An orphan raised in Valparaiso, Chile, by a Victorian spinster and her rigid brother, vivacious young Eliza Sommers follows her lover to California during the Gold Rush of 1849. Entering a rough-and-tumble world of new arrivals driven mad by gold fever, Eliza moves in a society of single men and prostitutes with the help of her good friend and savior, the Chinese doctor Tao Chi'en. California opens the door to a new life of freedom and independence to the young Chilean, and her search for her elusive lover gradually turns into another kind of journey. By the time she finally hears news of him, Eliza must decide who her true love really is.
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About the Author
Isabel Allende is the author of twelve works of fiction, including the New York Times bestsellers Maya’s Notebook, Island Beneath the Sea, Inés of My Soul, Daughter of Fortune, and a novel that has become a world-renowned classic, The House of the Spirits. Born in Peru and raised in Chile, she lives in California.
Blair Brown, a veteran of the New York theater, received 5 Emmy® nominations for her starring role in The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd.
Hometown:San Rafael, California
Date of Birth:August 2, 1942
Place of Birth:Lima, Peru
Read an Excerpt
Everyone is born with some special talent, and Eliza Sommers discovered early on that she had two: a good sense of smell and a good memory. She used the first to earn a living and the second to recall her life if not in precise detail, at least with an astrologer's poetic vagueness. The things we forget may as well never have happened, but she had many memories, both real and illusory, and that was like living twice. She used to tell her faithful friend, the sage Tao Chi'en, that her memory was like the hold of the ship where they had come to know one another: vast and somber, bursting with boxes, barrels, and sacks in which all the events of her life were jammed. Awake it was difficult to find anything in that chaotic clutter, but asleep she could, just as Mama Fresia had taught her in the gentle nights of her childhood, when the contours of reality were as faint as a tracery of pale ink. She entered the place of her dreams along a much traveled path and returned treading very carefully in order not to shatter the tenuous visions against the harsh light of consciousness. She put as much store in that process as others put in numbers, and she so refined the art of remembering that she could see Miss Rose bent over the crate of Marseilles soap that was her first cradle.
"You cannot possibly remember that, Eliza. Newborns are like cats, they have no emotions and no memory," Miss Rose insisted the few times the subject arose.
Possible or not, that woman peering down at her, her topaz-colored dress, the loose strands from her bun stirring in the breeze were engraved in Eliza's mind, and she could never acceptthe other explanation of her origins.
"You have English blood, like us," Miss Rose assured Eliza when she was old enough to understand. "Only someone from the British colony would have thought to leave you in a basket on the doorstep of the British Import and Export Company, Limited. I am sure they knew how good-hearted my brother Jeremy is, and felt sure he would take you in. In those days I was longing to have a child, and you fell into my arms, sent by God to be brought up in the solid principles of the Protestant faith and the English language."
"You, English? Don't get any ideas, child. You have Indian hair, like mine," Mama Fresia rebutted behind her patrona's back.
But Eliza's birth was a forbidden subject in that house, and the child grew accustomed to the mystery. It, along with other delicate matters, was never mentioned between Rose and Jeremy Sommers, but it was aired in whispers in the kitchen with Mama Fresia, who never wavered in her description of the soap crate, while Miss Rose's version was, with the years, embroidered into a fairy tale. According to her, the basket they had found at the office door was woven of the finest wicker and lined in batiste; Eliza's nightgown was worked with French knots and the sheets edged with Brussels lace, and topping everything was a mink coverlet, an extravagance never seen in Chile. Over time, other details were added: six gold coins tied up in a silk handkerchief and a note in English explaining that the baby, though illegitimate, was of good stock although Eliza never set eyes on any of that. The mink, the coins, and the note conveniently disappeared, erasing any trace of her birth. Closer to Eliza's memories was Mama Fresia's explanation: when she opened the door one morning at the end of summer, she had found a naked baby girl in a crate.
