The Sum of Our Days – Isabel Allende

February 11, 2010 § 10 Comments

There is no lack of drama in my life, I have more than enough three-ring-circus material for writing…

The Sum of Our Days is more or less a sequel to Isabel Allende’s earlier memoir, Paula, which was written very shortly after her daugther Paula passed away. This book, she wrote 13 years after that fateful incident, in which she describes to Paula’s spirit the things that have happened after her death.

Just like the opening sentence of the book that I quoted above, Allende’s life is one that is so full of drama and happenings, that it almost feels unbelievable. Just when you think things will start to cool off, or at least calm down a little, the speed picks up again, and you get the feeling like you’re being thrown into a whirlwind, being pushed and sucked in all different directions, completely out of your own control. It’s a big family, what Allende sentimentally calls her tribe, a matriach where the women are the gutsiest characters you’d ever meet.

The book also felt like a small opening into the many thoughts that must float through her head. With everything that goes on in her life, she sticks to her guns with the stubbornness to rival a mule (with its four legs pinned to the ground), meddles in the affairs of her children, her husband’s children, her children’s spouses, her friends and her grandchildren, and yet she does not ever deny her own faults or mistakes. She’s a strong woman, and she knows this well.

I could feel Allende’s spirit and personality throughout the entire book. It read like an honest recollection of the things that have now come to past, but have played such important roles in shaping the family, the tribe, to what it is today. She talks about the various controversies, the many pitfalls, the numerous arguments she had had with family members, but she doesn’t dwell on them like a regretful damsel in distress, only too keen to cry over spilt milk. On the contrary, she tells her story just like how it happened, like little facts of her life that have built up over the years. She tells them like anecdotes, funny and witty, but her willfulness cannot be missed.

In high heels, I come up to the women’s breast bone and the men’s belly button; the waiters go by with their trays above my head. There is no advantage in being five feet tall, unless it’s that it’s easy to pick up things that fall to the floor, and in the era of the miniskirt I could make dresses from four of my first husband’s neckties.

She also made passing comments on the things that were happening during a certain period in time. For example, when the mayor of San Francisco tried to make same-sex union legal in 2004, to the outcry of some members of the public, this is what she had to say:

The first couple to be married was two women of eighty-some years, white-haired feminists who had lived together for more than fifty years, and the second was two men, each of whom was carrying a baby in a sling on his chest: adopted twins. The people in that long line wanted a normal life, to raise children, buy a house, inherit from a mate, and be together at the hour of death. No family values there, obviously.

She is a person with strong convictions, and these come across very clearly in her writing. I’m now curious about how her fiction works are like, and am also rather interested to read Paula. Though I have a feeling that she’s going to have to wait for a bit. I’m not myself such a strong character, and she did feel a little overwhelming, a little self-indulgent at times. But there is no doubt about it; this book makes it clear that she believes women need to know how to protect themselves. Women need to know to have fun, to break out of the stereotypical walls that hold them in, and to live each of their days to the very best they know how.

Rating: 4

For: Women Unbound Challenge

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