10. Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende
I went into this book with certain expectations, but also having been just previously bowled over by Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. This book is on a much calmer, somewhat mystical level, so I got into it slowly, less rabidly.
In the past couple of years, I read both The House of the Spirits and Eva Luna. Allende hasn't disappointed me yet. Her books share some very strong common elements; focus on character development, "magical realism" (I think the term is ambiguous, but it will do for now), and some form of political activism. Daughter of Fortune fits the bill.
I would say, however, that this is lighter than her other books, and the main character, Eliza Sommers, is the most "normal" of all her protagonists I've met so far. Allende also limited the cast of characters to a comparative few this time.
Eliza grows up as an orphan in Chile. She is the adopted daughter of a rich British lady, Miss Rose Sommers. Her childhood world is intoxicating (Eliza learns to become a marvelous cook), but also a little stifling for her adventurous spirit.Then, Eliza falls in love. And follows her lover to the California Gold Rush.
The other main character is Tao Chi'en, a Chinese herbal doctor who also finds himself in California. China seems to be a bit out of the way of the thoroughly South American Allende, but somehow I don't doubt her insights. Probably the most valuable part of the book is the picture of Chinese life at the time, and how the Chinese brought and adapted their culture to California.
Daughter of Fortune was a relaxing read, and certainly encouraged me to read more of Allende's work.