Saturday, May 16, 2009

Book 51: The Sum of Our Days

The Sum of Our Days by Isabel Allende

While I've read most of Isabel Allende's fiction, this is the first time I've read any of her nonfiction. Naturally, I'd heard of her first memoir, Paula, so I knew that she'd had a daughter who died. Allende wrote Paula to cope with her daughter's death, part memoir and part description of her daughter's final days. In The Sum of Our Days, Allende tells of her life since her daughter's death, the tragedies and the joys that make up a daily life. She adresses it to her dead daughter, Paula, as a way of catching her up on what has happened to everyone that loved Paula since Paula left them.

While Allende manages to have a very large group of supportive friends and families, it is also amazing just how much one family can go through. Shortly after her daughter's death, her step-daughter, a drug addict, disappears and is presumed dead. While all the upheavals take their toll on her marriage to Willie Gordon, in the end, their relationship ends up stronger as a result. Allende also shows her own flaws, how overbearing and protective she can be as a mother, since she states several times that her goal is to get all her children and the people she sees as her family together, and through the strength of her personality and their bonds, she succeeds.

Of course, there are also funny and entertaining episodes with all the varied and eccentric characters in Allende's life. She describes a evening out with the women of the family during which they all decide to smoke pot, including a woman in her seventies or eighties, though it doesn't affect any of them. I didn't even realize that Allende's books had been made into movies until I read about her description of going to see the film premieres, though honestly I think some of her books, such The House of the Spirits, would work better as TV miniseries than a film.

Occasionally, there'd be moments when I disliked something Allende said or did, but that's part of the reason this book works so well - she shows herself as is and doesn't try to make portray herself in a better light. Overall, it was a nice way to gain insight and maybe partially get to know a person whose novels I love.

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