Paula: A Memoir

Paula: A Memoir

3.8 18
by Isabel Allende
     
 

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When Isabel Allende's daughter, Paula, became gravely ill and fell into a coma, the author began to write the story of her family for her unconscious child. In the telling, bizarre ancestors appear before our eyes; we hear both delightful and bitter childhood memories, amazing anecdotes of youthful years, and the most intimate secrets passed along in whispers.

Overview

When Isabel Allende's daughter, Paula, became gravely ill and fell into a coma, the author began to write the story of her family for her unconscious child. In the telling, bizarre ancestors appear before our eyes; we hear both delightful and bitter childhood memories, amazing anecdotes of youthful years, and the most intimate secrets passed along in whispers. With Paula, Allende has written a powerful autobiography whose straightforward acceptance of the magical and spiritual worlds will remind readers of her first book, The House of the Spirits.

Editorial Reviews

Washington Post Book World
Fascinante...en una impecable y rica prosa comparte con nosotros sus sentimientos má íntimos.
Los Angeles Times Book Review
Hermosa y comovedora....Memoria, autobiografíca, epicedium, tal vez algo de ficción; todo está allí y todo estámaravilloso.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061564901
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
05/07/2013
Series:
P.S. Series
Pages:
368
Sales rank:
143,934
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.82(d)

Read an Excerpt

December 1991 to May 1992

Listen, Paula. I am going to tell you a story, so that when you wake up you will not feel so lost.

The legend of our family begins at the end of the last century, when a robust Basque sailor disembarked on the coast of Chile with his mother's reliquary strung around his neck and his head swimming with plans for greatness. But why start so far back? It is enough to say that those who came after him were a breed of impetuous women and men with sentimental hearts and strong arms fit for hard work. Some few irascible types died frothing at the mouth, although the cause may not have been rage, as evil tongues had it, but, rather, some local pestilence. The Basque's descendants bought fertile land on the outskirts of the capital, which with time increased in value; they became more refined and constructed lordly mansions with great parks and groves; they wed their daughters to rich young men from established families; they educated their children in rigorous religious schools; and thus over the course of the years they were integrated into a proud aristocracy of landowners that prevailed for more than a century--until the whirlwind of modern times replaced them with technocrats and businessmen. My grandfather was one of the former, the good old families, but his father died young of an unexplained shotgun wound. The details of what happened that fateful night were never revealed, but it could have been a duel, or revenge, or some accident of love. In any case, his family was left without means and, because he was the oldest, my grandfather had to drop out of school and look for work to support his mother and educate his younger brothers.Much later, when he had become a wealthy man to whom others doffed their hats, he confessed to me that genteel poverty is the worst of all because it must be concealed. He was always well turned out--in his father's clothes, altered to fit, the collars starched stiff and suits well pressed to disguise the threadbare cloth. Those years of penury tempered his character; in his credo, life was strife and hard work, and an honorable man should not pass through this world without helping his neighbor. Still young, he already exhibited the concentration and integrity that were his characteristics; he was made of the same hard stone as his ancestors and, like many of them, had his feet firmly on the ground. Even so, some small part of his soul drifted toward the abyss of dreams. Which was what allowed him to fall in love with my grandmother, the youngest of a family of twelve, all eccentrically and deliciously bizarre--like Teresa, who at the end of her life began to sprout the wings of a saint and at whose death all the roses in the Parque Japones withered overnight. Or Ambrosio, a dedicated carouser and fornicator, who was known at moments of rare generosity to remove all his clothing in the street and hand it to the poor. I grew up listening to stories about my grandmother's ability to foretell the future, read minds, converse with animals, and move objects with her gaze. Everyone says that once she moved a billiard table across a room, but the only thing I ever saw move in her presence was an insignificant sugar bowl that used to skitter erratically across the table at tea time. These gifts aroused certain misgivings, and many eligible suitors were intimidated by her, despite her charms. My grandfather, however, regarded telepathy and telekinesis as innocent diversions and in no way a serious obstacle to marriage. The only thing that concerned him was the difference in their ages. My grandmother was much younger than he, and when he first met her she was still playing with dolls and walking around clutching a grimy little pillow. Because he was so used to seeing her as a young girl, he was unaware of his passion for her until one day she appeared in a long dress and with her hair up, and then the revelation of a love that had been gestating for years threw him into such a fit of shyness that he stopped calling. My grandmother divined his state of mind before he himself was able to undo the tangle of his own feelings and sent him a letter, the first of many she was to write him at decisive moments in their lives. This was not a perfumed billet-doux testing the waters of their relationship, but a brief note penciled on lined paper asking him straight out whether he wanted to marry her and, if so, when. Several months later they were wed. Standing before the altar, the bride was a vision from another era, adorned in ivory lace and a riot of wax orange blossoms threaded through her chignon. When my grandfather saw her, he knew he would love her obstinately till the end of his days.

