"There is no lack of drama in my life," Chilean author Isabel
Allende writes in the opening of her new memoir The Sum of Our Days.
As readers of her acclaimed earlier memoir, "Paula," know, this is a
little like saying there is no shortage of 9-year-olds at a Hannah
Allende, author of eight novels including "The House of the
Spirits," is one of the most famous writers to come out of Latin
America. She wrote "Paula" as a love letter to her daughter while
the latter was in a coma from which she never recovered.
In it, Allende chronicled her childhood as a diplomat's daughter
in a family of strong personalities, her first marriage and career
as a journalist, the military coup in 1973 that deposed President
Salvador Allende (her father's cousin) and brought Gen. Augusto
Pinochet to power, and her flight from Chile and 13-year-exile.
Today, Allende lives with her second husband, Willie Gordon, and
an extended "clan" of family and friends in California. That clan is
at the heart of her new book, and their personalities, conflicts,
and foibles move the memoir forward through 13 years. (Allende
writes her mother, who lives in Chile, daily. That correspondence
forms the backbone of her memory, and gives "The Sum of Our Days" a
level of detail only wished for by the James Freys of the world.)
As in "Paula," Allende is once again writing to her daughter with
a loving, newsy tone that envelops a reader as well. "The Sum of Our
Days," picks up immediately after the death of Paula.
"I will begin by telling you what has happened since 1993, when
you left us, and will limit myself to the family, which is what
interests you," Allende writes.
That grief is just one of the challenges Allende and her husband,
Willie Gordon, face during a turbulent 1990s. "Many years would go
by before you became a gentle, constant friend. In those days, I
felt your absence as a sharp pain that at times brought me to my
Allende's stepdaughter succumbs to heroin addiction, putting up a
premature daughter for adoption before disappearing completely from
the family's life. Considered too old to care for the little girl
themselves and unwilling to see her vanish into foster care, Allende
and Gordon find two women willing to adopt Sabrina, despite her
early shaky prognosis.
Tales of a shameless matchmaker
Later, Allende's daughter-in-law leaves her son for her stepson's
fiancee, throwing the family into turmoil. …