A 19-year-old Californian escapes her troubled past when her grandmother sends her to an isolated Chilean community in the latest confection of spiritual uplift, political instruction and lyrical melodrama from Allende (Island Beneath the Sea, 2010, etc.).
In 2009, Berkley-born and -bred Maya arrives in Chiloé, an isolated island community in southern Chile, to escape the drug dealers and law enforcement officials on her trail. Her eponymous notebook combines a record of Maya’s not-so-gradual immersion into the Chiloé community with her memories of an idyllic childhood and horrifically wayward adolescence. Because her Scandinavian mother deserted her in infancy and her father traveled constantly as a pilot, Maya was largely raised by her paternal grandparents, Nini and Popo. Popo, a gentle African-American astronomer, is actually Chilean-born Nini’s second husband; she left Chile with her son after her first husband’s arrest/torture/murder by Pinochet forces. While Maya has always loved fiery Nini, Popo was the steadying center of her girlhood. After his death, Maya dove headlong into a life of addiction and criminality, ending up on the streets of LA, where she became a drug runner and worse. But all that ugliness seems far away as she settles into Chiloé, living with and assisting Nini’s old friend Manuel, an anthropologist researching the mythology of the Chilotes. Maya, who is visited at times by visions of her Popo, builds a special relationship with Manuel—her curiosity about Manuel’s relationship to Nini gives Allende an excuse to explore the dark history of 1970s Chile. Maya also coaches the local kids at soccer and falls in love with a backpacking psychiatrist from Seattle, a gentle romance that contrasts starkly with her memories of rape and violation. Despite her enthusiasm for her new life, Maya remains in danger: She knows secrets criminals might kill for if they can just find her.
Allende is a master at plucking heartstrings, and Maya’s family drama is hard to resist, but the sentimentality and a lack of subtlety concerning politics, Chilean and American, can grate.