And what I’ve learned about Chilean history from Isabel Allende tends to be very sad indeed. Portrait in Sepia, like any of Allende’s books, is beautiful and sad and wonderful. I loved it and couldn’t put it down.
“Each of us chooses the tone for telling his or her own story. I would like to choose the durable clarity of a platinum print, but nothing in my destiny possesses the luminosity. I live among diffuse shadings, veiled mysteries, uncertainties; the tone of telling my life is closer to that of a portrait in sepia.”
The book is broken into three sections: the first takes place primarily in San Francisco, in the mid 1800s, and describes how our main character, Aurora, comes to be. In the second section, we watch her grow up alongside her powerful, intelligent grandmother (powerful women is what Allende does best, along with, you know, heartbreaking sorrow) in Chile. The third section covers Aurora’s adult life, and we watch her become a powerful, intelligent woman in her own right.
The cover teases the “mystery event” that erases the first five years of Aurora’s life from her memory, since she can’t remember anything beyond her first days in the care of her grandmother after this event takes place. However, the reader knows most of what happened during those years, although not the “event” itself, so there’s not a powerful need to know what happened (in fact, by the time it’s revealed at the end, I’d half forgotten that any pieces of Aurora’s history were missing). Instead, for me, I wanted to see what happened to Aurora in her new home, and what incredible thing Paulina (Aurora’s grandmother, a woman who has made some mistakes but still rules her life like no other woman at the time) was going to do next.