To me, they were always Tata and Meme. Of their children, only my mother will figure in this story, because if I begin to tell you about all the rest of the tribe we shall never be finished, and besides, the ones who are still living are very far away. That's what happens to exiles; they are scattered to the four winds and then find it extremely difficult to get back together again. My mother was born between the two world wars, on a fine spring day in the 1920s. She was a sensitive girl, temperamentally unsuited to joining her brothers in their sweeps through the attic to catch mice they preserved in bottles of Formol. She led a sheltered life within the walls of her home and her school; she amused herself with charitable works and romantic novels, and had the reputation of being the most beautiful girl ever seen in this family of enigmatic women. From the time of puberty, she had lovesick admirers buzzing around like flies, young men her father held at bay and her mother analyzed with her tarot cards; these innocent flirtations were cut short when a talented and equivocal young man appeared and effortlessly dislodged his rivals, fulfilling his destiny and filling my mother's heart with uneasy emotions. That was your grandfather Tom s, who disappeared in a fog, and the only reason I mention him, Paula, is because some of his blood flows in your veins. This clever man with a quick mind and merciless tongue was too intelligent and free of prejudice for that provincial society, a rara avis in the Santiago of his time. It was said that he had a murky past; rumors flew that he belonged to the Masonic sect, and so was an enemy of the Church, and that he had a bastard son hidden away somewhere, but Tata could not put forward any of these arguments to dissuade his daughter because he lacked proof, and my grandfather was not a man to stain another's reputation without good reason. In those days Chile was like a mille-feuille pastry. It had more castes than India, and there was a pejorative term to set every person in his or her rightful place: roto, pije, arribista, si£tico, and many more, working upward toward the comfortable plateau of "people like ourselves." Birth determined status. It was easy to descend in the social hierarchy, but money, fame, or talent was not sufficient to allow one to rise, that required the sustained effort of several generations. Tomas's honorable lineage was in his favor, even though in Tata's eyes he had questionable political ties. By then the name Salvador Allende, the founder of Chile's Socialist Party, was being bruited about; he preached against private property, conservative morality, and the power of the large landowners. Tomas was the cousin of that young deputy. Paula. Copyright © by Isabel Allende. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are saying about this

Suzanne Ruta
. . .[Allende] piles on episode and anecdote in a brilliant flood of autobiographical reminiscence spanning three generations on four continents. . . . [her] fiction often deals in flat folkloric archetypes. . .Here we meet their complex, unpredictable sources. . . .. High-flown rhetoric obscures some of her introspective passages. And yet, in her reportorial mode she's unbeatable. -- The New York Times

Meet the Author

Isabel Allende is the author of twelve works of fiction, including the New York Times bestsellers Maya’s Notebook, Island Beneath the Sea, Inés of My Soul, Daughter of Fortune, and a novel that has become a world-renowned classic, The House of the Spirits. Born in Peru and raised in Chile, she lives in California.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
San Rafael, California
Date of Birth:
August 2, 1942
Place of Birth:
Lima, Peru
Website:
http://www.isabelallende.com

