This is one of the most brutal books I’ve ever read. And I’ve read books set during wars, during genocides, during famines, during all sorts of momentThis is one of the most brutal books I’ve ever read. And I’ve read books set during wars, during genocides, during famines, during all sorts of moments of human depravity and savagery. I honestly did not want to keep reading. I read it as quickly as I could, so I could finish it and purge it from my system. For some readers, this is the kind of book that they want and need. But not for me. I can take a measure of tragedy in my reading, but I do not read to expose myself to the very worst. I read to escape. But there was no escape in this book.
The first half of this book is about Miri, a privileged Haitian-American, being held hostage by a gang of men who torture her, repeatedly rape her, and violate her in every possible way. It is awful. It is dirt on the soul that does not scrub off. The second half is Miri dealing with her PTSD from the incident. This is more digestible, but it’s still raw and brutal.
The only part of this novel I enjoyed had nothing to do with Miri: it was Miri's father, the unflinching Sebastien Duval. He’s a self-made man who blasted his way to the top with smarts and ambition in America, then returned to his home country to rebuild. When his youngest – and favorite – daughter is kidnapped, he refuses to ransom her. He is looking at the bigger picture. If he gives in now, the kidnappers will see him as weak. For the moment it is only his youngest daughter who is in danger – but surrender endangers his entire family. What I don't understand is why neither Sebastien nor his family even considers leaving Haiti. Sebastien could move his family to the US (or elsewhere), pay Miri's ransom, and stay safe. Sebastien and his wife likely have great English and have degrees from US universities. They’re marketable. They don’t have to stay. I think Sebastien stays out of pride. In America, he never felt he could rise to the top. In Haiti, he is a Titan. The risk is worth the reward.
We only get a paltry half a chapter from Sebastien’s perspective. That is a waste. He is a fascinating character and deserves more screen time. Like Ned Stark, his pride and his honor are his downfall. Such a man cannot survive in a world where everyone else is desperate and greedy and insatiable. More from Sebastien’s view would be especially interesting, because his decision not to ransom his daughter makes his wife hate him. She cannot forgive him for not bringing back their child. But...eventually the ransom is paid. Miri is free. What made Sebastien change his mind? It was him who paid, right? (Miri's husband never mentions that he was the one who paid, although he started scrambling for money to do it). So – what happened? Did he realize he’d made a mistake? Was alienating his entire family too much of a burden to bear? For some reason, Gay never deigns to answer this. That is a shame.
Miri and her husband, Michael, were not characters I enjoyed. Michael is queasily unlikeable, and his relationship with Miri was painful. Michael is an immature, self-involved child. Eventually, both his parents and Miri's sister call him out on how he's being weak and selfish while Miri is suffering, and how Miri deserves better. He’s always been weak and selfish and Miri has always deserved better. He does not seem capable of knowing what it means to be a respectful adult. All he can think about is himself, and when it comes to suffering, all he can think about is his own suffering. As his dad says, everything has come too easy for him, so he’s never had to learn to fight for anything. He’s a portrayal of an ugly American.
Pre-kidnapped Miri is unpleasant (although not nearly as unlikeable as Michael). She’s hot-tempered and impulsive. She gets angry and runs away and wants Michael to follow her (she checks into a hotel using a credit card because she knows he’ll check the bank statement and come for her). She insists on handling everything herself. The one thing Miri has going for her is she’s tough – she goes through hell and comes out alive. Incredibly cracked and frayed, but alive. She is a survivor. Michael would be a puddle of a mess if it had been him. ...more
I’m pretty sure that this was just one gigantic advertisement for Chiloe. It sounds like an incredibly beautiful island. The perfect place to rejuvenaI’m pretty sure that this was just one gigantic advertisement for Chiloe. It sounds like an incredibly beautiful island. The perfect place to rejuvenate yourself and get away from the harsh modern world. Maybe do some kind of Eat, Pray, Love thing.
