With Maya Vidal, the protagonist of Isabel Allende's new novel, "Maya's Notebook", Allende takes us on a most searing personal odyssey of self discovery as seen through the eyes of her likable, but emotionally scarred, protagonist, who literally falls into a psychological abyss of her own making; an abyss fraught with ample physical as well as psychological terror. Readers will find themselves rooting for Maya, hoping that she will prevail despite ample obstacles in her path. A personal odyssey in which Maya learns some cold, hard, difficult, truths about herself and uncovers decades-held secrets about her family and its tragic history, especially in the bloody aftermath of the military coup that killed Chile's elected president, Salvador Allende and created a harsh military dictatorship persisting for years under the leadership of the coup's leader, General Augusto Pinochet. Told compellingly through Maya's own eyes, "Maya's Notebook" displays once more Allende's tremendous gifts for storytelling and creating characters as memorable as Maya Vidal, her grandmother Nidia - affectionately known as Nini - and Manuel Arias, the aging anthropologist who offers her sanctuary on a remote island off the coast of Chile with a past nearly as enigmatic as her grandmother's. When her kindly, almost saintly, grandfather, Popo, a distinguished Berkeley astronomer, dies, Maya embarks on a self destructive journey of drinking, drug addiction and thievery, escaping to Las Vegas where she becomes the target of drug dealing assassins, corrupt local police, and even the FBI. Barely escaping numerous scrapes with death, Maya finds her one chance of survival in her beloved Nini, who sends her to the remote Chilean island as a guest of Manuel Arias. There Maya begins unraveling the strange secrets of her family's history, tries making sense of her own descent into alcoholism, drug addiction and thievery, and takes a most perilous emotional quest in trying to understand her own soul. "Maya's Notebook" is destined to be remembered as one of this year's achievements in mainstream literary fiction, as well as yet another memorable tale from Isabel Allende herself; one that will be cherished by her many devoted fans.
Isabel Allende is one of the greatest living writers, and Maya's Notebook does not disappoint. While I suppose it's accurate to classify it under "Mystery, Thriller & Suspense," it is also far more than that description would indicate. It is a in-depth, first-person look at the mind of a young woman who has lived through and is recovering from a series of horrible situations (a few of which might come across as absurd in the hands of a lesser writer). Without going into too much detail (as there are twists and surprises up until the final pages, and I don't wish to spoil any of them), Maya succumbs to a life of drugs and crime following the death of her beloved step-grandfather, Popo, spiraling downward until she winds up, mostly by accident, with inside knowledge about an international counterfeiting ring. The novel is told through her journals, kept after she escapes from this world into hiding in a remote Chilean island, with details of her past revealed a bit at a time, interwoven with her life in the present.
Allende captures Maya's personality extremely well (though, if I had one complaint, it would be that few, if any, 19-year-old American girls could possibly write as poetically as Isabel Allende does), as well as the contrasting worlds of the American underworld and the seemingly more simple life of the rural Chiloe islands (though, as one might expect, the specter of the 1973 coup and Pinochet's dictatorship weighs heavily on some of the major characters). And, though the subject matter would seem to not allow for it, Allende's trademark magical realism does show up, as the reader is expected to believe, even if temporarily, in the possibility of ghosts.
I would consider Maya's Notebook to be a must-read. It's sometimes disturbing, sometimes hopeful, and always haunting in more ways than one.
on May 1, 2013
I have always enjoyed Allende's books because she infuses the Chilean culture and life into her stories. As readers, we learn history and culture besides getting a well told tale.
While there is that depth to this story, I found Maya's past much more readable than her present. We begin the story of 19 year old Maya after she has escaped to Chile, her grandmother's homeland, to avoid the FBI as well as her persecutors. As Maya continues her story, we slowly and methodically get her family's history and the reason she is running from the USA. I was riveted as I read the underworld that Maya stumbled upon and lived through for several years. As we switch back and forth between her past and present, I found myself wanting to get back to her past which had much more drama and action than her present life.
Told exceptionally well in the first person, the author smoothly transitions between present day and Maya's past. While this is a fictionalized account, it is a cautionary tale of how young women in their teens can be coerced into living on the margins of society in order to survive on their own.
on April 28, 2013
Maya's Notebook is a coming of age contemporary novel that follows Maya Vidal as she escapes into hiding from her home in America to a small island off of Chile to escape her past of crime, prostitution and drugs - as well as running from Interpol, the FBI, police and even a gang of assassins. Throughout the book, we learn of Maya's life: her family history, her mistakes, her past, her thoughts and dreams, and even a family secret so deep that it threatens to shatter Maya's life.
