Isabel Allende’s Portrait in Sepia, which I read earlier this year, is the sequel to Daughter of Fortune. I read them in the wrong order, but it doesn’t matter too much in this case. In Portrait in Sepia, we find out what happens to Eliza’s granddaughter, Aurora del Valle — a young lady being raised in San Francisco. In Daughter of Fortune, we learn how Eliza Sommers made it there in the first place.
“She has a fixation on love. Strong trouble. The girl left her window open one clear night and it crawled into her body while she was asleep. There’s no spell can cure it.”
Found as an infant on a doorstep in Chile, Eliza Sommers ends up being raised by a Victorian spinster named Rose, in a British colony in Chile in the early 1800s. Eliza’s childhood education combines Rose’s aristocratic British ways, and the housekeeper’s native superstitions. As a teenager, Eliza falls in love with her “uncle’s” employee — Joaquin — and when he runs away to California in the Gold Rush of 1849, she hops a boat and follows him. There she meets a Chinese physician named Tao Chien, who helps her dress as a man and continue her search when they land.
That’s the basic plot, but the real joy in this book comes from the characters and their backstories. We learn about Rose — what happened to her in Britain to shape her into the woman she became. The misery Tao Chien suffered in China, and how he came to the boat. The people Eliza meets in California — particularly the madam of a brother named Joe Bonecrusher — and the mystery of who Joaquin has become. It’s a beautiful story, and wonderfully told. I also love that my favorite character from Portrait in Sepia — Aurora’s other grandmother, Paulina del Valle — plays a big part in this book as well.