"No mink coverlet, no gold coins. I was there and I remember very well. You were shivering and bundled up in a man's sweater. They hadn't even put a diaper on you, and you were covered with your own caca. Your nose was running and you were red as a boiled lobster, with a head full of fuzz like corn silk. That's how it was. Don't get any ideas," she repeated stoutly. "You weren't born to be a princess and if your hair had been as black as it is now, Miss Rose and her brother would have tossed the crate in the trash."
At least everyone agreed that the baby came into their lives on March 15, 1832, a year and a half after the Sommers arrived in Chile, and they adopted that date as her birthday. Everything else was always a tangle of contradictions, and Eliza decided finally that it wasn't worth the effort to keep going over it, because whatever the truth was, she could do nothing to change it. What matters is what you do in this world, not how you come into it, she used to say to Tao Chi'en during the many years of their splendid friendship; he, however, did not agree. It was impossible for him to imagine his own life apart from the long chain of his ancestors, who not only had given him his physical and mental characteristics but bequeathed him his karma. His fate, he believed, had been determined by the acts of his family before him, which was why he had to honor them with daily prayers and fear them when they appeared in their spectral robes to claim their due. Tao Chi'en could recite the names of all his ancestors, back to the most remote and venerable great-great-grandparents dead now for more than a century. His primary concern during the gold madness was to go home in time to die in his village in China and be buried beside his ancestors; if not, his soul would forever wander aimlessly in a foreign land. Eliza, naturally, was drawn to the story of the exquisite basket no...Daughter of Fortune. Copyright © by Isabel Allende. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Table of Contents
Reading Group Guide
Can we control our own destinies? What does it take to change the course of our lives so that we may pursue our dreams? And how do we know that our decisions are the right ones, especially if we hurt others or ourselves in the process? These are the questions posed by Isabel Allende's fascinating story of bravery and passion, of a young woman's incredible journey from one world to another, from innocence to wisdom. Born into a 19th-century society that values birthright above character, Eliza Sommers is at a startling disadvantage. An orphan of unknown heritage, Eliza is raised in the British colony of Valpara’so, Chile, by the Victorian spinster Rose Sommers and her brother Jeremy. She is not even sure how she arrived at the Sommers household-only that she is lucky enough to be cared for, educated, and even loved by her adopted family. So when Eliza exhibits the signs of a first love, the women in her life come to her "rescue," certain that this adolescent passion will lead to trouble. But Eliza's feelings for Joaqu’n, a young, penniless revolutionary, are all-consuming. Meanwhile, in America, gold has been discovered in the hills of northern California, and by 1849, everyone is swept up in the promise of the Gold Rush. When Joaqu’n leaves Eliza in hopes of striking it rich in California, she is determined to follow him there, risking every comfort and certainty she has ever known.
Allende's portrait of California illustrates the chaos and excitement of the Gold Rush-the promise of wealth, and of a new world. Like Valpara’so, San Francisco is a major port into which foreigners stream daily. But Eliza is a stranger in California. Cloaking her identity-and hersex-she must carve out a new life for herself by whatever means possible. Like thousands of other newcomers, and like her Chinese friend Tao Chi'en, she is thrust into a melting pot of unfamiliar languages and customs. But Eliza and Tao Chi'en quickly learn the value of assimilation, gradually discarding their own suspicions and prejudices. Eliza's love for Joaqu’n leads her to California, but the majesty of the land, the opportunities it holds, and the chance to reinvent herself as a woman in control of her own life are forces that eventually usurp her youthful infatuation. Spirited and sensual, willful and determined, Eliza is a modern woman living in a world that is just learning to be modern. Her courageous story compels us to look beyond the boundaries imposed on us by others and by ourselves. And it teaches us that by opening our minds - and our hearts - we are opening ourselves up to golden opportunities for love, happiness and good fortune.Topics for Discussion
1. Eliza thinks that the facts of her birth don't matter: "It is what you do in this world that matters, not how you come into it," she claims. Ta Ch'ien, on the other hand, cannot imagine "his own life apart from the long chain of his ancestors, who not only had given him his physical and mental characteristics but bequeathed him his karma. His fate, he believed, had been determined by the acts of his family before him." How do these different beliefs determine the way Tao Chi'en and Eliza make decisions about their lives? What are your own feelings about ancestry and self-determination?
