translated from the Spanish by Margaret Sayers Peden
genre challenge: historical fiction; Latin America Challenge: Chile
Eliza Sommers, orphaned at birth and raised in Valparaiso, Chile and Tao Chi'en, a Chinese doctor meet on a boat on the way to the California gold rush of 1849. Each of them get a background treatment, with a history of Chile, and China and their respective lives. They each get a love story before they meet and it was all very well written and engrossing.
It should have been fabulous, but it fell a bit short for me, and yet I still liked it. I always felt a bit detached from Eliza through the narration. At times I would start to get into her head and feel her emotions, but I never got all the way there so that I was really rooting for her. Tao Chi'en life was better explained and was able to connect a bit better him. A few hints or foreshadowing also prevented some of the big reveals from losing their punch because it was foretold. There were several subplots that felt rushed in their closing, I am thinking of the aunt's erotic writings that just appeared and nothing happened with it other than it happened. Why didn't Eliza ever find out about it? The ending itself was very anti-climatic and I was left wondering if I had missed something.
Those criticisms aside, the historical aspect was very well done, especially the travel between Chile and California, and the gold rush experience. I was never bored while reading and I would read another by Allende. She treated the women well and the role women in those rough times was examined. Strong females who found a way to live life on their own terms when that couldn't have been easy. It was a great opening book for the Latin American Challenge.