Set in mid nineteenth century covering four continents, innumerable races and languages this book is a translation from its original Spanish.
Eliza Sommers (mysterious origins) left on the doorstep of the Sommers residence - in a crate wrapped in a cardigan - and sometimes said in a basket with a mink blanket is brought up as the daughter of the house by Rose Sommers a spinster who is English and supposedly very correct. The other influence is huge is Mama Fresias an Indian servant from whom Eliza learns everything there is to know about culinary skills and native medicines.
At sixteen Eliza falls in love with an impoverished labourer knowing fully well that this alliance will not be tolerated by the Sommers. The liaison continues and Joaquim decides to join the Californian gold rush and disappears. Eliza follows in a cunningly detailed plot which is impossible to unravel, using skills she has hitherto not known she possessed.
Apart from Eliza whose character seems to be like Gemini - all the others occupying the Sommer residence seems to be similar. We have Rose seemingly correct with a hugely colorful past and future as well with her secret writings of erotica and then we have her brother John finally shown as Eliza's father which comes as a massive shock to the more orthodox brother Jeremy.
The book then turns to history which is brought magically alive. Again, my knowledge of the gold rush and the effect it had on America was almost zero. The discovery of gold and the people who came from far and near to exploit the mines, the miners and the way it changed that part of the world is beautifully written by Allende. The development and degradation of towns, the development of steam ships and the trade which resulted as a result of the gold rush are all documented with much detail.
The pursuit of Joaquin by Eliza and the story behind her travels in her trying to locate him is the main subject of the story.Involving very interesting characters from the Chinaman Tao to prostitutes with hearts of gold, a madam of a salon masquerading as a man Eliza's travels have a touch of fantasy and magic which make you want to see a happy outcome. Half way through the story we realize that Eliza is in pursuit of a dream because this is what she set out to do, her boats are burnt and there is no going back. She however has drifted away from her initial passionate love for him. Joaquin has turned vigilante and Eliza is never sure even at the end whether the vigilante Joaquin is her lover or not.
I am definitely going to look out for Allende's other books of which there are several - all coming highly recommended. This book was magic to read.