Title : Daughter of Fortune
Writer : Isabel Allende
Year : 1999 (Indonesian edition first published in 2009 by Gramedia Pustaka Utama)
Language : Spanish (translated from the English edition into Indonesian by Eko Indriantanto)
As The House of the Spirits did before, Daughter of Fortune very much astonished me. Though at first I was quite disappointed by the general similarities with the The House of the Spirits in certain aspects some early chapters, Daughter of Fortune turned out to be amazing and amazed me ‘til I dazed.
Eliza, an orphan girl whose parents are unknown, put into the lap of the Sommers family. They raise her without telling her who actually her parents are and make her into a lady of manner. That, until she meets a labor guy named Joaquín Andieta. She knows from the very first time that he is her first and forever love, and then they involve in a passionate forbidden love affair. But the news of gold rush soon comes to Chile, and everyone is in desire to get rich instantly by digging gold. Every man are ready to go to California following their fate, and Joaquín Andieta is no exception.
Pregnant, Eliza goes following her love to the land of gold two months later with the help of a Chinese cook working with her uncle, Captain John Sommers. Tao Chi’en, the cook, thinks that this girl must be crazy enough to go across the sea just to see her boyfriend. Ha cannot say no when Eliza asks him to smuggle her into his ship. Tao Chi’en agrees, but they do not realize yet that Eliza’s request will lead them into a different story they think they know.
This novel may not actually be about love story. I’d rather say that Daughter of Fortune is decorated with love story. In my opinion, its main idea is the history of gold rush taking place in California like a hundred year ago or so. It’s about the coming of various people from around the world—which then make the idea of the “melting pot” alive—the pride and prejudice toward each other, about the racial conflicts, about women and the life they have to live, about business opportunities, about the growing cities. I think Daughter of Fortune is more about history rather than love story. Though we are obviously reading the electrical attraction between Eliza Sommers and Tao Chi’en, also about Eliza’s search for Joaquín and her doubtful heart, I don’t think it’s truly about love. The way I read it, it’s more like the “more or less” history of what shaped California at that time, and more than that, what shaped America now. Even if it talks about love a bit, it’s more about love without any boundaries, even race and culture.
What’s more about this novel is its characters. Like always, I assume, Isabel Allende is one of the experts of exploring people’s characters, especially seen from the side of their race and culture. In The House of the Spirits, Allende described the character of Clara as the one having spiritual power to represent her idea of magical-realism. Here in Daughter of Fortune, Allende puts the character of Tao Chi’en as her “tool” to represent that so-her-idea. What amazed me so much, Allende didn’t put the character of Tao Chi’en there just because he’s Chinese and thus automatically would bring the magical/spiritual idea (you know, Chinese believe in ghost, reincarnation, magical power and so on) into the story, but Allende patiently wrote the cultural background of Tao Chi’en as a Chinese to make his appearance sensical in a cultural way. Well, those of you who are not patient in reading this kind of book, you’ll find yourself bored reading two dull full chapters about Tao Chi’en. But that’s the high point instead, I think. Once you read it, you’ll get the magical/spiritual idea.
This book is also about being a woman. Sometimes women (especially women of that period) cannot know what to make of the world. Eliza is once forced pretending to be a man, and then she writes to Tao:
“Being a man is boring, but being a woman is even worse.”
In a period where women have to live in a very strict way, either in Western or in the Eastern world, you don’t have much choices to take, so little decisions to make. Either you end up being married or being a spinster, there’s not much you can do. Other choices can be worse than anything: sold, forced to become prostitutes, forced to become slaves. Women who do not have any power, or rather who do not know her own power inside, are forced to live under men’s guide and rules. Some men may think differently, but most may not.
Daughter of Fortune is a great story, minus the heart-wrenching love story, though. I was so caught that I thought myself “fortunate” to have read this book. I’m looking forward to read Portrait in Sepia now. It’s the last of the Tripartite by Isabel Allende. Well, in reading order, its story ran after Daughter of Fortune, and should have been the prequel of The House of the Spirits.