Synopsis: Eliza Sommers was born an orphan in Valparaiso Chile, and adopted by a wealthy family consisting of the beautiful spinster Rose, and her two entrepreneurial brothers John and Jeremy. Raised as a proper lady, with lessons in etiquette, languages and music, Eliza's entire life was spent preparing for the eventuality of marrying a man of means. But when 16-year-old Eliza falls in love with a poor clerk full of impassioned ideas, she casts aside good sense and follows her lover to California and to the heart of the gold rush.
With the help from her friend Tao Chi'en, Eliza arrives in California to find it full of crazed men, prostitutes, highway robbers and crooked politicians, all trying to make their fortune. To protect herself, she poses as a man, and sets off to find her lover. Instead, she reinvents herself, learning about survival and what love really means.
My thoughts: What a treat this audiobook was! From her memoir, I sense that Allende is a woman full of passion and courage, and it seems that her personality was channelled into Eliza. It was easy to believe in Eliza from the beginning, despite the fact that she fell head over heels in love with the Wrong Guy. (Let's admit it. It happens. It's not a fatal flaw, assuming you grow up and learn to make better choices.) Eliza is strong and determined, and I admired her for her belief in her mission. For a pampered socialite, she held her own.
Then there is the whole historical part of the story. The Chilean culture, its growth and development into an international economy, and its people who participated in staking their claims in other parts of the world. I also found the stories of the birth of California, San Francisco and the gold rush to be incredibly fascinating. I love to learn a thing or two while I'm being entertained.
Allende doesn't leave anything on the table, whether it be historical or character background. She gives everyone and everything it's full due. I might even suggest there is too much background on some of the characters (I remember wondering if "all this detail" was relevant) but it certainly gives the story heft and depth.
In my mind, Allende stands out from most other authors for her dramatic and passionate prose. It makes sense to me, as I live in a community that has a very high concentration of Hispanics, and they are all about drama and passion and what some of them have called their "salsa". But within this style is a feeling of things being overdone. Allende's characters feel a tad bit over-the-top, where the men have prowess and magnetism, the women have superb skills in the bedroom (or learn adeptly), they fall in love quickly and deeply, they are talented in whatever they do. There is a touch of fairytale in the storytelling. I admit to a little eye-rolling, but ultimately allowed myself to buy into the illusion for the sake of entertainment.
A word about the audio production: My heartfelt applause to whoever made the decision to hire Blair Brown as the narrator of everything Allende. Since I listened to her narrate "Sum of Our Days", her voice will forever be Allende's voice: rich, skillful at Spanish pronunciation, passionate with a sliver of no-nonsense. Brown was back in my ears with this production, and I couldn't have been happier. I know most authors have no involvement in the choice of narrators, but I'm going to pretend that Allende had everything to do with this one.
4.5 out of 5 stars