I always enjoy an Isabel Allende novel, as I find her to be good story teller and to create rich characters. Although I could not say that El cuaderno de Maya is on par with La casa de los espíritus or Retrato en sepia, my favorite Allende novels, it was still a quite engaging read that kept me nailed to my chair for a week.
This novel tells the story of young Maya Vidal, who takes refuge with a friend of the family in Southern Chile, following a series of events that make her fear for her life. While Maya gets use to her new life in a small Chilean community, we slowly find out, as she commits her own story to paper, how she came to be in so much trouble that she literally needed to disappear.
She took refuge with an old friend of her grandmother in Chiloé. The old friend in an anthropologist who is researching the local beliefs in magic in order to write a book. Officially, Maya is helping him with his work. She also comes to help out at the local school and coaching a kids’ soccer team. She suspect that the “old friend” is something more than that to her grandmother and she does eventually uncover the true nature of their relationship and the link between this enduring relationship and the death of her grandfather following the military coup in 1973.
Maya’s anchors in life are her grandmother, whom she calls Nini, and her grandmother’s second husband, a tall Black profession of astronomy at UC Berkeley, who bring her up after her mother leaves. That grandfather, whom she calls her Popo, is her greatest influence, the most significant relationship in her young life. Her father is a plane pilot and he is frequently away. He does not develop a close relationship with his daughter until the great unfolding of events that lead to her flight to Chile.
All of Maya’s troubles start when her grandfather (her Popo) dies from pancreatic cancer. Her grief is so great that she is pulled into a downward spiral of rebelliousness, alcohol and drugs. This leads her to one treatment facility from which she eventually escapes. She gets a drive from her truck driver she ends up wishing she had never met. She lands in Las Vegas, Sin City, where she falls even lower than she ever thought possible. After months of descent into hell, she finds help and is rescued by her grandmother.
During her stay in Chiloé, Maya learns a lot about herself, and learns to enjoy life again. However, she is not shielded from the evil she has met on the way and her past nearly catches up with her. In the end, she does survive this last incident and is free to embrace her new found acceptance of her trials and limitations. The story ends on a congenial Christmas dinner in Chiloé.
My favorite Isabel Allende novels are historical novels that mix in magical and mystical elements. While magic and history are not absent from this story, it is set mostly in present time, with computers, gmail, cell phones, and iPods, on a background of Chilean modern history.
Allende, Isabel. El cuaderno de Maya. Vintage Español, 2012 .