I love how supportive the Cannonball community is with the constant reassurance one doesn’t have to review everything read and that it’s okay to not finish a book. Historically, I have been a finisher of books. Then I started reading Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James for Cannonball Bingo 2020. Thirty-six pages in I quit because I could not handle the near constant parade of sex, bodily fluids, violence, and disparaging remarks about boys who are actually girls and vice versa. That was an easy book to quit as it made me so uncomfortable. Daughter of Fortune is a book that in the past I would have trudged through but Cannonball has given me permission to not do so, and here is why I stopped.
A few months ago I got a free audio book download from Libro.fm. I’m fairly certain it was due to a cross promotion with my independent bookstore. Daughter of Fortune was on the list and it sounded interesting as it was described as telling the story of the California gold rush from a different perspective (ie not a White male protagonist of European descent) and more accurately depict the people who surrounded it (they weren’t all White men!). Eliza is a Chilean foundling orphan raised by the English woman, Miss Rose Summers, along with her brothers Jeremy and John, in the Chilean port city of Valparaiso. It is here that teenage Eliza falls in love with Joaquin Andieta. When gold fever strikes, Joaquin sets out to San Francisco to make his fortune. Despondent from being separated and with no desire to become a proper English lady as the Summers have intended, Eliza runs away to the gold fields to find her beloved.
At the point of Eliza running away, I decided it was time to stop and move on to something else. It is a meandering story that moves forward at a glacial pace due to having to tell EVERYONE’s back story. The book may open with the conflicting tales of how Eliza was found as an infant but then completely switches to tell the story of Jacob Todd. We learn about what has brought him to Valparaiso, what his life is like in the first few years living in Valparaiso, his doomed one-sided love for Miss Rose Summers, and the history of that relationship many years in the future. This is a regular feature, the continual shifting back and forth in time when telling a person’s story, and I did not care for it. After all that is gotten out of the way, we learn a little bit more about Eliza as a child. But then we get the backstory, and forward jumps, with almost every other person in Eliza’s life.
That in and of itself wouldn’t necessarily be so bad but within characters’ histories, there is often another person’s backstory, and sometimes even a third person. It’s like a Russian nesting doll of people. For instance, in one of Rose’s flashbacks we also get the history of the Italian tenor she had an affair with when she was a teenager. But within his narrative we also get the history of his patron. I suppose this is to show the web of how people influence one another and how that trickles down to Eliza. Unfortunately, all these stories means that there is very little forward momentum of Eliza’s story.
Perhaps the story picks up pace when Eliza reaches California. Perhaps we don’t need so much personal history with each new person in Eliza’s orbit as they don’t relate to her formative years. But at track fourteen out of twenty-seven, I was done. I don’t necessarily think Daughter of Fortune is a bad book, the narrative style was not for me. If you have more patience for a very slow moving story, that tells you everyone’s back story and often future events, this might be for you.
Note: Isabel Allende is Chilean American and Daughter of Fortune was originally published in Spanish.