The description of this book makes it sound like a thriller. "Maya Vidal writes her story, which includes pursuit by a gang of assassins, the police, the FBI, and Interpol." Assassins! FBI! Interpol! Who is this Maya Vidal? Is she a stone-cold badass? Is she a master thief? Is she some teenage criminal underlord? Is she a hardened drug dealer, like late-season Walter White? Is she La Femme Nikita?
She is none of these things. She is a troubled teenage girl with Daddy issues who ends up in a bad crowd, runs away from home, and gets in way over her head. She ends up on the run because of trouble she gets in as an assistant/drug mule to some scuzzy drug dealer.
Maya goes from one brutal situation to another before she is rescued her tough but loving grandmother and sent to Chiloe to hide and heal. There, she befriends and helps heal a victim of the Pinochet regime and falls in love with a tourist boy who is obviously going to break her heart. I don’t know why any of the adults in her life didn't try to clue her in that this guy was obviously just using her as a vacation hookup. But maybe they just wanted her to make her own mistakes, so she could learn from them and become a stronger person.
This book felt like one giant message book. Like how The Poisonwood Bible ended up. It's a message about teenage runaways and life on the street for the vulnerable. And the evils of drug addiction. And Chile’s brutal recent history. It really, really felt like a lot of plot events occurred just so Allende could share knowledge about these topics. Like, Maya ended up a drug addict on the streets because Allende wanted to show how terrible and ignored these people are (and how they are still people, even if they are often treated less-than). And Maya befriended a Pinochet torture victim because Allende wanted to delve into the horrors of the Pinochet regime. Maybe what felt like pointed messages were actually just naturally occurring plot elements - I don't know. But it felt very message-y to me.
I enjoyed reading it for the most part. Maya's past history is compelling and tragic (although sadly not nearly as badass as I'd hoped) and her time on Chiloe for the most part felt very relaxing and dreamy. But I didn't love it. ...more
This was an extremely heartwarming book. It is definitely a middle-grade read, but this is one of those rare ones that don’t bother me with its simpliThis was an extremely heartwarming book. It is definitely a middle-grade read, but this is one of those rare ones that don’t bother me with its simplicity. It’s like The Wednesday Wars in that regard.
I’ve never read a book about Cuba and I never really understood the big kerfuffle about Castro. He’s a dictator, yes, but he’s not like a Mugabe. But now I understand why people fled. I like that Lucia is a very ordinary girl in very extraordinary circumstances and she is able to rise to the occasion. I like that Frankie was so darn adorable and such a little brother. I like the Baxters are kind of that classic farm couple (Mrs. Baxter babbles a lot, Mr. Baxter is a stoic) and are warm-hearted, generous people. I like that Lucia’s new school life revolves around boys and friendship and mean girls and schoolwork and giggling. If this was a different YA, there would be more focus on that, but really that’s just one part of Lucia’s journey.
The book went super quickly and I was never bored or annoyed about the simplicity of the language. The characters aren’t Mary Doria Russell-complex but they all felt whole and completely real. And I will admit to tearing up at the end (view spoiler)[when Lucia and Frankie are reunited with their parents. (hide spoiler)] What?!? I’m a marshmallow. ...more
The first (and only other) Isabel Allende book I have ever read is Daughter of Fortune. I loved it. Like, loved it. So I had high expectations of thisThe first (and only other) Isabel Allende book I have ever read is Daughter of Fortune. I loved it. Like, loved it. So I had high expectations of this book. What I hadn’t realized was that Allende’s early stuff seems to be Gabriel García Márquez style magical realism. And I don’t like it. It’s too fragmented, too allegorical, too bizarre.
Allende’s writing is, as always, gorgeous. She is a flat-out incredibly talented writer, and it shows (and this is even in translation!). But the best writing in the world can’t completely save a book for me when I dislike the story and characters.