This is another breathtaking novel from a bestselling author whose talent is evident from the first paragraph. This story deviates from her other books, as it's set in the current time instead of the past. Maya's character is a solid and very layered main character. We learn a lot about her throughout the story. I came to see her in many ways and was able to watch her character grow and come into her own. I loved reading about Maya's life and her family, all of which made her more realistic in my eyes, which is a great quality for a lead character. The book is written from Maya's point of view, in the form of journal entries. Although I normally don't like this format, I think the epistolary form worked well for the plot and the characters in the story. The pace of the book was well done and the journal entries made for easy reading. The plot flowed effortlessly and easily intertwined Maya's past with her present circumstances and her thoughts. The writing style was flawless and done with such vivid descriptions and lyrical prose that I was immediately captivated and brought into Maya's world within the first few sentences of the book. It was a wonderful mixture of beauty, sadness, and hope that I haven't seen in many books before. This is one novel that will reach your heart and stay with you long after you finish reading it. I highly recommend it to lovers of literary fiction and young adult coming of age novels.
Disclosure: I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
on August 16, 2013
I have been a long term fan of Isabel Allende, however I was a bit put off by her last book prior to Maya's Notebook. Despite that I decided to give this novel a chance. Incidentally around that same time period, I purchased a fairly recent novel, Love , written by another one of my favorites, Toni Morrison.
There are times when it seems that in literature, writers make their mark early, winning acclaim and critical acceptance only to coast on said acclaim in later years as they settle for the droll convention indicative of creative decrepitude. I was pleasantly surprised by Morrison's work. I went into the novel expecting that it would be a swan song for her, especially as the novel was written during the time that she was caring for one of her adult sons during a long term illness which led to his death. Shockingly, the woman produced a work on par with that which all whom love her writing have come to expect. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Ms. Allende.
Ms. Allende's writing has lately become very transparent, formulaic, and much too reliant upon bad cultural and fictional tropes.
I get that every author has a desire to expand their repertoire into the unknown, to embrace characters that perhaps do not mirror their own experiences, backgrounds, genders, or class. In fact this is the mark of good writing, that the writer can seamlessly and authentically present the life of someone who is completely opposite to their own.
In Allende's prior novel to Maya, we saw her first substantial foray into the world of cultural diversity beyond her own. While I acknowledge that Allende's supporting characters have always been diverse, she's primarily stayed close to her Chilean roots and remained within the historical fiction genre in terms of novel setting. Island beyond the Sea did not go over well critically, in part because the voice seemed heavily developed by research and less organically produced. One of the common complaints is that the reader could see all of her machinations to develop the main character including the rustling of her research notes. Well, at least she stuck to the historical settings which have always done her so well. It was the book's redeeming grace and made it passable, though far from "great".
Allende threw herself into the deep end with Maya's Notebook and she did not even offer herself the floatation device of historical narrative to avoid drowning. We're left with an obvious sputtering and coughing author in the midst of literary death throes vainly attempting to swim to shore, sadly cramping along the way and disappearing below the surf of her own creative attempt.
This novel has every bad fictional trope often found in the most amateur writer's workshops or creative writing classes. Bring out the magical negroes...this book has them. Tragic mulattoes...this book has them. Mammy characters....yeah...yeah...this book has one! Bring out the stereotypical hard cold streets...this book has it. Melodramatic drug addiction...this book has it. Heavy handed, protracted, and overly florid descriptions of setting...this book has it.
Magical Negroes & Tragic Mulattoes: Magical negroes are one dimensional black characters often used in various works to provide a critical reflection of the other "human" characters (non-blacks who are allowed much more well rounded depictions of character) around them and as such imbued with almost saint like qualities. They are long suffering, dutifully magnanimous, loyally devoted, and essentially perfect in their giving savior like qualities. Most stories and films that trot out this particularly bad ethnic trope have only one. Allende evidently loves excess because she has several...all throughout the novel. Perhaps an indication of economy on the behalf of Ms. Allende, she also places some of them in the dual role of "magical negro" and the "tragic mulatto". One character, the psyche student/lover in the book actually takes on a third role as he embodies magical negro, tragic mulatto, and "the one who is not like the rest"-- one of the good blacks. Good Lord! Does Ms. Allende know any black people?
Mammy: Yes, there is a mammy who saves "missy Anne"(oh and that's another thing, constant references to the main character being blonde and not "looking" Latina ***side eye*** Ms. Allende should know better.) from the dreadful streets. A praying, country acting, morbidly obese, fried chicken cooking mammy like character. I am not lying, it really is that bad. As an aside: If Allende was going to make a point of pointing out the fried foods cooked by this woman, she could have at least gotten it correct. Who cooks fries with fried chicken and a side of hush puppies?
Them mean hard streets: Addiction is a dreadful experience for both the addicted and those who love them. There is nothing funny about addiction. There is something funny when an author's tale of addiction involves the character acting out hundreds of AA meeting confessionals of "rock bottom" in the space of a mere three months. I'm not saying that this is impossible...but it seemed to be reaching a bit. The drug usage was written like a bad 1980s after school special where the protagonist goes from recreational weed and ecstasy to full blown homeless crack pipe addiction in the space of less than than a few months. Maya smokes crack pipe and the next thing we know she's offering sexual favors to random old men in hotel parking lots for just one hit. This literally occurs within a 3 day span of time. I suppose that the late Rick James was right when he said, "Crack is one hell of a drug."
