Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Maya's Notebook

Hi everyone,

I didn't intend to read two Isabel Allende books in a row, but before I knew it, she had a new book out. The last book I read, The Sum of Our Days, was about 6 months ago, and I hadn't picked up another book until now. Isabel Allende gets me to read.

May 1st, she appeared at an event for National Geographic Live! at the National Geographic Society. I bought a ticket, thinking she was going to talk about her travels because the interviewer, Don George, is editor at-large of Traveler magazine. They are old friends since she contributed to a book he edited called Better Than Fiction: True Travel Tales From Great Fiction Writers. In the event description I saw, they only mentioned his book, not hers. But, when I got there, I found her latest effort, Maya's Notebook, on display and snatched it up.

The heroine of this story is Maya Vidal, a teenager whose life crumbles when her grandfather dies of cancer. Lost without him, she begins to drink and steal. When she runs away from home, she gets into worse trouble, suffering horrific sexual assault, battling alcohol and drug addiction, and entangling in serious criminal activity. To escape the shady characters of her past and impending federal charges, Maya is sent by her grandmother to Chiloe, an island off mainland Chile. With little connection to the outside world, this quiet place helps Maya come to terms with her past and dream of a brighter future.

As with all Isabel Allende books, a cast of colorful characters helps Maya along the way. Burdened by their own problems, she helps her new friends uncover their own histories and hidden connections so that they can all move forward in their lives. The layers of hardship peel off Maya and those around her as she reconnects with who she used to be before tragedy struck and addiction took over. No one starts out that way.

I started this book at a slow pace, impatient to find out why Maya is on a plane, headed to a far off island. But that structure gave way to plenty of  mystery and cliffhangers: The story skips around as Maya writes about her present, past, and family. The reasons for why she is the way she is, where she's been, and where's she's going are revealed when she gets to them. The people she meets along the way are similarly introduced with their co-occurring stories. Soon enough, you won't be able to put the book down. And, don't worry, it'll all comes together as only Isabel Allende can make it.

In person, Isabel Allende is a warm, inviting spirit who chats like she's known you forever. I suppose that's what makes her such a great storyteller. After rattling off a detailed account of this book's wild plot, impressing the interviewer into momentary speechlessness, she quipped, "A good idea, isn't it?" Despite catching a cold while traveling on her book tour, she still made us feel appreciated: "I love to see you. I love this part [of touring]. You all love me, so why wouldn't I want to come here? But getting here is a pain."

And, as usual, she kept us laughing: Acknowledging her best-selling author status, she credited Oprah, who selected her book Daughter of Fortune for her book club. (Read it!) In addition to the initial 150,000 copies of that book already printed, 600,000 more were instantly ordered and ready within the week. She nodded at our gasps, "That shows you the power of Oprah!" When asked whether she missed her privacy since becoming a famous author, she shook her head, "I'm famous among people who read. There are very few. I'm not a rock star."

 Here's an excerpt from the National Geographic Live! event, so you can get a taste for yourself.

I'm disappointed they didn't show here how enamored Don George is with Isabel Allende, which was endearing in the Chris Farley sort of way. Early on, this happened:
Don: "Having you in my life is one of the great treasures and riches of my life."
Isabel: "Oh God! Maybe you are my Plan B!"
Don: "Oh, wow! What an honor! I should put that in my bio!"

If you watched the video above, you know that at the end, he asks her what her dream is. What they edited out is that, after responding, she asks him the same question.
Isabel: And, what is your dream?
Don: For this to go on forever and ever.
Amen to that!


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