Loving tribute to an unorthodox family.
In Allende’s acclaimed memoir Paula (1995), the Chilean-born novelist told the story of her tumultuous life in the form of a letter to her beloved, recently deceased daughter. This follow-up picks up the story where the previous book left off, in the guise of keeping the spirit Paula informed of the goings-on in her noisy, exuberant, sometimes tragic extended family. Studded with incredible, often soap-operatic events, the stories here could be melodramatic or even self-indulgent. Instead, burnished by the author’s enormous affection for (almost) every character, the book coalesces into a warm meditation on family and love. After the devastation of Paula’s yearlong decline and eventual death, Allende undertook to gather her fractured clan around her in northern California, where she lived with her American husband Willie. She writes of the couple’s attempts to save his daughter Jennifer. When the drug-addicted young woman lost custody of her fragile, premature baby girl, they found Sabrina a home with a lesbian couple in a Zen monastery. Jennifer was allowed to visit her daughter, but she grew steadily weaker and vanished not long before Sabrina’s first birthday. We also learn of the author’s turbulent but loving relationship with her contrarian, hotheaded daughter-in-law, who fractured the family by leaving Allende’s son Nico for the woman engaged to Willie’s stepson. In the same tell-all spirit, the writer discusses the various heartaches of her steadfast friends, Tabra and Juliette; her successful courtship of the woman she wanted to be Nico’s second wife (they are now happily married); her own numerous parenting and marital missteps; and the painful process of getting over her daughter’s death.
A turbulent life to be both pitied and envied, and a book to be savored and reread.