Daughter of Fortune (1998)

by Isabel Allende

A baby is left on the doorstep of a British importer and his sister in 19th-century Valparaiso, Chile. Keeping her, they choose the name Eliza. Sixteen years later, Eliza is pregnant, and her lover is off to the 1849 California Gold Rush. She follows him by stowing away on a ship with the help of ship cook Tao Chi’en. She miscarries on board and once in California disguises herself as a boy so that she can travel freely in search of her lover. Eliza’s search turns out to be a discovery of her true self. The lasting relationship proves to be the one with Tao, who puts his early medical training to use by becoming a sought-after healer.

As colorful as the characters, and there are many, are the settings in Chile and California. California during the Gold Rush was swarming with immigrants from all over, rough and greedy to make their fortunes. Allende gives us a vivid picture of the frenzy surrounding the mining camps, with the ragtag miners, the thieves, the prostitutes, and the other hangers-on. 

As usual, Allende’s prose is lush. Daughter of Fortune is a long book, but for those who like historical fiction, it will be an enjoyable read.


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