Daughter of fortune : a novel

by Isabel Allende

Paper Book, 1999





New York : HarperCollins, c1999.


A Chilean woman searches for her lover in the goldfields of 1840s California. Arriving as a stowaway, Eliza finances her search with various jobs, including playing the piano in a brothel.

User reviews

LibraryThing member sjmccreary
A wonderful book! A long, lucious story told at a relaxed unhurried pace. There is plenty of time to reveal the background of each character, the history of every event, and describe all the places and people encountered. This is the story of Eliza Sommers. The newborn Eliza was left in a box on the step of an English colonist's home in Valparaiso, Chile, in 1832. The family, consisting of a spinster woman living with her bachelor brother, take the baby in and raise her as part of the family, although "Uncle" Jeremy never quite gets over his opinion that the Chiliean girl is not really worthy of a proper English home. Uncle Jeremy owns and operates an import business, supported by a younger brother, "Captain" Jack, who spends his life at sea, sailing around the world and bringing wonderful treasures from every corner of the globe to his brother to sell in Chile. Captain Jack conspires with his sister Rose to provide Eliza with everything she will need to become a proper lady, including a suitable dowery, without any input from Jeremy, or even his knowledge. When Eliza is 16, she falls in love with Joaquin Andieta, a clerk in her uncle's firm. She contrives to sneek away from the house to meet with him, beginning a secret affair that lasts several months. When gold is discovered in faraway California, Joaquin leaves to seek his fortune. Eliza, upon discovering that she is pregnant, decides to follow him so that they can be married and live happy ever after. Aided by Tao Chi'en, a Chinese doctor who had been shanghai'd by Captain Jack to serve as cook on his ship and then became friends, she sails to San Francisco to begin her search for her lover. However, the perilous voyage was only the beginning of Eliza's difficulties in her quest.

I loved this book. The detailed descriptions of the California gold rush as told from the perspectives of the prospectors, the merchants who supplied them, the "soiled doves" - the prostitutes who were the only women in the region in the beginning - were gritty and totally believable. The plight of the Chinese, the Mexicans and Chilieans, and the native American Indians were all too believable -as the white Americans and Europeans sought to take advantage of every dark-skinned or obviously foreign person they could - cheating them out of their claims, their freedom, and sometimes their lives. A wonderful look at an important event in American history, and the birth of one of our greatest cities - it is also a lovely story of a young woman who goes searching for love and discovers freedom.
… (more)
LibraryThing member lyzadanger
Absorbing and quietly magical, with scads of feminine energy and colonial oppression. An interesting work when paired against Allende's master work, 'The House of Spirits', which I read within a month of this novel. Allende chooses appealing patterns for her characters, giving us something that is both an easy pleasure and a satisfying literary read.

'Daughter of Fortune' is not as complex as The House of the Spirits; it can be viewed as the groundbreaking novel's cheerful sister. We have a rebellious, role-breaking heroine (House of Spirits: Ditto) in love with a hopeless, down-on-his-luck socialist/Marxist (House of Spirits: Ditto) while living in an imprisoning and unforgiving society (HOS: Ditto).

Where this branches away from The House of the Spirits is in Allende's newer interest in writing about the northern parts of the American continent. We get to go to California and hang out with the go-getters and upstarts of the Gold Rush. This is great fun.

There's not a lot of trailblazing artistry in Daughter of Fortune. It does tend to revisit Allende's plot devices a bit too much at times. But Allende's genre is a compelling one, a spiritually calming one. One I find myself wanting to return to, often.
… (more)
LibraryThing member lkernagh
A solid historical fiction piece with a strong, independent-minded heroine set against the wonderful backdrop of 19th century Chile and the California Gold Rush of 1849. This story has all of the trappings of a satisfying historical fiction read: solid grounding in historical facts; interesting multi-faceted characters; vividly drawn backdrops of Chile, Canton, China and California; a wonderful ethnic mix English, Chinese, Chilean, Mexican and Americans; and steady pacing for the adventure the reader embarks upon with young Eliza. This one has all other qualities of an epic read with a lighter touch… I didn’t feel as though I was being dragged through some sweeping saga, like I do with some epic reads. Allende keeps the story grounded with the focus trained on her handful of key characters, given a more intimate, personal impression of the historically expansive California Gold Rush and the three continents the story is set in.

