Maya’s Notebook: A Novel by Isabel Allende
Release date: 2013 / 400 pages
Synopsis(from Amazon): This contemporary coming-of-age story centers upon Maya Vidal, a remarkable teenager abandoned by her parents. Maya grew up in a rambling old house in Berkeley with her grandmother Nini, whose formidable strength helped her build a new life after emigrating from Chile in 1973 with a young son, and her grandfather Popo, a gentle African-American astronomer. When Popo dies, Maya goes off the rails.
Review: Out of the four or five novels I’ve read by Isabelle Allende, Maya’s Notebook is at the top of my list of favorites. However, Allende’s latest diverges from her usual milieu in a number of striking ways. The novel is based during the present time and the narrative circumnavigates throughout the twenty year life of the protagonist, Maya Vidal. When the novel opens, Maya has been sent to Chile in order to protect her from a nefarious gang of hooligans and international criminals. However, the reader does not discover why or how twenty-year-old American-born Maya is in danger. This revelation of past wrongs comes slowly, intertwined with her new, restorative present life in Chile.
The strengths of Allende’s latest novel are not surprising — she is a world-class storyteller and we fall in love with Maya and the other characters immediately. The lush imagery of Chile — and of Maya’s childhood in Berkeley, California — make the fact that this is in translation irrelevant. As with the other novels I’ve read, I will not soon forget Maya, her grandparents, her adopted dog, or her adopted country. Allende’s writing seeps into the reader’s pores and transforms the experience of reading into a tropical, magical reprieve from reality. I’m always sad to turn the last page of an Allende novel.
However, if I had been Allende’s editor (imagine that job!), I might have suggested that Maya’s troubles and tribulations need not be quite so dramatic, quite so “Las Vegas.” The grief that hurls Maya into dissolution is understandable and authentic. But the trouble Maya finds herself in eventually seems to reflect every nightmarish “made for t.v.” movie imaginable, and while the writing is stunning and Maya herself credible as a character, the piling on of tragedy and catastrophe is a bit “overkill.” We who love Allende do not need heightened “Las Vegas” drama and suspense and would prefer to spend our time in her more magical imaginings — dark is fine, but “news at eleven” is unnecessary.
However, I return to the first sentence of this review to conclude — Maya’s Notebook is one of my favorite Allende novels and I look forward to her next
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