2. Eliza grows up under the influence of a number of strong individuals--Mama Fresia, Rose, Jeremy Sommers and his brother, John. What does she learn from each of people? How do their differing philosophies contribute to Eliza's experience of the world? How do they shape her personality?
3. In 19th century Chile, a married woman could not travel, sign legal documents, go to court, sell or buy anything without her husband's permission. No wonder Rose doesn't want to get married! How would the lives of the women you know be different under those conditions? What are the consequences in a society that limits the freedoms of a segments of its citizens?
4. What do you think Allende means by referring to Eliza as a "daughter of fortune?" How are the different definitions of the word "fortune" significant in Eliza's story and the novel as a whole?
5. How is Tao Chi'en a "son" of fortune? What are the crucial turning points in his life, and where do they lead him? To what extent is he responsible for his own good and bad fortunes?
6. "At first the Chinese looked on the foreigners with scorn and disgust, with the great superiority of those who feel they are the only truly civilized beings in the universe, but in the space of a few years they learned to respect and fear them." writes Allende about the arrival of Western peoples into Hong Kong. How is this pattern of suspicion, fear, and resigned acceptance repeated throughout the novel? How does Allende illustrate the confusion of clashing cultures in Valparaiso, on board Eliza's ship, and in California? Do you think people of today are more tolerant of other cultures than they were 150 years ago?
7. While Eliza is vulnerable in California because of her sex, Tao Chi'en's prospects are limited because of his race. How do both characters overcome their "handicaps?" What qualities help them make their way in a culture that is foreign and often unwelcoming?
8. What do details such as Mama Fresia's home remedies and her attempts to "cure" Eliza of her love for Joaqu’n, or Tao Chi'en's medical education and his habit of contacting his dead wife say about the role of the spiritual in the everyday life? Must the spiritual and the secular remain separate? What about the spiritual and scientific worlds?
9. How have the novel's characters - Rose or Jacob Todd, for instance - managed to create opportunities out of the obstacles they've faced? What do you think Allende is saying about the role that fate plays in our lives, and about our capacity to take control over our own destinies? How are we all sons or daughters of fortune?
About the Author Nacida en Perú, Isabel Allende se crió en Chile. Algunos de sus libros,La casa de los espíritus, De amor y sombra, Eva Luna, Cuentos de Eva Luna, El plan infinito, y más recientemente, Paula, traducidos a más de 25 lenguas, en cabezan la lista de bestsellers en varios paises de America y Europa. Isabel Allende reside actualmente en California.
In 1985, Isabel Allende published The House of the Spirits, a fantastical, political Chilean novel that hit the bestseller lists and established her as one of the best Latin-American writers. Now, with Daughter of Fortune, Allende again returns to writing fiction, and in this book she combines the Latin-American lifestyle with the setting of the United States during the gold rush of the mid-19th century. Eliza Sommers, a young Chilean woman brought up by an upper-class British family, heads for California to find her lover, a lower-class man who had set out for America to find his fortune. Read an excerpt from the first chapter of Daughter of Fortune below.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Somewhere between okay and not that good. I enjoyed her "Island beneath the sea" much better. This story just didn't grab me but I kept going until the end--which I thought was rather odd.
I'm not very far into this audiobook, but I don't know if I can continue - Blair Brown is one of those readers who believes that reading aloud requires a lot of "acting." I'd like to tell her, and any others in her profession, "Please! We only need to know who is speaking. We don't need a whole production." Her interpretation of the Chilean cook, Mama Fresia, is horrendous! She sounds like she belongs in a Universal Horror film set in Transylvania. I hate to think what Ms. Brown might do to upcoming characters of other nationalities: I think there may be some Chinese in later chapters. Actually, that sounds hilarious... maybe I'll stick with it just to hear that train wreck.