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Paula 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
Kristina-B More than 1 year ago
Isabel Allendes memoir, Paula is Allende's first nonfiction book. The story is written for her daughter, Paula, after she fell into a coma. "It was meant to become a journal", Allende says, but the book turned out to be a popular bestseller. She writes to her ill daughter, "I am going to tell you a story, so that when you wake up, you will not feel so lost." She writes about her memories when she was a child, to tell her daughter about the history of their family. The story switches back and forth from the author's past family stories,to the present of Paula's coma. Paula was diagnosed with porphyria, which affects the nervous system, but in Paula's case, was fatal. Allende says that during the year her daughter was ill, she spent the days mourning. But on January 8th, she began to write this story. Allende began writing with the history of her family from Chile, and introduces her relatives and ancestors that she remembered. She mentions growing up in Chile, and after her parent¿s divorce, her mother remarries, and they move to Lebanon. She writes to Paula how hard it was to look at her in the hospital, breathing through a tube down her throat, and unconscious not knowing if she will ever wake. No one has heard of the illness Paula had, and the doctors didnt believe she would recover, but Allende kept her hope. Weeks after weeks, and months after months, Paula fell deeper into the coma, but eventually, grows stronger, and the antibiotics began to help. There are many reviews for this book that say that it is five stars, one of her best books. But, I feel like there are only parts that are that, and many people say theyre disappointed after Allende¿s previous books. The book is titled Paula, and although it was supposed to be about the author, I disliked that Allende didn't mention Paula¿s life that much. She only talked about when Paula was ill, but never explained thoroughly why exactly Paula was so special. One thing that bothered me the most was how extremely detailed the author was. I liked how descripted she wrote, but disliked that there are many long parts of the book that I feel are pointless for me to read. I understand that it was written for Paula, but I'd find it more interesting if there was more about her. I can't relate to this book, which is probably the biggest reason why I did not enjoy this book.I'm not sure how many people could relate to this book, though. I wish I was able to, somehow, because I think it would be a bit more interesting. I do recommend this book, though, but only to an older audience, who is a fan of Isabel Allende¿s work, and would enjoy learning a bit about her. I read this book not knowing much about it, but I do look forward to reading some of her other books.
Kristina_ More than 1 year ago
Isabel Allende's memoir, Paula, published in 1995, is Allende's first nonfiction book. The story is written for her daughter, Paula, after she fell into a coma. "It was meant to become a journal that I would give to my children and my grandchildren", Allende says, but the book turned out to be a popular bestseller. She writes to her ill daughter, "I am going to tell you a story, so that when you wake up, you will not feel so lost." She writes about her memories when she was a child, to tell her daughter about the history of the Allende family. The story switches back and forth from the author's past family stories, and vivid flashbacks of Allende¿s life, to the present of Paula's coma, mentioning waiting for any improvement by Paula in the hospital. Paula was diagnosed with porphyria, which primarily affects the nervous system, but in Paula's case, was fatal. Allende says that during the year her daughter was ill, she spent the days mourning. But on January 8th, the day she always begins to write her novels, her mother told her to write this story. Allende began writing with the history of her family from Chile, and introduces her relatives and ancestors that she remembered during her childhood. She mentions growing up in Chile, and after her parent¿s shocking divorce, her mother remarries, and they move to Lebanon, where Allende spends her teenage years. She writes to Paula how hard it was to look at her in the hospital, breathing through a tube down her throat, and unconscious, with her family by her side, but not knowing if she will ever wake. No one has ever heard of the illness Paula had, and the nurses and doctors did not believe she would recover, but Allende kept her hope. Weeks after weeks, and months after months, Paula fell deeper and deeper into the coma, but eventually, grows stronger, and the antibiotics she was on began to help. There are many reviews for this book that say that it is five stars, one of her best books, beautiful, heartrending, and wonderful. But, I feel like there are only bits and parts that are that, and many people say they are disappointed after Allende¿s previous books. The book is titled Paula, and although it was supposed to be about the author for her daughter, I disliked that Allende did not mention Paula¿s life that much. She only talked about when Paula was ill, but never explained thoroughly why exactly Paula was so special, and why it was so traumatic for her and her family. This book was, again, about Allende¿s life, but one thing that bothered me the most about this book was how extremely detailed the author was. I do give her four stars on the descriptions she writes, but one star on the fact that there are many long parts of the book that I feel are pointless for me to read. I do understand that it was not originally a book for all of us to read, but I would find it more interesting if there was more about Paula. I can not relate to this book, though, which is probably the biggest reason why I did not enjoy this book that much. I am not so sure how many people could relate to this book, though. I wish I was able to relate to this book somehow, because I think it would be a bit more interesting, and I would actually rate it more than two stars. I do recommend this book, though, but only to an older audience, who is a fan of Isabel Allende¿s work, and would enjoy learning a bit about her. I also would recommend this book to any person who wonders, or knows from experi
Guest More than 1 year ago
