After having enjoyed Isabel Allende´s first autobiography ¨My invented country¨ in which she tells the story of her life in Chile, I was keen to read the ¨ The sum of our days¨ which covers her second life in USA, with her second husband.
Isable has narrated her real life like a fascinating fiction. The autobiography reads like a novel. She entertains and amuses the reader making fun of her life, her beliefs and idiosyncracies. She bares her soul and shares her thoughts on love, marriage and family. She pokes fun at her practice of going to astrologers to know about future. She is a member of the ¨Sisters of Disorder¨, who get together and pray for solutions to the problems of others. Her family members and friends are as colourful as the characters in her novels. Their eccentricities and eclectism are fodder for Isabel´s story telling. There are events and experience which make the readers laugh, cry and reflect.
Some of the events in her life are shocking. For example Celia , her daughter -in -law discovers she is a lesbian and moves away with Sally, the girlfriend of the son of her husband from previous marriage. Both Celia and Sally had lived in the same house of Isabel and Sally was in fact working as secretary to Isabel. Celia leaves her three children to be taken care of by Nico, the son of Isabel, who cannot get over the shock. But Isabel not only continues her friendship with Celia but she even takes the side of Celia and supports her to the annoyance of her son. Before this conversion, Celia was a gay-baiter with very strong views and prejudices. Afterwards, Celia not only practises lesbianism but actively preaches the advantages of gay love. She advocates that everyone should try it and says that it is much better than being heterosexual.
Isabel talks candidly about how desperately she was looking for a second husband afer her arrival in US. She found Willie, who had a dysfunctional family, and was the right fit for her. Still, the relationship goes through ups and downs, with the Chilean way of life and the American approach colliding inevitably. The couple have to go for therapies to save the marriage. But Isabel is content with her choice of husband and in any case it is too late in life for her to think of another one. Willie, who is a compassionate lawyer later becomes a writer and gets his books published. Isabel ends the book reaffirming her love for Willie, saying ¨the sum of our lives, our shared pains and joys, was now our destiny¨.
Willie has built a new house on a hill in San Francisco in the Chilean style and named it as ¨House of Spirits¨, the same name as her first novel which made her famous. Sure, the furniture moves at night and there are odd sounds confirming the spirits in the air ! Isabel describes the house as her Taj Mahal.
Willie´s daugter Jennifer becomes a drug addict and is abused by other drug addicts. Eventually she disappears from the hospital after giving birth to a child. She is believed to have died. Willie is devastated by this tragedy. Isabel takes on the responsibility of taking care of the child. Later, the child is adopted by a lesbian couple.
While Isabel is quick to come to the rescue of the victims of tragedies around her, she is unable to overcome the loss of her daughter Paula, who died suddenly of a disease, after her marriage. Isabel has written a separate book ¨Paula¨. The pain felt by the loss of her daughter is a recurring theme throughout the book and her life, of course.
Isabel implants in California her Chilean system of family by bringing in relatives to live with her. She calls them as her tribe. She goes out of her way to help them and at the same time freely interferes in the lives of the members of her tribe , like a typical Chilean matriarch. It is interesting that her mother who lives in Chile is her soulmate. She is in constant correspondence with Isabel, giving news of Chile and advising her even on the family issues of San Francisco.
The cosmoplitan and avante- garde San Franciso is perfect setting for Isabel´s life and the incredible adventures and misadventures of her extended family. Isabel gives a glimpse of the life in the city through the experience of her friends. She describes the Bohemian lifestyle and love affairs of Tabra, which are equally interesting. Tabra, who makes a living by making and selling artificial jewellery finds USA as an unsuitable place for her convictions and ideals and eventually moves away to Bali. She tries countless blind dates and courts disasters and disapoointment. She receives applications from young studs seeking to be kept by mature and moneyed women. Her Mexican boyfriend, whom Isabel describes as ¨Plumed Lizard¨pursues restoration of the throne of Montezuma, the last Aztec king.
The only disappointment for me as an Indian is Isabel´s superficial and silly dismissal of India in a couple of pages. Even before her travel , she says she would not be able to bear the legendary poverty of India. Her daughter Paula had visited India and told Isabel that India was the richest source of inspiration for a writer. But what Isabel experienced in India was just perspiration and saw it purely from a materialistic point of view and not at all as a writer. She enjoys, of course, shopping in Delhi and stay in a palace hotel in Jaipur. She tells a horrible story of how an Indian woman tried to give away her female baby to her, because female child is unwanted in India. This is not ony bullshit but it should be a plain lie and dishonesty of Isabel to concoct this story. No Indian woman will ever give away her baby to a foreigner passing by, as she has described. Isabel's India visit is cut short by the midnight telefone call from her daughter in law announcing her bisexuality. Thus,India falls in a few paras between the lie of an Indian woman trying to leave her child with Isabel and the truth of the bisexuality of her daughter in law.
Isabel Allende is not the first Chilean writer to look down on India. Pablo Neruda, in his autobiography, has also dismissed India in a few prejudiced Naipulistic words, after having visited India twice. It is a pity that both of them have been so materialistic and arrogant when it comes to India and blind to the culture and spirit of India. During the visit of Chilean President Lagos to India in 2005, I quoted a poem of Pablo Neruda in the draft banquet speech by Indian President. But Mr Natwar Singh , who was External Affairs Minister at that time cut out the quotation. He disliked Neruda, whom he had met and found his uncharitable view of India. Never mind ..... This should not diminish the greatness of the two Chilean writers, whose books I have enjoyed. I bought many books of these two authors in Bangalore and Chennai.