Thursday, 4 September 2008

My Thoughts: A Portrait in Sepia by Isabel Allende

A Portrait is Sepia has made me want to devour the rest of Isabel Allende's work. The novel tells the tale of a young girl's life through to adulthood. Aurora is born an orphan, her father had disowned her whilst she was still in the womb and her mother died within hours of her birth. But Aurora will never be alone, she spends the first five years of her life in the constant care of her grandfather Tao. Not for one second can a girl child be left alone in Chinatown, there is too greater risk of a kidnapping and a life in training as a prostitute. For five years Tao is her world.

When he dies she is taken by her grandmother and left with her paternal grandmother; a woman she has no recollection of meeting, a business woman in a world where women stay at home, a women with a huge ornate golden bed. Aurora's grandmother, Paulina, is one of the richest women in San Francisco, a vast number of business deals have left her with a mansion, a cheating husband and lazy, unloving sons. She is not used to caring for anyone, when suddenly this small and emotionally demading child enters her house, a child wracked with shyness and nightmares.

As time passes Aurora becomes used to her new grandmother, and used to the lavish lifestyle that she grows accustomed too. The family move back to Chile, surrounding Aurora with a whole host of relatives, many of whom are ahead of their times: Nivea, who learnt sexual seduction from novels and uses it to bring her husband from the brink of death, and the politcally led men and women who live within her grandmother's house.

Still suffering with her shyness, Aurora develops a passion for photography, which she uses to see the truth about life, a passion which in later life reveals the reason why her husband is so unloving towards her. When she marries she moves away and starts a new life, yet the marriage is short lived she is soon back in Chile, living the life of a seperated woman, with a secret lover in tow.

Allende fills this novel with strong powerful women, women who defy the demands of society and fulfill their needs and wishes. This maybe a feminist comment yet Allende's women are only capable of loving one person, sometimes to the detriment of their love for their own children. The men on the otherhand vary between the saintly, who worship the women they are with to those less desirable types who are too self absorbed. It was like Allende reversed societies judgements, normally powerful man are praised but powerful women are not trusted, but not in this novel.

A Portrait in Sepia contains characters, and descendents of characters from some of Allende's other novels, as I'm fairly new to Allende I had only read one of these novels, but even if I hadn't read any this would still be a fantastic book, because the history of what has gone before to influence their lives is explained in the novel.
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