Paula by Isabel Allende
It’s hard to say how I felt about this book – when I first started reading it and she described her grandmother, I was afraid that I was basically going to get The House of Spirits: The Real Life Story. It didn’t quite go that far, but it’s definitely easy to see the characters that inspired others in her first novel which does have quite a few autobiographical elements.
I don’t know how to critique this book – after all, it’s a woman writing about watching her daughter die. Especially after reading the reviews, and knowing how much acclaim and response Allende got for this memoir, I expected something more. I honestly don’t feel like I ever really got to know Paula from the pages of this book (passing acquaintance, maybe, but not much deeper insight). It was Allende’s story, of course, telling her daughter about her family background and mixing it with scenes from the present, of Paula comatose in a hospital bed.
Allende has no problems portraying herself with all her flaws in this book, and poking fun at herself. I think my favorite passage was when Pablo Neruda told her she was the worst journalist in the country. It took me a few minutes to sort out all the grandparent figures. Many of the people in her life have since become the inspiration for characters in her novels, and as a result, I didn’t necessarily feel like I learned much that was new. I’m amazed by all the places Allende has been, partially due to the fact that her stepfather was a diplomat, making me wonder what his or her mother’s memoirs would be like. Also, I probably shouldn’t have read The Sum of Our Days until after this memoir. I might have enjoyed it more that way.
As a straight up memoir, it was entertaining, though Allende definitely came from a priviledged family even if they didn't necessarily have a lot of money. As a book on grief, well, I preferred Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking.