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Portrait in Sepia (2000)

by Isabel Allende

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3,713612,559 (3.69)121
"With her earliest memories erased by a brutal trauma, Aurora del Valle is raised amid great wealth in Chile by her shrewd, commanding grandmother. But her nights are tormented by a nightmare set in San Francisco's Chinatown. Now, reaching womanhood and thrust into a marriage that quickly leaves her disillusioned, she begins a search for her missing years and unwinds a twisted saga linking three generations of a powerful family to a courageous Chinese physician and Eliza Sommers, a protagonist of Allende's Daughter of fortune, in a tale that explores the complexity of passion, the power of memory, and a woman's emerging self."--Container sleeve.… (more)
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» See also 121 mentions

English (47)  Spanish (4)  Dutch (4)  French (2)  Lithuanian (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Italian (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (61)
Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
I have to give this two stars and no more because, ultimately, I don't think it held together very well. Making Aurora Del Valle the narrator, rather than opting for a third-person narration like in Daughter of Fortune, left Aurora narrating lots of things she wasn't present for and has no realistic way of knowing the details of. It didn't work.

And furthermore, Aurora Del Valle just isn't that interesting. She's surrounded by interesting people, but she doesn't have much going for her herself – only her love of photography which didn't interest me at all. She's no Eliza Sommers.

I liked some things about this book. I liked that we finally got to see Eliza Sommers and Tao Chi'en consummate their love, although it would have been nice to see at the end of the last book. I got invested in hating Matías Del Valle (Aurora's biological father), was pleased to see him meet his doom, and I liked Severo and Nivea. I don't remember The House of the Spirits very well, so it took a long time before I remembered what role they played in that book, but I was almost tempted to put it on the "to reread" list to see what happened to them. Maybe one day.

I have to say that this book was better as a sequel to Daughter of Fortune than as a prequel to House of the Spirits. The latter draws on the magical realism tradition, unlike the other two, which are straight historical fiction. This leaves Aurora, in this book, having to say things like, "and then the strangest thing happened, wouldn't you believe it, and this child had green skin! if only I'd had my camera…" It stood out and bothered me, I guess.

I did read this in Spanish, but I was too lazy to review it in that language (mostly I got stuck on how to translate "held together" from the first sentence of this review, so I gave up). The Spanish wasn't too tricky, although as always, it slowed down my reading. Overall, you might as well read it if you finished Daughter of Fortune and feel cheated by the ending, but otherwise it's not that great. (Mar 2014) ( )
  Jayeless | May 27, 2020 |
Read 2015. ( )
  sasameyuki | May 7, 2020 |
This is the follow on to Allende's 'Daughter of Fortune', which I read 13 years ago. Bits returned to me as I read, but you can read this as a standalone work.
Took me a while to get into it, but it really is very well written, full of vivid characters and with a definite South American, magic realism feel to it. It's a family tale: the lovely daughter of a Chinese herbalist and an American pastry shop owner becomes involved with the syphilitic som of a wealthy Chilean family, headed by the matriarch Paulina del Valle (ably assisted by Williams, the butler.) The fall out, the events...war, unhappy marriages, the rediscovery of long lost characters...all comes together to make a truly lovely read. ( )
  starbox | Jul 16, 2019 |
In a meandering journey over decades and continents, the life of a family is explored, including all its unusual secrets and strained relations against diverse backdrops of war, racism, and illness.

This book was sitting on my bookshelf for quite some time, and I was looking forward to reading it when we chose Allende as the author for the Monthly Author Reads group. Unfortunately, it fell flat for me. I kept waiting for something happen, but the book never really seemed to pick up steam. It seems like Allende was working up to a big reveal at the end, except the reveal wasn't particularly surprising.

Allende obviously has talent, but this title at least was not particularly in my favorite writing style -- her sentences are lengthy, paragraphs go on for pages, and there aren't really chapter divisions. It felt very dense to get through and too much like "work" instead of enjoyment.

The characters were interesting and quirky, but sometimes felt a little one-dimensional. In addition, because the book kept jumping around in time (and small perspective shifts as well), it felt difficult to get a real handle on a character as they kept being reintroduced. I later found out this book is technically a sequel to one of Allende's other titles, so perhaps reading that first might have helped. However, I just don't think it was my cup of tea. ( )
  sweetiegherkin | Dec 24, 2018 |
Allende weaves an intricate tale around the diverse cultures of Chile, America, China and England while also recounting a very personal story. ( )
  ElizabethCromb | Jun 30, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (30 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Isabel Allendeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Brown, BlairNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Juan, AnaCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kolanoske, LieselotteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
And that's why I have to go back
to so many places in the future,
there to find myself
and constantly examine myself
with no witness but the moon
and then whistle with joy,
ambling over rocks and clods of earth,
with no task but to live,
with no family but the road.


     --Pablo Neruda, End of the World (Wind)
Dedication
For Carmen Balcells and Ramon Huidobro,
two lions born on the same day,
forever alive.
First words
I came into the world one Tuesday in the autumn of 1880, in San Francisco, in the home of my maternal grandparents.
Quotations
My mother never takes a stitch with an unthreaded needle.
Nothing is free in this world. You would pay a very dear price for those trinkets.
… she believed that photography and painting are not competing arts but basically different: the painter interprets reality, and the camera captures it. In the former everything is fiction, while the second is the sum of the real plus the sensibility of the photographer.
In the anguish of identifying what was lacking in me, I devoted hours and hours to shooting self-portraits, some before a large mirror I had brought to my studio, others standing before the camera. I took hundreds of photographs; in some I am dressed, in some I’m naked; I examined myself from every angle, and the only thing I discovered was a crepuscular sadness.
Memory is fiction. We select the brightest and the darkest, ignoring what we are ashamed of, and so embroider the broad tapestry of our lives. Through photography and the written word I try desperately to conquer the transitory nature of my existence, to trap moments before they evanesce, to untangle the confusion of my past.
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Wikipedia in English (1)

"With her earliest memories erased by a brutal trauma, Aurora del Valle is raised amid great wealth in Chile by her shrewd, commanding grandmother. But her nights are tormented by a nightmare set in San Francisco's Chinatown. Now, reaching womanhood and thrust into a marriage that quickly leaves her disillusioned, she begins a search for her missing years and unwinds a twisted saga linking three generations of a powerful family to a courageous Chinese physician and Eliza Sommers, a protagonist of Allende's Daughter of fortune, in a tale that explores the complexity of passion, the power of memory, and a woman's emerging self."--Container sleeve.

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