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The Sum of Our Days: A Memoirby Isabel Allende
Synopses & Reviews
In this heartfelt memoir, Isabel Allende reconstructs the painful reality of her own life in the wake of tragic loss—the death of her daughter, Paula. Recalling the past thirteen years from the daily letters the author and her mother, who lives in Chile, wrote to each other, Allende bares her soul in a book that is as exuberant and full of life as its creator. She recounts the stories of the wildly eccentric, strong-minded, and eclectic tribe she gathers around her that becomes a new kind of family.
Throughout, Allende shares her thoughts on love, marriage, motherhood, spirituality and religion, infidelity, addiction, and memory. Here, too, are the amazing stories behind Allendes books, the superstitions that guide her writing process, and her adventurous travels. Ultimately, The Sum of Our Days offers a unique tour of this gifted writers inner world and of the relationships that have become essential to her life and her work.
Narrated with warmth, humor, exceptional candor, and wisdom, The Sum of Our Days is a portrait of a contemporary family, bound together by the love, fierce loyalty, and stubborn determination of a beloved, indomitable matriarch.
"In this deeply revealing second memoir, after Paula, novelist Allende (The House of Spirits) utilizes her family and the complex network of their relationships as the linchpin of the narrative. While weaving in her candid opinions on love and marriage, friendship, drug addiction, the writing life and religious fanaticism, Allende continues to work through the grief over her daughter's death. 'In these years without you I have learned to manage sadness, making it my ally. Little by little your absence and other losses in my life are turning into a sweet nostalgia.' And though Allende's insight is keen, her prose polished and her language hypnotic, it's the stories of her close-knit family that move the memoir forward. 'We lived as a tribe, Chilean style; we were almost always together.' While much of the story is infused with melancholy, her world is by no means without humor, mirth and wisdom. She celebrates friends' triumphs and exploits their foibles, including the 'odyssey of the boobs,' without taking herself too seriously. This is a book to savor." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Thirteen years ago, Chilean novelist Isabel Allende published a memoir, 'Paula,' in the form of a letter to a daughter who lay in a coma. 'The Sum of Our Days' is a sequel, also addressed to Paula, that explains what has happened to the family since her death from porphyria, a rare blood disorder, in 1992. The author, I believe, attempts three things: She defends her use of magical realism as an emotional... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) device, demonstrating how it operates in her everyday life as well as in her novels — which is fascinating. She explains to her deceased daughter how she has endeavored to merge her family, her second husband's previous wives and children, and various friends and acquaintances into one big 'tribe' — which is puzzling. And she tries, all too plainly, to discredit and diminish her second husband's children — which is disturbing. Right off the bat, Allende tells the dead Paula that the family chronicle will have to omit 'Lindsay, whom I barely know ... and Scott, because he doesn't want to appear in these pages.' These are the sons of her second husband, Willie, and we'll find out more about them later. But, first, we hear the story of poor Jennifer, Willie's daughter, who uses heroin, becomes pregnant, gives birth to a physically challenged daughter, then wanders off. Sabrina, the damaged child, is rescued heroically by Allende, who arranges to have her adopted by a lesbian Buddhist couple — two more members of her tribe, which includes Willie's accountant and a woman she befriended at a book store. As for the sons, we eventually learn that Scott waited until he saw the first draft of the book before saying he wanted out, forcing Allende to rewrite it. Willie, she says, 'has had so many problems with his children that had I been in his place I would have been incurably depressed.' Allende builds her 'tribe' with determination. She annexes the lives of those nearest her, telling their stories with alarming intimacy. She begins with her son Nico, whose first wife, a homophobic follower of the Roman Catholic group Opus Dei, had three children in five years, then ran off with another woman. She describes her grandchildren in scorching terms: 'Of the three children, Andrea was without doubt the most peculiar. My granddaughter came dressed like a beggar, with pink rags tied around different parts of her body, a straw hat with faded flowers, and her Save-the-Tuna doll.' At one point, Allende decides that Nico is such a bumbler he can't find a new wife, so she finds one for him. Once the new woman is ensconced in his house, Allende barges in when they're not there, throws out the new wife's china and rearranges the furniture. On top of that, she insists on seeing wife No. 1 and her lesbian partner, although Nico begs her not to. Then Allende picks a mail-order bride for her husband's Chinese accountant. In sum, Allende seems to have no concept of what might be called boundaries in our culture. She wants to live in what she believes is the Chilean fashion, everyone together in one big family with herself at the center. There's an implicit trade-off in this tribe. Members get to be part of something large and sometimes meaningful and sometimes fun, but in return they cede their lives, their stories and their privacy to Allende. Perhaps some of the explanation is financial: Speaking of Jason, who, if I read correctly — it's all rather hard to follow — is Willie's stepson, whose fiancee got stolen by the Opus Dei woman, Allende remarks: 'Now he is the only one of our brood who doesn't need any help. With the money from (his) book and movie he decided to buy an apartment in Brooklyn,' 3,000 miles from Marin County, where the tribe lives. About magical realism, Allende is equally straightforward. She believes she is surrounded by spirits, particularly that of Paula, who appears to have haunted their original home and obligingly moved over to their new one to thump on walls and move furniture. Allende prays often. She belongs to a women's group called the Sisters of Disorder to whom she gives frequent praying assignments. She always starts her new books on Jan. 8 and accompanies this ritual by lighting new candles. She maintains an ancestor altar with flowers, candles and photos. And when Willie builds her that new home, she unhesitatingly dubs it 'the Castle,' endowing it with an air of magic and mystery and appointing herself its 'Mistress.' There are ceremonies during which the tribe sits in a circle and takes turns divulging secrets. ('Willie said that he was anguished over the situation of his children: Jennifer, lost to us, and his two sons on drugs.') What's missing from this memoir is any answer to the question, why? Why does Allende do these things, and why does she write about them? It's fairly easy, if you think primitively, to figure out why she pulls out the tar brush for her husband's children, but what about this obsessive need for a 'tribe'? Is Allende trying to recreate for herself the storied home in 'The House of the Spirits'? Why must she be 'Mistress of the Castle'? Couldn't she just be the 'Author in the House'? At the end of this narrative, we know next to nothing of what drives Allende, or what informs her longings. Her tone is jaunty, self-congratulatory, even triumphant throughout: another reason to pose the question, why? Carolyn See's latest novel is 'There Will Never Be Another You.'" Reviewed by Carolyn See, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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About the Author
Isabel Allende is the bestselling author of eleven works of fiction, four memoirs, and three young- adult novels, which have been translated into more than twenty-seven languages with over 57 million copies sold. In 2004 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She received the Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award in 2012. Born in Peru and raised in Chile, she lives in California.
Nacida en Perú y criada en Chile, Isabel Allende es la autora de nueve novelas incluyendo más recientemente Zorro, Retrato en Sepia, Hija de la Fortuna e Inés del Alma Mía. También ha escrito cuentos cortos, tres libros autobiográficos incluyendo Mi País Inventado y Paula, y una trilogía de libros para jóvenes. Sus libros han sido traducidos a más de 27 idiomas y son bestsellers a través del mundo entero. En 2004, fue nombrada a la Academia de Artes y Letras de los Estados Unidos. Vive en California.
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