Friday, June 20, 2008

Isabel Allende: The Sum of Our Days

Ilan Stavans reviews Isabel Allende's The Sum of Our Days
Isabel Allende has recently published a sequel to her popular memoir "Paula," which recounted the tragic death of her 28-year-old daughter Paula Frías, who became ill with the rare blood disease porphyria at the end of 1991. Like its predecessor, "The Sum of Our Days" is structured as a mother's letter to the absent Paula. In it she recounts her life since Paula's death, her artistic hits (the global appeal of her memoir, the making of the Billie August film adaptation of "The House of the Spirits," the research of novels like "Portrait in Sepia" and "Inés of My Soul") and an array of indiscretions (the fertility treatments of a daughter-in-law, the bisexual identity of another one). Seasoned throughout are recurrent dreams, as is fashionable in Allende's work, and recommendations on how to live a happy life amid endless misfortunes.

There's an unavoidable honesty to the narrative, a directness that is likely to hypnotize a handful of readers. Yet at its core the book is soulless, sin alma. The short chapters leap haphazardly from one tale to another, from this relative to that tourist trip to meeting Antonio Banderas, as if the book was nothing but a series of journal entries.

Allende used to be a writer of promise. She came late to the Latin American literary "boom" of the 1960s and 1970s. But once she arrived into the mostly male club (Cortázar, Vargas Llosa, Fuentes, García Márquez), people paid attention. But somewhere in the journey she became a facile, consenting storyteller, ceasing to surprise her audience.
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