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The Sum of Our Days

The Sum of Our Days

4.1 19
by Isabel Allende, Margaret Sayers Peden (Translator)

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In this heartfelt memoir, Isabel Allende reconstructs her own life in the wake of tragic loss—the death of her daughter, Paula. Recalling the past thirteen years from the daily correspondence she shared with her mother in Chile, Allende bares her soul in a book that is as exuberant as its author. She recounts the stories of the wildly eccentric and eclectic


In this heartfelt memoir, Isabel Allende reconstructs her own life in the wake of tragic loss—the death of her daughter, Paula. Recalling the past thirteen years from the daily correspondence she shared with her mother in Chile, Allende bares her soul in a book that is as exuberant as its author. She recounts the stories of the wildly eccentric and eclectic tribe she gathers around her that becomes a new kind of family.

Throughout, Allende shares her thoughts on love, motherhood, spirituality, infidelity, addiction, and memory. Here, too, are the amazing stories behind Allende's books, the superstitions that guide her writing process, and her adventurous travels. Ultimately, The Sum of Our Days offers a unique tour of this gifted writer's inner world and the relationships that have become essential to her life and her work.

Narrated with warmth, humor, exceptional candor, and wisdom, The Sum of Our Days is a portrait of a contemporary family, tied together by the love, fierce loyalty, and stubborn determination of a beloved, indomitable matriarch.

Editorial Reviews

USA Today
“THE SUM OF OUR DAYS is terrific. It’s funny, insightful, moving and filled with Allende’s unique voice.”
Dallas Morning News
“...Ms.Allende...executes this epistolary memoir with the same authenticity and poetry that grace her fiction...Ms. Allende is a survivor worth reading and emulating.”
Denver Post
“A vibrant voice, which is at once introspective and forthright…an inspiring and thought-provoking work…The insights resonate, on page after page.”
Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Allende is a genius.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Allende’s THE SUM OF OUR DAYS adds up to an exuberant love letter—not only to her daughter, but to her tribe and anyone lucky enough to belong to one.”
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“A powerful memoir”
Publishers Weekly
Allende follows Paula, the heartbreaking memoir she wrote while her daughter lay in a long coma, with another missive to the young woman, now dead, to update her on the Allende clan's adventures and dramas, which often seem straight from her novels. For most of the narration, Brown's bright voice and careful delivery are an ideal conduit for Allende's renowned prose, working in tandem with the author's unique descriptions to make interesting what in other lives would hardly be remarkable. When speaking as Allende, she uses a husky Spanish accent that is distinctively charming and appropriate without going over the top. Brown's pronunciation of occasional Spanish phrases and names sometimes lack fluency but the frank, twangy voice she gives to Allende's friend Tabra is refreshingly at ease. By the end, even listeners who are unfamiliar with Allende's history and writing will feel they know this feisty woman and brilliant writer as a friend. A Harper hardcover (Reviews, Feb. 18).
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

New York Times best-selling novelist Allende (Inés of My Soul) revisits the memoir form of her 1995 book, Paula, which she wrote in the form of a letter to her late daughter, that title's namesake. Here, she again addresses Paula in a series of reminiscences, letters, and other correspondence. Tony® Award-winning actress Blair Brown expertly narrates, always capturing the humor and the sorrow. Highly recommended. [Audio clip available through www.harperaudio.com; the Harper hc was recommended for all literature collections, LJ4/15/08.-Ed.]
—Joyce Kessel

Kirkus Reviews
Loving tribute to an unorthodox family. In Allende's acclaimed memoir Paula (1995), the Chilean-born novelist told the story of her tumultuous life in the form of a letter to her beloved, recently deceased daughter. This follow-up picks up the story where the previous book left off, in the guise of keeping the spirit Paula informed of the goings-on in her noisy, exuberant, sometimes tragic extended family. Studded with incredible, often soap-operatic events, the stories here could be melodramatic or even self-indulgent. Instead, burnished by the author's enormous affection for (almost) every character, the book coalesces into a warm meditation on family and love. After the devastation of Paula's yearlong decline and eventual death, Allende undertook to gather her fractured clan around her in northern California, where she lived with her American husband Willie. She writes of the couple's attempts to save his daughter Jennifer. When the drug-addicted young woman lost custody of her fragile, premature baby girl, they found Sabrina a home with a lesbian couple in a Zen monastery. Jennifer was allowed to visit her daughter, but she grew steadily weaker and vanished not long before Sabrina's first birthday. We also learn of the author's turbulent but loving relationship with her contrarian, hotheaded daughter-in-law, who fractured the family by leaving Allende's son Nico for the woman engaged to Willie's stepson. In the same tell-all spirit, the writer discusses the various heartaches of her steadfast friends, Tabra and Juliette; her successful courtship of the woman she wanted to be Nico's second wife (they are now happily married); her own numerous parenting and marital missteps; and thepainful process of getting over her daughter's death. A turbulent life to be both pitied and envied, and a book to be savored and reread. Agent: Carmen Balcells/Carmen Balcells Agencia Literaria

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Large Print
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.05(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Sum of Our Days

A Memoir

By Isabel Allende HarperCollins
Copyright © 2008
Isabel Allende
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-06-155183-3