A delightful historical fiction read and I now understand why Allende is considered to be such a gifted novelist.
… (more)
LibraryThing member edella
Until Isabel Allende burst onto the scene with her 1985 debut, The House of the Spirits, Latin American fiction was, for the most part, a boys' club comprised of such heavy hitters as Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Luis Borges, and Mario Vargas Llosa. But the Chilean Allende shouldered her way in with her magical realist multigenerational tale of the Trueba family, followed it up with four more novels and a spate of non-fiction and has remained in a place of honour ever since. Her sixth work of fiction, Daughter of Fortune, shares some characteristics with her earlier works: The canvas is wide, the characters are multigenerational and multiethnic, and the protagonist is an unconventional woman who overcomes enormous obstacles to make her way in the world. Yet one cannot accuse Allende of telling the same story twice; set in the mid-1800s, this novel follows the fortunes of Eliza Sommers, Chilean by birth but adopted by a British spinster, Rose Sommers, and her bachelor brother, Jeremy, after she is abandoned on their doorstep.

"You have English blood, like us", Miss Rose assured Eliza when she was old enough to understand. "Only someone from the British colony would have thought to leave you in a basket on the doorstep of the British Import and Export Company, Limited. I am sure they knew how good-hearted my brother Jeremy is and felt sure he would take you in. In those days I was longing to have a child and you fell into my arms, sent by God to be brought up in the solid principles of the Protestant faith and the English language."
The family servant, Mama Fresia, has a different point of view, however: "You, English? Don't get any ideas, child. You have Indian hair, like mine." And certainly Eliza's almost mystical ability to recall all the events of her life would seem to stem more from the Indian than the Protestant side.

As Eliza grows up, she becomes less tractable and when she falls in love with Joachin Andieta, a clerk in Jeremy's firm, her adoptive family is horrified. They are even more so when a now-pregnant Eliza follows her lover to California where he has gone to make his fortune in the 1849 goldrush. Along the way Eliza meets Tao Chi'en, a Chinese doctor who saves her life and becomes her closest friend. What starts out as a search for a lost love becomes, over time, the discovery of self; and by the time Eliza finally catches up with the elusive Joachin, she is no longer sure she still wants what she once wished for. Allende peoples her novel with a host of colourful secondary characters. She even takes the narrative as far afield as China, providing an intimate portrait of Tao Chi'en's past before returning to 19th-century San Francisco, where he and Eliza eventually end up. Readers with a taste for the epic, the picaresque and romance that is satisfyingly complex will find them all in Daughter of Fortune.
… (more)
LibraryThing member Pretear
I really loved The House of Spirits so my expectations were probably unfairly high when I opened this book. The prose is beautiful, as expected, but the story goes nowhere and the ending is anti-climatic.
LibraryThing member TadAD
Instead of the more normal relationship between them, this was a novel whose backdrop was set off by a story.

The story isn't bad, albeit a bit slow at times. It's basically a romance between a headstrong young woman, Eliza, and a largely-absent young man, Joaquin. Her determination to be with him leads her into making some decisions that might be considered somewhat imprudent (certainly they are scandalous by the standards of her culture) and, hence, the story moves from genteel British ex-pats living in Chile to the wilds and woolies of Gold Rush California.

The real appeal of this book was the portrayal of mid-19th century Chilean society, both the Spanish aristocracy and the growing British gentry, as well as the larger-than-life world of California just after its acquisition by the United States and the discovery of gold near San Francisco. I hadn't known it, but Chileans were active in exploiting that boom and Allende uses that as a vehicle to present her world to the readers. She contrasts the highly-formalized behavior and mores of one life with the "anything goes" mania of another. Along the way she touches quite firmly on the mistreatment of native populations on both American continents, some of the immigrant horror stories, the lack of rights for women even in "civilized" countries, and the events that turned a tiny village into a major California city.

