“[A] rich cast of characters…a pleasurable story…In Daughter of Fortune, Allende has continued her obsession with passion and violence.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“A fast-paced adventure story.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“Allende details her plot and settings richly.”
“Allende has created a masterpiece of historical fiction that is passionate, adventurous, and brilliantly insightful…suspenseful and surprising.”
—The Denver Post
“Allende interweaves a densely layered tale of passion with the stuff of history and legend.”
—San Diego Union-Tribune
“Allende projects a woman’s point of view with confidence, control and an expansive definition of romance as a fact of life.”
“Daughter of Fortune is full of energy and vivacity. It holds out a promise of happiness.”
“A classic story from one of the foremost and beloved storytellers of our time, Daughter of Fortune proves again Allende’s ability to ‘hold the world spellbound with her tales.’”
—The Miami Herald
“Sprawling, engrossing, richly textured and expansively told…This is storytelling at its most seductive, a brash historical adventure.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“In this luscious saga, Allende reaches beyond her previous novels (e.g., Eva Luna) in both space and time…entertaining reading. For all collections.”
“Daughter of Fortune…is an extravagant tale by a gifted storyteller whose spell brings to life the 19th century world, from the docks of Valparaiso, Chile, to the gaming tables of Hong Kong, from the places of California’s Central Valley to the fire-scarred streets of San Francisco…entertaining and well-paced…compelling.”
—Katy Butler, Los Angeles Times
“Since her debut novel, The House of the Spirits, in 1985, Isabel Allende’s work has received steadfast acceptance from legions of readers. And no wonder. Like the superstitious peasant women with their potions and magic who appear so frequently in her writing, the Chilean novelist can be spellbinding.
Daughter of Fortune, her ninth book, is the tale of a young Chilean woman’s search not for wealth but for love during California’s Gold Rush days. Like other stories set in a time and place peopled by the likes of Mark Twain, the adventures of Eliza Sommers sometimes veer toward the tall tale.
But it is part of Allende’s talent to make us believe that even the most outlandish coincidences and crossing of paths might really be possible. And her readers likely have grown comfortable with the presence of ethereal beings. In this book, however, owing to Eliza’s deep friendship with a man named Tao Chi'en, the ghosts tend to be Chinese rather than Latin.
The story is told by a narrator who knows how things are going to turn out and tantalizingly hints at events to come. It opens with a look at the start of Eliza’s life, which basically she reckons from having been left as an infant in a soap crate on the doorstep of an English brother and sister.
But this daughter of fortune is not destined to live out her life in Chile. Following the pattern of women in her family who ‘were always deranged by their first love,’ Eliza, at 16, is pregnant by a secret lover who has gone to California to strike it rich. Fearful of the fate that awaits her if she reveals her conditions to Rose and Jeremy, she stows away on a ship for San Francisco, vowing to find her beloved.
Eliza’s exploits in California parallel the evolution of rough-and-tumble mining camps into somewhat more civilized communities that count among their inhabitants preachers, teachers and entrepreneurs. Along the way, Daughter of Fortune, true to its billing as a historical novel, provides readers not only with romance but also a good many facts about a place where ‘gold had attracted a quarter of a million immigrants in four years’ time.
Allende’s experience as a journalist also may account for her straightforward narrative style, always telling the reader what happened, rarely dramatizing or having the characters act out their roles. But there’s more than enough action—even if it’s told rather than shown—to keep readers turning the pages.
There are plenty of surprises. In addition to the question of what has become of Eliza’s lover, there’s the puzzle of Eliza’s parentage and the mystery of Rose’s shadowy past and her source of money.
Some credit should go to translator Margaret Sayers Peden. As with her translation of other Allende works from Spanish, this one is a generally smooth rendering into English.
But the major kudos goes to Allende herself. Since her marriage to an American, she now lives in California’s Marin County, once a site of the horrors and hurrahs of gold fever she so vividly depicts in this book. After finishing Daughter of Fortune, readers might like to imagine that amid the present day riches of that prosperous chunk of land move the ghosts of an Eliza Sommers and her true love—ghosts Allende saw and spoke to. And from those evocations, this charming writer again makes us believe in spirits.”
