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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Monday, November 10, 2003

Portrait in Sepia by Isabel Allende. Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Sayers Peden. New York : HarperCollins, 2001. ISBN: 0-06-093636-3 (pbk.)

This is definitely one of the best novels I've read in years. I resisted it initially, since Allende is one of those "politically correct" novelists often featured as a speaker at the American Library Association's annual convention, and other similar events, and surely someone who is revered in that manner must be at least a little bit boring to actually read. Quite the contrary. This book is a genuine page-turner, and not in the sense of mystery or suspense, but in the sense that it just pulls you along in an utterly irresistible fashion, with characters so compelling that you just have to know more about them.

The primary character begins her life in late 19th century San Francisco, with one grandparent who is Chinese, one English, and two Chilean. She spends the first years of her childhood in San Francisco, but later, as a teen, moves to Chile. This recital of the bare bones may sound prosaic, but the resulting intersection of divergent cultures, set in a bygone era, gives a truly exotic and compelling backdrop for this tale of self-discovery and character development.

These brief notes provide a woefully inadequate description of the book. Nevertheless, I promise that you will not be disappointed if you take it up. This book demands to be read, enjoyed, and savored.

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