Chapter One Darkest Waters

In the second week of December, 1992, almost as soon as the rain let up, we went as a family to scatter your ashes, Paula, following the instructions you had left in a letter written long before you fell ill. As soon as we advised them of your death, your husband, Ernesto, came from New Jersey, and your father from Chile. They were able to tell you good-bye where you lay wrapped in a white sheet waiting to be taken to the crematory. Afterward, we met in a church to hear mass and weep together. Your father was pressed to return to Chile, but he waited until the weather cleared, and two days later, when finally a timid ray of sun peered out, the whole family, in three cars, drove to a nearby forest. Your father went in the lead, guiding us. He isn't familiar with this region but he had spent the previous two days looking for the best site, one that you would have chosen. There are many places to choose from, nature is prodigal here, but by one of those coincidences that now are habitual in anything related to you, he led us directly to the forest where I often went to walk to ease my rage and pain while you were sick, the same one where Willie had taken me for a picnic shortly after we met, the same one where you and Ernesto liked to walk hand in hand when you came to visit us in California. Your father drove into the park, followedthe road a little way, parked the car, and signaled us to follow him. He took us to the exact spot that I would have chosen, because I had been there many times to pray for you: a stream surrounded with tall redwoods whose tops formed the dome of a green cathedral. There was a fine, light mist that blurred the contours of reality: the light barely penetrated the trees, but the branches shone, winter wet. An intense aroma of humus and dill rose from the earth. We stopped at the edge of a pond formed by rocks and fallen tree trunks. Ernesto, serious, haggard, but now without tears because he had spilled them all, held the clay urn containing your ashes. I had saved a few in a little porcelain box to keep forever on my altar. Your brother, Nico, had Alejandro in his arms, and your sister-in-law, Celia, held Andrea, still a baby, wrapped in shawls and clamped to her breast. I carried a bouquet of roses, which I tossed, one by one, into the water. Then all of us, including Alejandro, who was three, took a handful of ashes from the urn and dropped them onto the water. Some floated briefly among the roses, but most sank to the bottom, like fine white sand.

"What is this?" Alejandro asked.

"Your aunt Paula," my mother told him, sobbing.

"It doesn't look like her," he commented, confused.... I will begin by telling you what has happened since 1993, when you left us, and will limit myself to the family, which is what interests you. I'll have to omit two of Willie's sons: Lindsay, whom I barely know-I've seen him only a dozen times and we've never exchanged more than the essential courteous greetings-and Scott, because he doesn't want to appear in these pages. You were very fond of that thin, solitary boy with thick eyeglasses and disheveled hair. Now he is a man of twenty-eight; he looks like Willie and his name is Harleigh. He chose the name Scott when he was five; he liked it and used it a long time, but during his teens he reclaimed the one given him.

The first person who comes to my mind and heart is Jennifer, Willie's only daughter, who at the beginning of that year had just escaped for the third time from a hospital where she had gone to find rest for her bones because of yet another infection, among the many she had suffered in her short life. The police had not given any indication that they were going to look for her; they had too many cases like hers, and this time Willie's contacts with the law didn't help at all. The physician, a tall, discreet Filipino who by dint of perseverance had saved her when she arrived at the hospital with a raging fever, and who by now knew her because he had attended her on two previous occasions, explained to Willie that he had to find his daughter soon or she would die. With massive doses of antibiotics for several weeks, he might be able to save her, he said, but we had to prevent a relapse, for that would be fatal. We were in the emergency room-yellow walls, plastic chairs, and posters of mammograms and tests for AIDS-which was filled with patients awaiting their turn to be treated. The doctor took off his round, metal-framed glasses, cleaned them with a tissue, and guardedly answered our questions. He had no sympathy for Willie or for me; he perhaps mistook me for Jennifer's mother. In his eyes we were guilty; we had neglected her, and now when it was too late, we had showed up acting distressed. He avoided going into details-patient information was confidential-but Willie could deduce that in addition to multiple infections and bones turned to splinters, his daughter's heart was on the verge of giving out. For nine years Jennifer had persisted in jousting with death.

We had been going to see her in the hospital for several weeks. Her wrists were tied down so that in the delirium of fever she couldn't tear out the intravenous tubes. She was addicted to nearly every known drug, from tobacco to heroin. I don't know how her body had endured so much abuse. Since they couldn't find a healthy vein in which to inject medications, they ...


Excerpted from The Sum of Our Days by Isabel Allende Copyright © 2008 by Isabel Allende. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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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

San Rafael, California
Date of Birth:
August 2, 1942
Place of Birth:
Lima, Peru

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Sum of Our Days 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
SOUTHERN-READING-WOMAN More than 1 year ago
The Sum of Our Days, in my opinion, is the best and most enjoyable of all Allende's books thus far. It reads like the best of novels. The characters, Isabel's vast "tribe" of family, friends, and interesting acquaintances have left me loving them and wanting the best for their lives. The settings range from everything California to India, the Amazon, and, of course, Chile. The language is genius--delighting my senses and touching my heart. When she addresses the second person, I am understanding and mourn deeply as she tells her Paula, "you," about the varied lives of the tribe. Our politics differ as Allende is always frank about her liberal leanings. However, as one of her most ardent readers and fans who has bought every book she's written except the juvenile ones because I am a barren grandmother, I put this memoir at the top of my all-time favorite books. May January 8 always bring more great stories. My mind, heart, and love of great literature are in her tribe of grateful readers.
snowbird922 More than 1 year ago
Every one should have at least one Allende book in there home. She is a Latina novelist, storyteller, and enchanter. I just want to meet this woman and join her tribe. She is truly a master at what she does and I am proud to have her in my library.
margeNY More than 1 year ago
I have read a number of Isabelle Allende's books and this one made me feel she was speaking personally to me about her life. I truly enjoyed reading it.
Saludos More than 1 year ago
This book is all about the love of family, friends and the everlasting pain of having lost a child. The book was absorbing, all the love the family share with each other and with friends, the background of each character is enlightening. I recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As usual the author balances sadness with hope. I felt like I was sitting in a room listening to an old friend tell me what I had missed in her life over the past years.
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I like Isabel Allende so of course I enjoyed reading this autobiographical journal. It does give you a sense of the woman and how her days go.
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