is a memoir by the Chilean writer Isabel Allende. Published in 1994, it was intended as a tribute to Allende’s daughter Paula, who died from medical complications related to porphyria in 1991. Allende began the book after Paula slipped into a coma due to her condition, intending it as a record of everything that Paula was missing which she could read after she recovered. However, after it became clear that Paula would not awake from the coma, Allende expanded the piece, adding on sections detailing episodes from Allende’s life and family history.
The book begins with Allende sitting at her daughter’s side in the hospital. She begins writing to Paula, adopting a format that is a cross between a letter and a series of diary entries. In between accounts of the day-to-day happenings at the hospital, Allende begins to discuss her personal and family history. She begins writing about her grandparents, who immigrated to Chile from Spain. Through a combination of luck, hard work, and good investments, they become wealthy.
She describes the whirlwind courtship between her grandfather Tata and grandmother Meme, who married when Meme was still very young. They had eight children, of whom Allende’s mother was the youngest, as well as the only girl. She fell in love with the rakish Tomas Allende, but Tata and Meme did not approve of the match. Tata took Allende’s mother to Spain to help her forget Tomas, but they were quickly forced to return home when World War II broke out.
Tomas wed Allende’s mother soon afterward, and then Tomas was given a position at the Chilean embassy in Peru. Allende’s mother was alone in a new country, and soon had several children to take care of. Tomas was involved in a scandal and lost his fortune, and Allende’s mother discreetly returned to Chile with Allende and her brothers.
In the next section, Allende discusses finding out that Paula was critically ill in the hospital. She talks about some of the logistics of caring for her, such as how she and her husband take shifts sitting up at Paula’s bedside. Allende worries that she is unable to let Paula go, and is envious of the way her husband is more able to accept that Paula’s fate is in God’s hands. Allende urges the doctors to take Paula off oxygen in an attempt to get her to recover from the coma. However, this has little effect on her condition.
Allende goes on to recount several other stories from her childhood and early life. She discusses moving back from Peru and being sent to various schools where she clashed with the nuns due to her stubbornness. When Meme dies, a distraught Allende tries to communicate with her spirit by leaving notes hidden around the house. She describes camping and hiking with her brothers, as well as going to see wrestling matches.
Eventually, Allende becomes aware that her mother is having an affair with the married Tio Ramon, Tomas’ uncle. Tio attempts to divorce his wife so he and Allende’s mother can be together, but the process is long and trying. Allende at first resents Ramon, but then comes to appreciate him as a father figure.
Next, Allende talks about the early days of her own marriage. She and her husband Michael receive scholarships to study in Europe. Paula has just been born, and so her parents take her along. Allende reconnects with her mother and Tio who are living in Switzerland, and the family travels all over Europe during holiday breaks.
Allende returns to Chile during the political upheaval of the 1960s. Her second cousin, Salvador Allende, is a leftist politician, and Allende takes a job writing for a women’s political magazine. She has several adventures, including meeting Pablo Neruda and being caught up in a scandal after she is identified while working undercover at a strip club for a piece she is writing. Allende considers herself politically liberated, but still a devoted wife and mother around the house.
Back in the hospital, Allende has spent so much time watching the nurses care for Paula that she is able to take care of many simple tasks such as moving and bathing her. Allende feels that she is breaking down and cannot take the pressure any longer. Soon, the doctors inform her that Paula has suffered brain damage and will likely never recover from her coma. Allende decides to fly Paula to her home in San Francisco where she can care for her.
Flashing back once more to the past, Allende talks about her divorce from her first husband and marriage to her second. She also discusses some of her early successes as a novelist and the book tours she went on around the United States and Europe.
By now, all of Paula’s medical equipment has been placed in Allende’s home in San Francisco. One night, Allende has a dream that Paula’s spirit visits her and begs Allende to let her go. However, Allende still cannot get over the pain or guilt she would feel if she did anything to hasten Paula’s impending death.
Finally, she is able to bring herself to read Paula’s will, which includes information about what to do in the event of her death, and is able to let herself mourn. Finally, Paula seems on the verge of death. The entire family gathers around her to talk, sing, and reminisce. Allende crawls into bed with Paula and holds her hand as she passes on.