Isabel Allende at her best!!!! No other book has touched me the same way. Isabel achieved perfection with this masterpiece; she opened herself to the reader and allowed us to explore her innermost feelings, desires, dreams, and weaknesses.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Paula's short life was interrupted by medical malpractice. Isabel Allende takes you through the journey of not only her daughter's life, but that of her own. A journey that intertwines a feminine perspective on the many facets of life: family, love, fears, parenting, etc. The truth serum Allende used opens the door to her life as well as the window to her mind, passions and desires. This book was and remains a moving example of a woman's dedication to her children and to herself.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really loved the history telling and family stories that were interwoven between past, and present.  Her sixth sense of the spiritual realm really spoke to me, but I had a hard time understanding how a mother could leave her children.  The details were wonderful except when I got to the point of an extramarital affair in which other kids were on the other side of the door (just a bit of judgment and tacky in my perspective).  Towards the end, I thought she became a bit arrogant and almost ruined the tone of the book as it sounded like a book tour of all the books she had written thus far.  Overall, I thought it was beautifully written, but certain aspects of the book toward the end changed my opinion of her as I thought she was a bit selfish in her quest to "find herself" despite her children and husband forgiving her.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Bridget Keenan Book Review The book I read is Paula, by Isabel Allende, published by HarperCollins Publishers. Paula is a memoir about Isabel Allende’s 27 year old daughter who fell ill. Allende starts out the book by explaining just what is going on. She starts telling how she grew up, and then goes into how when Paula was brought to the hospital how her family quickly came to support. Throughout the following chapters, Allende will go back and forth writing to Paula, or more of, writing in a diary in hope for when Paula wakes from her comma. See, Allende is worried, that if and when Paula wakes up, she will forget most things, and she will have to slowly and patiently, teach Paula everything again. Allende finds I guess comfort in writing to Paula about her family and how she grew up. Which before the diary, not a lot of people knew. She tells her stories of her as a kid, and how her parents met and her grandparents too. Allende goes back and forth between the diary and talking about Paula. She explains in excruciating detail some of the things that happen to Paula while in the hospital. Allende stops writing sometimes to beg Paula, to please, please wake up.. I liked the book, Isabel Allende is really good at writing. But, at some points the writing was really well that it made me feel sick, for example, she says how at one point Paula was having a seizure, I think it was. It was just sort of gross, and scary. I felt bad for Allende when I was reading the book. She had to watch her daughter slowly die, not knowing if she would ever wake up. She could only hope. I didn’t really learn, per se, from the book. I learned about Isabel Allende’s life mostly. I would recommend this book to someone who is in at least high school and can handle a sad book.
courtney000 More than 1 year ago
The book Paula, was very inspiring. Throughout the entire novel, there were very many interesting parts but at times there were parts that were confusing or boring. The story took place in the Chile. When Paula was very sick her mother, Isabel, wrote all about the past and the family history because Paula was in a coma and very ill. Isabel thought that when Paula woke up she wouldn’t remember anything so she wrote a memoir telling her all about what happened in the past. There were both positive and negative aspects of the novel. The negative aspect of this book was Paula’s family wanting to keep her alive even though she was suffering and wouldn’t wake up. The positive aspect is when they finally realize that it’s time to let Paula go and keep her from suffering. There were many themes and messages in the novel and one of the major one’s is learning to let go. Paula’s family has to learn to let her go and keep her from suffering too much even though she wants her to be with her. They learn that letting go is hard, but it’s worth it. An important theme or message of the book is family history and the past. Isabel retells the family history so Paula can read it when she wakes up. The part of the book that I disliked was there was barely any dialogue. I didn’t like this because it’s harder to understand if there isn’t any dialogue. There were also parts in the book I didn’t like because it went on and on about one specific thing and it got boring at times. The parts that I enjoyed in the book were when the author would go into great detail about the family history and about Paula’s illness. It was very descriptive and you could understand it better. Someone should read this book if they like memoirs or learning about the history of a family. Someone should not read this book if they don’t like reading about history or they don’t like to read real life events or memoirs. It’s hard to understand at times but once you get the main plot of the story it becomes more and more interesting. Overall, Paula was one of the better non-fiction novels that I have read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Isabel Allende's book Paula is an amazing story of hope and unconditional love. This book is incredibly original as it is the story of Isabel's daughter, Paula. It tells the story of Paula's life as well as Isabel's. This story taught me to never give up hope, no matter what the circumstances are. This story is about Isabel's daughter Paula, who is in a coma from a serious illness. Allende is describing to Paula her life and her past. I think that this story has incredible meaning and that everyone should read it. I highly recommend it.
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Anyel_Thielen_Gornik More than 1 year ago
This book was an emotional journey. It took me several years to decide to read it. It was now my turn in my book club to choose a book and I decided to introduce a Latin American writer to my American friends. It was a hard book to get through because I had met Paula in college in Caracas, Venezuela where I was born and raised. Allende's writing is just beautiful, full of images, and very powerful. Her stories not only reveal the emotional struggles of any woman, a woman who has to live in exile and a woman whose daughter is dying, but also give the reader the opportunity to learn about the history and political situation of Chile and Venezuela, as well as their cultures and their people. I have read other books of Allende and love them too. My favorite: The House of the Spirits
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Guest More than 1 year ago
THIS BOOK IS GREAT, IT MAKES YOU FEEL PART OF THE STORY. I CAN SAY AFTER THE BIBLE MY FAVORITE BOOK EVER.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I happened upon this novel about 5 years ago at the airport bookstore in Boston and spent the rest of my trip engrossed in this novel. Five years later I still lose myself in thoughts of this wonderful and yet terrible story. Ms. Allende describes her life with the bittersweet perspective of a very old soul. The English translation of this Spanish-language novel is excellent. It maintains the fluid and musical quality of the original language version. Ms. Allende's writing style is elegant and her story is touching and poignant. It made me want to write again.