—Sharon Barrett, Chicago Sun-Times
“After five novels, a memoir, a collection of stories, and a recipe book, Allende is comfortably established as a literary star. That she is not taken too seriously by high-brow critics is not surprising. The intellectual establishment is suspicious of success (as if esthetics and commerce were mortal enemies), and Allende is among the very few from south of the Rio Grande to capitalize on the rich oral tradition and the baroque exuberance of her native region to manufacture emotional tales that sell millions of copies in many languages.
Allende is a unique and staggering storyteller with an enviable talent for intricate narratives involving casts of dozens. Once the reader submits to her wizardry, a florid, detailed universe of hopes and lust, of class struggle and quarreling individual identities, unfolds. It is a universe where emotions, not ideas, reign, and Allende makes it come alive by placing rebellion at the center of it. Rebellion, she known all too well, is the favorite literary form of human behavior.
Allende is at her best in the study of colonialists and emigres in Chile in the 19th century. Her descriptions of routine port and urban life—immigration, school, religion, government—are stunning, as are her sketches of the intellectual climate. Also engrossing is the way the novel balances a multiethnic cast. The Cantonese herbalist of Tao Chi'en, who becomes Eliza’s main companion in her odyssey in search of Andieta in California, is compelling and even enlightening.
Perhaps most intriguing, though, is the ghost-like presence of the 19th-century border bandit Joaquín Murrieta, a sort of Robin Hood whose legend today resonates in Chile, Mexico, and among Chicanos in the Southwest. Pablo Neruda wrote a play about him, Octavio Paz’s grandfather published one of the several biographies available, and the number of poems, corridos, and stories in which he appears is almost infinite. So as not to spoil the thrill, I won't reveal the connection between Eliza Sommers and the bandit. Suffice to say that it is through him that Daughter of Fortune moves from the ordinary to the mythical.”
—The Boston Sunday Globe
“Allende has always been a breathless, confident storyteller; her narratives are dependably clean and quick. They're melodramatic, of course, but in this book, the melodrama deepens into a convincing journey of self-discovery. It’s not only the ingénue who discovers herself a heroine, but the writer who discovers a deeper, more powerful sort of magic.
Allende is at her best when describing the madness of Gold Rush California, with its roving bands or thieves, its jaded prostitutes and its scheming, ragtag miners. And if the last section of the novel bogs down in social commentary, the writer revives her story in a finale that is both romantic and powerful.
The possibility of a utopian society is the obsession of a minor character in Daughter of Fortune, and it is Northern California in the 1850s that becomes Allende’s utopia. ‘In California,' she writes, ‘neither past nor scruples counted; eccentricity was welcomed and guilt did not exist as long as the offense remained hidden.’ In this multicultural world, magic and passion aren't hidden and left to die but worn on the sleeve, embraced, even honored. It is only when Eliza, disguised as Tao Chi'en’s male assistant for much of the novel, rediscovers the treasures of her true self that she moves from innocence to independence. For Allende, magical realism is no longer a literary technique, but a way of life.”
—Greg Changnon, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“Early in Isabel Allende’s Daughter of Fortune, the heroine says her memory is 'like the hold of the ship…vast and somber, bursting with boxes, barrels, and sacks…' So too is this novel of Gold Rush California vast and sober, bursting with events, history, wondrous characters, humor and truth.
The Gold Rush has always been as much myth as history. In this wide-ranging, spirited novel, Allende explodes many of the myths. Not everyone comes looking for gold; there are women in California who are not prostitutes; few who come strike it rich in quite the way they had planned.
Allende’s writing, like Eliza’s love full of delirium and torment, is almost neo-Victorian at times, and the book is long. Daughter of Fortune, unlike her other novels, is not magical realism, but it is wonderfully improbable and so superbly told that it becomes a marvel of storytelling. In any genre, any form, any language, Isabel Allende is a California treasure more precious and long lasting than gold.”
—Karen Cushman, San Jose Mercury News