It was just…bizarre. It’s like Allende sets out to break every sexual taboo out there, for a reason I’m not quite clear about (maybe Chile was repressed at the time?). Rolf, the main male character, is seduced by his cousins (incest), who “share” him, sometimes taking turns and sometimes together (multiple partners). Eva Luna lives with prostitutes for a while (that’s fairly uncontroversial in literature) and later sleeps with her father figure (that’s gross). It’s just…icky. There’s a lot of ickiness in here and it is just kind of throw-up-your-hands-and-ask-why.
There’s not what I would call an actual plot, either. Eva Luna bounces from life to life, with a cast of incredibly weird characters (her godmother gives birth to a two-headed monstrosity and goes insane; a mother-figure servant sleeps in a coffin). There’s a lot of political ideas going on and thoughts on guerrilla/freedom fighters and it really feels like Allende is writing to Chile and because of how little I know about the country I continuously felt like I was missing something, like I had come into a movie halfway through it.
I think this could be a brilliant read for a class, but it just felt insane when reading it by myself. It wasn’t bad, just bizarre. ...more
I already read this book and it was called Daughter of Fortune and was better in just about every way, up to and including the romance.
From my readingI already read this book and it was called Daughter of Fortune and was better in just about every way, up to and including the romance.
From my reading of Allende books so far, she seems to have two tracks. One is magical realism (i.e., Eva Luna). The other is more straight-up historical fiction with the same two main characters:
The heroine is passionate, fiery, clever and strong. She falls for the wrong guy first, who is handsome and a great lover, but fickle and flighty. She leaves her home country in search of her missing first love, who was lured to a new and distant land by the promise of easy gold. (Eliza Summers in Daughter, Ines Suarez in this one)
The hero is an honorable guy (in his own way), who first marries his culture's ideal of womanhood (gentle, modest, virginal) who he does care for but who disappoints him for all the reasons he wanted her in the first place (she’s too boring, quiet & unpassionate). After his wife is conveniently out of the way, he falls in love with his wife's opposite - the heroine. (Tao Ch'ien in Daughter, Pedro de Valdivia in Ines)
Daughter of Fortune came first, but this is a fairly faithful fictional biography of the real Ines de Suarez. Did Allende write Daughter with Ines’ character in mind? Or did she interpret the historical facts surrounding Ines with the type of character she enjoyed writing in Daughter?
Whichever way, it doesn't matter. While I do enjoy the insight into the early years of Peru and Chile - a time and place that is very rarely the subject of decent historical fiction in English - I didn't love the characters or the book. Ines' and Pedro's love is instant and passionate. I adored the slow burn in Daughter but this one was all See-Want-Have. I never got the romance because I never saw it, despite the fact that these two lovers were crazy for each other and were equally smart, determined and stubborn. I wasn't invested in either of them much anyway. It wasn't their moral grayness (they are both pretty ruthless). It was just a lack of that je ne sais quoi that inspires devotion to fictional characters.
Pros for the historical aspect, cons for the characters, and deep disappointment that this failed to capture the magic of Daughter of Fortune....more
I'm not a fan of Latin American magical realism. The misogyny, the soap-operatic plotlines, the characters with messed-up ideas of "love," the minuteI'm not a fan of Latin American magical realism. The misogyny, the soap-operatic plotlines, the characters with messed-up ideas of "love," the minute descriptions. It can be beautiful. It can be maddening.
One of the main characters (Esteban) is a violent rapist who sees himself as a good guy, and his evil actions have the unintended consequence of evil befalling his granddaughter. For both Esteban and the country of Chile, actions have consequences, but innocents have to suffer the consequences as well as the villains (and often instead of the villains). Many of the other characters spend a lot of time being miserable, partly because of forces outside of their control, partly because everyone makes terrible life choices.
If you do enjoy the likes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, then this is a book for you. I prefer Allende's more traditional historical fiction, such as Daughter of Fortune.