Almost everything about the story is predictable, both because there's a lot of deliberate foreshadowing and because Allende makes no effort to throw any curves into the story: teenagers have a lot of unprotected sex; he heads off to make his fortune; she finds out she is pregnant after he is gone…is anyone surprised? Still, by treating the story simply as a vehicle carrying me along to the next thing the author wanted to show me in the world, I didn't find it annoying.

Recommended for fans of historical fiction but not for those looking for excitement.
… (more)
LibraryThing member Carmenere
'Daughter of Fortune' is the story of Eliza Sommers the "adopted" daughter of Rose Sommers a wealthy, British spinster living in Valparaiso, Chile with her bachelor brothers. Eliza lives a semi-privilaged life with her family as she is just as comfortable in the cook's kitchen as she is with a salon full of Valparaiso's finest aristocrats.
Eliza's life changes drastically when her young lover sets sail for San Francisco harbor and the promise of a brighter future that the Gold Rush was said to offer. Eliza sets off after him by becoming a stowaway with the help of a Chinese sailor/doctor, Tao Chi'en. Once in California, Eliza realizes just how large and spread out the new territory can be and the difficulty in finding her first love is great.
Isabel Allende writes a very convincing historical fiction. Her characters are well drawn and three dimensional. The only problem I had, and it is a small one, is that the story was a little predictable. None the less, I enjoyed following Eliza in her search for her young lover, herself and unconventional love. 3.5 stars
… (more)
LibraryThing member Awesomeness1
I'm a sucker for historical-fiction so when I saw this book at the library it looked like candy.

An orphan, Eliza Sommers is raised in the Chilean house of a Victorian spinster, Miss Rose, and her rigid brother, Jeremy. At the age of 16, Eliza falls for dirt-poor Joaquin Andieta, a clerk for her uncle Jeremy. In the year of 1849, Joaquin decides to search for his fortune in the Californian gold mines, and Eliza, pregnant with his child, follows him.

This book was slow-going for me. The writing was good, but I would have loved to read this book in its original language. The beginning was rather dull, but did get progressively better when Eliza finally arrives in California. Each character has a detailed back-story and their own share of vices. My favorite aspect of the book, being a romantic, was the relationship between Eliza and Tao Chi'en, and I wished that was the main focus of the book. The book could become a bit tedious, at times appearing to be a documentary of California during the Gold Rush. I also felt Allende was a little preoccupied with prostitutes. She tried to account for every single hooker that set foot on California soil. But still, the only part that really pissed me off was the last page. It was just so abrupt, letting the reader, in this case me, to make their own happily ever afters. I HATE THAT. I spent this whole book waiting for the thing that Allende kept hinting at to happen, but then I get nothing. It was just so frustrating. This book got three instead of four stars because of it.
… (more)
LibraryThing member pussreboots
The book is best when it follows Eliza Sommers. The backstories of Rose Sommers, Karl Bretzner, and Tao Chi'en stop the natural flow of things and just drag down an otherwise wondeful book.