Heavy handed depictions of settings: Anyone whose familiar with Allende's work knows that she loves Chile. In this novel, she has taken that love to travel guide proportions. Entire chapters are devoted to the quaint ways of the picturesque Chilean island that time forgot. Nothing happens...just loads of setting. Reminiscent of a new writer whose found a love for descriptive adjectives, the story rambles on and on and on and on, so much so that when the novel breaks into flashbacks of Maya's time in Las Vegas briefly turning into a bad "B" movie lacking character development and with an improbable poorly developed plot, you will feel blessed relief.
This review has been lengthy, but consider it well worth your time because I hopefully saved you from reading 3-400 pages of writing best left on Allende's hard drive. I've loved her previous work and I normally would not say this as I believe that writers of all ethnic backgrounds and experiences can create a wide variety of authentic well developed characters...but perhaps Ms. Allende should stick to what she knows.
on March 31, 2013
Like many Latin American Studies majors, I loved reading Isabel Allende novels in college (both for class, and on my own), but after graduation I kind of forgot how amazing Allende is. When I saw this novel offered by the Amazon Vine program, I requested it immediately and am thankful that I did. This is the tale of a teenager who plummets to the depths of human misery, and the peaceful community that slowly draws her back to life. Allende writes with enormous compassion, even when her protagonist is doing outrageously stupid things (things, I should point out, that every one of us was capable of as a teenager, in case anyone is tempted to judge) (Allende, among her many strengths, is not tempted to judge).
The story takes the form of a young woman's journal that she keeps during the long days on an island in an isolated region of southern Chile. When the novel starts, Maya has been through more than her share of nightmares (death, drugs, crime, sex, danger), and her grandmother has shipped her off to hide and heal. As she becomes more comfortable with herself among the loving strangers of the island, her notebook begins to record her dark history, creating two roughly parallel stories as her past catches up with her. It's journaling as therapy, and Allende knows exactly how to make it work.
This is a book for anyone interested in Chile (both the historical period under the Pinochet regime and the contemporary Chile, where survivors have an uneasy relationship with those years), and for anyone who has ever been (or cared about) a teenager in trouble. Love is hard, and it hurts, but it can save us when we're lost, and Isabel Allende uses Maya's notebook to show us a way.
on July 5, 2013
I read this over the course of two days on the beach. This is a well written story about redemption, troubled (to say the least!) youth, love, and political and criminal power struggles . . . maybe there was too much going on? I enjoyed the scenic descriptions of Chile and the relationships that Maya develops there. The flashbacks to her former self went too dark and I'm not sure reconciled well for me and some of the other elements were a distraction. Overall was a good read but not my favorite.
on April 25, 2016
This is a gripping and sometimes disturbing story of how a girl transitions from a turbulent childhood into a strong young woman.
Maya Vidal is the title character and is living on a remote island off the coast of Chile, more or less in protective exile to ensure her safety from assorted gangsters who wish to do her evil. She tells of her childhood by writing brief entries in her notebook, bounding back and forth in time between past and present. She escapes from confinement in an institution that could be called a psychiatric adjustment prison for disturbed youths and heads to Las Vegas, Nevada, where she makes her living as a runner for a narcotics dealer. Maya is brutally honest describing how she spirals into the abyss of addiction to drugs and alcohol in some very disturbing passages. When it becomes too dangerous for her to stay, Maya’s grandmother, a Chilean native, manages to spirit her out of the country into the safety of her friends in Chile.
Maya is befriended by an elderly man named Manuel who takes the place of her own beloved grandfather Popo who had passed away. Maya also finds acceptance by the island’s natives and even finds love when a young American tourist fellow appears. But Maya discovers that there is no safe place on earth if someone is resourceful enough to track you down.
If I was looking for a book to read and I read this one’s synopsis, I would probably pass on it. However, having read several of Isabel Allende’s earlier books, I was confident that my time reading this one would be well spent.
The book’s ending is open-ended and I hope that Ms. Allende writes another book about Maya as she navigates adult womanhood.
In Maya's Notebook, Isabel Allende presents an intricate tapestry, imbued with rich and diverse colors. Pulling together the threads of multiple lives and several disparate geographical locations, Allende lovingly offers a tale that is as warm and complex as a fine wine. I did not anticipate enjoying this novel as much as I did. Frankly, I was not interested in the history of Chile. And yet, having now finished it, I feel that familiar loss of characters who have become friends and a narrative that could have gone on indefinitely. Bravo to Allende for producing yet another incomparable literary work.
on August 18, 2013
I live in Chile and read Allende's latest book for a book club I belong to. It was terribly disappointing. I've read several of Allende's book and was always impressed with her style of writing. However, she does not pull off the narrative voice of her young heroine very well and the information about Chile, especially Chiloe, was like reading snippets from Lonely Planet rather than a personal account of this fascinating island.