Life goes on

2008-11-26 00:00

ALTHOUGH there have been other books in between, The Sum of Our Days follows on chronologically from Isabel Allende’s memoir Paula, which told of her daughter’s illness and death, at the age of 28, from complications of the genetic condition porphyria.

This new book is in essence a conversation with Paula, bringing her up to date with all that has happened in Allende’s extended family, or “tribe” as she calls them, since Paula’s death. And what a tribe they are: children, stepchildren, grandchildren, grandparents, aunts, inlaws, outlaws, friends and employees who are as close as family. There’s even a mail-order bride from China and, given that this is Allende — author of The House of Spirits and My Invented Country — a few ghosts and spirit apparitions.

The tribe is a colourful, eccentric, flawed but beguiling group of people who, through Allende’s lyrical writing, draw the reader into their soap-opera lives. They fall in and out of love, experience bankruptcy and business success, adopt a baby born to a drug addict, travel to remote parts of India and South America, and survive the trauma that is unsuccessful artificial insemination. And then there’s the saga of the silicone boobs …

But through all the hurly-burly and the shenanigans there are two dominant themes: loss and love. Paula’s death left an aching void in Allende’s life and writing this memoir is one way of trying to work through the pain. The other is what she has written about — the gathering of her tribe around her, wrapping herself in their collective warmth and caring, meddling in their affairs and filling her house with tempestuous Latin temperaments and boundless affection.

Thanks to 13 years’ worth of letters exchanged daily with her mother, who lives in Chile, the minutiae of daily life that most of us forget as time passes is recorded in vibrant, living colour by a gifted writer. I loved it.

Diana Procter

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