The story picks up speed when Eliza reaches California. The Chilean part takes too long to establish characters and motivation.… (more)
LibraryThing member Joycepa
A superior book--fascinating history of 19th century Chile and gold-rush California with totally believable characters. A different view of the development of central California and San Francisco.
LibraryThing member meghanlee
I bought this book years ago on a whim & never picked it up until about 2 weeks ago! I had never heard of this author & when I first started reading it, it didn't strike me as grand or anything. I don't like stories of perversion in society & I thought that was where the author might be taking the Sommers' Family. But, instead we go on a journey of the amazing Eliza (whom I also was not impressed with at first). I love this girl turned woman! I would read 20 more books about her if they were written. She is as innocent as she is wise & as fragile as she is strong. I am not sure when Eliza & the story of her life got it's grasp on me (somewhere in California) but when it was over, I was so dissapointed it had ended. I was also facinated by the historical content, especially concerning the lifestyle of the American people during the California gold rush & the roots of the Chinese Americans. I am looking forward to reading Portrait in Sepia.… (more)
LibraryThing member bookmindful
I liked this book but after the book club meeting I knew the ending and wasn't motivated to finish. I was surprised by what a light read/simple love story this was; I thought it would be more complex. My first Allende.
LibraryThing member banshea
I was disappointed in this work, but then, I have high expectations of Allende. And why not? The House of the Spirits and Eva Luna are two of the best books I've ever read, and while Of Love and Shadows seems a little rough around the edges, it's every bit as evocative as the other two.

Daughter of Fortune, however, fails to reach the lyricism and passion of Allende's other works. In fact, my overall impression of the book was that Allende had torn apart her other works and put them back together piecemeal to create this one. The characters are flat imitations of other, more dimensional characters from other works; the story elements are distinctly familiar from other works, only now they lack the grace of seeming original.

With lower expectations, I'm sure I would have enjoyed this book tremendously. Instead, I could only think of how it lacked everything that makes Allende such a wonderful writer.

Fortunately, its sequel, Portrait in Sepia is redeeming in its brilliance.… (more)
LibraryThing member Alliebadger
A beautiful book. It seems a little dauntingly long at first, but it is well worth every page. Allende describes each character in delicious detail, with entire chapters devoted to characters our main character has minor interaction with. But you barely even notice because it's just so exciting to read and each story is unique and fits into a personality so clear that it's exciting to see that character again later on since you understand why he/she feels that way. The Zorro references are exciting, and the little plot teasers here and there remind you that the ending will be well worth your while.… (more)
LibraryThing member cindyloumn
I LOVED this book! It was an Oprah book club choice and usually I'm not too thrilled about those as they are usually very depressing. This book had it ALL! Adventure, romance, and a wonderful woman character. Along with all sorts of different characters not expected.
LibraryThing member tjsjohanna
o.k. but nothing special. Mostly plot driven rather than character driven which made it less compelling for me.
LibraryThing member LMayNev
This is the first Allende book I have read. It has been a long time since I have read a book that I enjoyed this much. I am looking forward to reading others by this author.
LibraryThing member jlizzy
She is a wonderful writer. Pulls all the themes of history, adventure, love, and family loyalty.
LibraryThing member babemuffin
The book is interesting in its mix of cultures and races; English, Chiliean, and Chinese mainly. The book is really about the coming of age of Eliza Sommers, of how she grew to embrace her womanhood and herself as a person. However there are tangential background pieces of the people she is closely linked to which brings the whole mix of cultures together. It was an ok read.… (more)
LibraryThing member estellen
This book reminds me too much of her other work and is somewhat predictable. Still, if you like Allende, this is vintage stuff - poetic and structured, and easily accessible.
LibraryThing member myfanwy
Daughters of Fortune follows the fate of a young Chilean orphan, raised as a gentle lady in a well-to-do English household but destined to roam the hillsides of gold rush California searching for her love. Sounds dashing eh? Exciting? At least vaguely interesting? Sadly I found it to be mostly boring. It's not really bad enough to rail on about but it certainly doesn't have many virtues. Our heroine is not a Girl of Action, despite the blurb on the back of the book. In all her childhood, the only time she disobeys is in order to lose her virginity. The second idea that takes hold of her is to get on a ship to follow him (unsuccessfully) for the rest of the book. The main substance of the book is her wandering about as a little cardboard cutout character with a hastily drawn backdrop of scenery. Her days in Chile have a fairy tale character which is vaguely reminscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez except that there is no presence or reality to the characters. [His magic works because everything else is so real.] The days in California read like an eighth grade text book on the gold rush. Dialogue is almost non-existent in this book. It is all told in a third person omniscient that only describes each character in superficialities and barely mentions any motivations or thoughts.

