drug-addict stepchildren; a daughter-in-law who becomes a lesbian; another child with fertility problems; sundry affairs and ructions.

Looming over all these concerns is the greatest sadness of all: the death of Allende's daughter at the age of 29, in 1992, from a rare genetic disease. A previous memoir, Paula, took the form of a letter to this daughter as she lay in a coma. The Sum of Our Days is also styled as a letter to Paula, informing her of events in the family since her death.
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