Book review: Isabel Allende’s “Maya’s Notebook”

MayasNotebookNineteen-year-old Maya Vidal is in danger. She is sent to live to what seems like the end of the earth – Chilóe, a small island off the coast of Chile. And it’s there that she begins to find herself – a journey depicted in Isabel Allende’s newest novel Maya’s Notebook (Harper).

Maya, originally from Berkeley, Calif., has had a tough time since her beloved grandfather died from cancer. She turns to drugs and rapidly descends into a life of homelessness and crime – tangled in a web that involves the FBI, Interpol and a Las Vegas gang.

Her grandmother sends Maya to her native Chile to live in a town (population: 2,000) that seems disconnected from the world – the villagers can’t rent DVDs or video games and only see movies once a week at the school. Maya learns to like the villagers and adapts to their customs, such as the women’s gathering in a ruca on the nights of a full moon.

Maya’s Notebook requires some patience. The first 100 pages spend more time describing life in Chilóe and her family when I wanted to know how Maya got into such a mess. But my patience paid off, because when Maya finally revealed the secrets of her past, the story was a fast, fascinating read.

The book also draws it strength from Allende’s elegant writing, with inventive descriptions and metaphors, such as this:

“… Addiction is an astute and patient beast, with infinite resources, always lying in wait, whose strongest argument is persuading you to tell yourself you’re not really not an addict.”

Another great passage describes Manuel, a family friend who faces his own demons and secrets:

“On this blessed island nothing feeds my bad memories, but I make to an effort to write them down in this notebook so I won’t have to go through what happens to Manuel. He keeps his memories buried in a cave, and if he’s not careful, they attack him at night like rabid dogs.”

Beautiful writing – although, at times, I wondered if a 19-year-old brat would sound that sophisticated.

But those passages prove Allende’s excellence. She can make Maya a sympathetic character and take readers from the dangerous streets of Las Vegas to the humble town of Chilóe. Maya’s Notebook is an absorbing book that shows how one woman overcomes a life of terror.

AllendeMore about Isabel Allende:

Allende, who was born in Peru and raised in Chile, is best known for her 1982 novel The House of the Spirits. She also has written 11 novels, including 1985’s Eva Luna and 1999’s Daugher of Fortune, and four memoirs, including 1995’s Paula. She currently lives in the United States.

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.

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Filed under 2013 Books, Book Reviews, Fiction

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