So much more could have been made of this book! Here we have a girl who spends her days following an elusive trail and concealing her identity. Yet in all the book there is never a whisper of a doubt that she can pass as a man. She's good with accents, says Allende, which sounds a lot more like tripe cooked up to cover the author's ill-conceived concept than an actual character trait. Where is the fright of nearly being discovered? Where is her uneasiness or relief at shedding her identity? Where is there any discussion of her fears and hopes and regrets about miscarriage and love? Somehow they got left behind in the stereotyped descriptions of the wise and noble Chinese man who helps her and the tough and greedy gold-diggers she spends her days with -- oh, and don't forget the whore with a heart of gold. That's a necessary character in any old west novel. ...sigh...

This whole thing might have been saved if the writing were good, but I came across lines so jolting that I just couldn't believe they made it past the cutting room floor. Take this, for example, a description of the women in early San Francisco: "No namby-pambies like her mother and sisters; here Amazons like herself reigned." Good Lord! How is this not a telenovela? Sure enough, all the women are spunky and independent. Does that seem right to you?

This book was disappointing. The history and culture have glaring inaccuracies, the characters are cardboard cutouts, and the writing is simply dull. But hey, it was a quick read! Is that all readers demand these days?

EDIT: While I never found the writing captivating, I do hand it to my bookclub for showing me that this book does indeed have some depth. And I value the writer's efforts to show the goldrush from the point of view of the non-whites, of the women, of the prostitutes and merchants and all the rest who filled in a world full of gold-diggers. Allende, I may give you another chance.
… (more)
LibraryThing member honeycricket
A fascinating glimpse of different cultures and times as backdrops for the common themes of love, longing, belonging, family and home. Reading this novel felt like taking a trip around the world during the 19th century. I enjoyed "watching" the protagonist shed her stifling upbringing like an old corset and find herself.
LibraryThing member eidolons
I really love Isabel Allende's style. The voice she gives to her characters is simply awe-inspiring. She describes people, places, and events without slipping into tedium and can, overall, make any place as real as your own backyard.

This story was peculiar to me. If pressed, I'm not sure I could tell you exactly what it is about. Sure, I could say that it's one woman's journey to find herself. I could tell you that it's about discovering different shades of love or that it's simply a work of historical fiction about the gold rush. But none of those quite covers what this book is.

In the beginning of the book, each chapter almost seems disconnected. We flit from one character to the next, seemingly losing the main character for chapters at a time. While this made each character real and gave them depth, I felt like I wasn't sure what book I was reading at any given point. Was I reading about a woman betrayed by love in her youth in England? Or about the harsh life of a Chinese doctor? Was it about the young man who took a momentous trip on a bet and unwittingly fell in love? What happened to the young woman, Eliza, the supposed main character of the book? Some times she seemed lost in the sea of characters.

Three quarters of the way through the book I began to worry that nothing was going to happen. By the end of the book I realized that a lot had, in fact, happened and there was no disappointment at all. There didn't seem to be a climax to the story - not in the traditional sense and maybe that was my real issue all along. There were plenty of conflicts and resolutions, lots of things that happened - but not much of a climax. And while I wouldn't consider this to be my favorite of Allende's novels, this will not stop me from recommending it to others.
… (more)
LibraryThing member magooles
Highly recommended historical fiction. I do not always enjoy flowery writing, but Isabel Allende does it in a way that describes both the physical and emotional setting perfectly. Her writing flows so perfectly that she can move around within the timeline of her narrative without skipping a beat (and without the reader missing the point). This book has a wonderful balance of characters where the scoundrels have a great deal of good in them and the respected have scandalizing pasts. If you enjoy this book, pick up the sequel “Portrait in Sepia.”… (more)
LibraryThing member tiffanyhebb
First book discussion group from NC. On the whole, I enjoyed it - liked the heroine, and her journey from Chili to San Francisco gold country.


Original language

Page: 0.3456 seconds