There is always something magical about South-American writers. They seem not to have forgotten how to write a novel – that it takes a story, then some chuzpa telling it, and a pinch of mystique in the presentation. All those things together make a compelling world in which you can get lost no matter where your physical self is.
The young Marquez had the gift, as the gigantic Isabel Allende. When you read their stories, they sound a lot alike: full of characters that are always described with humor in the mind; redolent with thoughtful and thoroughly researched descriptions of worlds the author does not know; filled with tension that finds its release on time, and slowdowns that never last too long.
Not many authors can do that well. Tolkien comes to mind, who could be the honorary patron of these Spanish writers. Capote would be the closest I can associate here in the States. Maybe Michener on a good day.
Daughter of Fortune is a wonderful book. It moves with ease between Chile and the wild California, describing two worlds – one that I know firsthand, the other one completely foreign to me – that come alive with a vengeance in the author's lustful description.
Sure, it's a chick book: the heroines are all beautiful and chaste, the men all chivalrous and unchaste until their loved one dies. It's a bit of a bore if you look at it from the viewpoint of the main characters. So you have to indulge in the surroundings: where they are, what they do, who they interact with. The atrocious inequalities in the California of the Gold Rush come to the fore with the same violence as the classist nature of Chile at the same time. The poverty surrounding all characters is palpable and real, and the contrast with the riches of the protagonists is appropriate, if reproachful.
The translation leaves a lot to be desired, as it isneither faithful, nor accurate. Once in a while, you'll read a sentence in English, hear what it would have been in Spanish, and you are blown away by what it should have sounded like. And you realize it's poetry in novel.