Isabel Allende

Daughter Of Fortune

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Daughter Of Fortune Summary

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Daughter of Fortune, first published in Spanish in 1998 (Hija de la fortuna), is Isabel Allende’s fifth novel. It is the story of a young woman, Eliza Sommers, and her odyssey of self-discovery. A sequel, titled Portrait in Sepia, focusing on Eliza’s granddaughter followed in 2000.

When Eliza was a baby, she was deposited on the doorstep of Rose and Jeremy Sommers, a brother and sister who had immigrated to Valparaiso, Chile from England. Their sea captain brother, John, immigrated with them as well. The trio take Eliza in and rear her as their own. They receive a lot of assistance with raising the child from Mama Fresia, the head of the household’s servants, but Rose continues to take great interested in the upbringing of Eliza. As Eliza grows up, it is important to Rose that she marries into a good position and acquires all necessary social graces. Eliza, however, falls in love with Joaquin Andieta, a poor shipping clerk who works in her uncle’s company.

Joaquin is well aware that he would not, due to his position in society, be accepted as a husband for Eliza. He decides to attempt to change his lot in life when news of the California gold rush of 1849 arrives. He sees this as an opportunity to raise his social stature and departs to seek his fortune in America. Shortly after Joaquin leaves Chile, Eliza discovers that she is pregnant and, without her family’s knowledge, heads for the Valparaiso port to find a way to obtain passage to California. Recently, she had become acquainted with the cook Tao Chi’en from her Uncle John’s ship. She happens upon him at the port, and he helps her become a stowaway on a ship that is heading for San Francisco, California. It is learned that Tao came out of a life of poverty to an apprenticeship with a successful acupuncturist. He was once married to a girl named Lin who died shortly after they were wed. Her spirit visits him from time to time to assist him in difficult situations.Tao obtains a position for himself on the vessel as a cook. While on the voyage, Eliza falls ill and loses the baby. Tao takes care of her through the ordeal.

Upon arriving in San Francisco, they find themselves in a frontier town populated almost exclusively by males. Feeling that he cannot abandon her there, they decide to disguise her as a Chinese boy and pass her off as Tao’s brother. Together they begin looking for Joaquin.

They try to amass as much information as they can about the area, especially about the mines and life as it relates to them, as they comb the Chilean and Chinese communities that have been developing in the region. Tao becomes somewhat disillusioned with America when he sees some of the seedy side of life. As they continue to spend time together, their friendship grows more intense. Back in Valparaiso, Rose and Jeremy are shocked by the disappearance of Eliza. John asks them about her, at which point a secret that she and John had kept from Jeremy is revealed. John is actually Eliza’s father, the result of an affair he had with a Chilean woman. John has a feeling that Eliza might have gone to San Francisco. He obtains funding from his employer and sets sail for San Francisco to search for his daughter.

After searching the populated areas, Eliza decides that she must now continue her search for Joaquin in the less developed wilderness. She is still pretending to be male as she travels around and says she is looking for her brother. There are possible leads as time goes on, but she does not find her lover. While in the wilderness, Eliza has many experiences and manages to stay in touch with Tao who is working in San Francisco to save enough money to return to China. Eventually Tao catches up with her and gets her to leave the wilderness and return with him to San Francisco. As the city grows around them, Tao and Eliza live and work together, but their relationship remains platonic. Toward the end of the story, Eliza decides to write to Rose to let her know she is all right. Eliza does not abandon her search and hopes of finding Joaquin, but she no longer desires him as she once did. Now that she has had more than a taste of freedom, it is difficult for her to picture herself as his wife. In time, a Joaquin Murieta is killed and his head preserved. Eliza goes to find out if could have actually been Joaquin Andieta who was shot. California continues to grow as does Eliza, who leaves her false male self behind, becoming a self-assured woman in a completely new world.