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Portrait in Sepia: A Novel Paperback – Bargain Price, May 2, 2006

4.0 out of 5 stars 114 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Isabel Allende has established herself as one of the most consummate of all modern storytellers, a reputation that is confirmed in her novel Portrait in Sepia. Allende offers a compelling saga of the turbulent history, lives, and loves of late 19th-century Chile, drawing on characters from her earlier novels, The House of Spirits and Daughter of Fortune.

In typical Allende fashion, Portrait in Sepia is crammed with love, desire, tragedy, and dark family secrets, all played out against the dramatic backdrop of revolutionary Chile. Our heroine Aurora del Valle's mother is a Chilean-Chinese beauty, while her father is a dissolute scion of the wealthy and powerful del Valle family. At the heart of Aurora's slow, painful re-creation of her childhood towers one of Allende's greatest fictional creations, the heroine's grandmother, Paulina del Valle. An "astute, bewigged Amazon with a gluttonous appetite," Paulina holds both the del Valle family and Allende's novel together as she presides over Aurora's adolescence in a haze of pastries, taffeta, and overweening love.

One of the most interesting aspects of the novel is Allende's decision to turn her heroine into a photographer: "through photography and the written word I try desperately to conquer the transitory nature of my existence, to trap moments before they evanesce, to untangle the confusion of my past." There is little confusion in Allende's elegantly crafted and hugely enjoyable novel. --Jerry Brotton, Amazon.co.uk --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

HIn this third work concerning the various and intertwining lives of members of a Chilean family, Allende uses the metaphor of photography as memory. "Each of us chooses the tone for telling his or her own story; I would like to choose the durable clarity of a platinum print, but nothing in my destiny possesses that luminosity. I live among diffuse shadings, veiled mysteries, uncertainties; the tone for telling my life is closer to that of a portrait in sepia," declares Aurora del Valle, protagonist of the tale. Here, Allende picks up where 1999's Daughter of Fortune left off, and, in the course of her chronicles, mentions personages who were realized in her 1987 masterpiece, House of the Spirits. Like her other novels, Portrait in Sepia spans nearly 50 years and covers wars, love affairs, births, weddings and funerals. Rich and complex, this international, turn-of-the-century saga does not disappoint. The book opens as 30-year-old Aurora remembers her own birth, in the Chinatown of 1880 San Francisco. She tells of those present: her maternal, Chilean-English grandmother, Eliza; her grandfather Tao (a Chinese medic); and her mother, Lynn, a beloved beauty who dies during Aurora's birth. Realizing she is getting ahead of herself, Aurora backtracks, inviting the reader to be patient and listen to the events surrounding her life, from 1862 to 1910. Through Aurora, Allende exercises her supreme storytelling abilities, of which strong, passionate characters are paramount. Most memorable is Aurora's paternal grandmother, Paulina del Valle, an enormous woman who eats pastries and runs her trading company with equally reckless abandon. Like Paulina, Allende attacks her subject with gusto, making this a grand installment in an already impressive repertoire. Major ad/promo; 7-city author tour.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (May 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060898488
  • ASIN: B002KE47P8
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (114 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,919,206 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Debbie Lee Wesselmann TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 18, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I read this book at an extremely leisurely pace: a few pages at a time, over the course of weeks. Strangely enough, Allende's novel seems perfect for this kind of catch-as-catch-can type of reading. It doesn't have the narrative drive of a book you can't put down, but it has the characters and history to keep you returning.
In many ways, this novel is less of a story than a portrait of characters that have largely appeared elsewhere in her fiction, although it's not necessary to have read these other books. The emphasis is unequivocably on the del Valles, with Paulina del Valle the most memorable. Paulina is the glue that holds everything together. Other characters, equally well drawn, appear strongly in some sections, then vanish into the background, thus shifting the attention back to Paulina. Not surprisingly, the most elusive character is the narrator, Aurora, who is also the photographer, both literally and metaphorically. The story is filtered through her lens - her experience, perceptions, and ideas.
The "sepia" part of the title refers to the historical/nostalgic atmosphere of the novel. Allende takes her characters through the San Francisco of Gold Rush times and through turbulent times in Chile during war and the rise of women's rights. Here, everything is a memory.
The plot? The novel traces Aurora del Valle's life, from the times leading up to her conception to the moment when, as an adult, she is given back the crucial memory that has subconsciously defined her. You won't find a single driving conflict here; even Aurora's perplexity about her mysterious dream surfaces only now and then.
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Format: Hardcover
I just finished reading this book, and all I can say is "WOW!" This is the first book of Isabel Allende's that I have read, and I am on my way to go read the rest of them! When I first began this book, I was not aware that Portrait in Sepia was the sequel to Daughter of Fortune; I did not find out that fact until I was already about 50 pages into it. However, by that time, I was so engrossed in this book that I didn't care that I was accidentally reading a sequel first! Nor was I lost at all because this beautifully written books fills you in on the past, or on whatever happened in Daughter of Fortune.
Given that this book was translated from another language, I expected it to be dry and without detail. I was very wrong!! This book is full of detail, but not of the boring, unnecessary kind. It is pretty easy to follow, and I read it quickly. This book kept me interested from the first page to the last, and already I want to read it again!
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Format: Hardcover
Isabel Allende is a talented and gifted weaver of beautifully crafted stories. Portrait in Sepia takes place after her previos novel, Daughter of Fortune, although it is not a true sequel. Reading Daughter of Fortune is a wonderful experience but not necessary in order to follow this novel. This is a brilliant story of a young girl's past as she discovers the missing pieces to who she is. She discovers her heritage, her true history and learns to understand that the mistakes and choices that people make are usually done for love or because of love. The characters are vivid and alive. The women cover a wide spectrum, but many are strong, independent and loving women, with a clear picture of who they are and how they wish to live and knowledge of their own faults. The men are also amazing characters, from the strong to the weak, all with real human flaws and strengths, that make them very real. Portrait in Sepia is a study of the human soul, always present, always visible for those who truly take the time to look.
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Format: Hardcover
What happened in that museum when Eliza Sommers viewed the supposed head of Joaquin Murieta? And what about the parents of Clara the Clairvoyant, what is their story? Portrait in Sepia answers both these questions and more. It also introduces us to Aurora del Valle, the granddaughter of Paulina del Valle and also Eliza Sommers. The story is told in a fashion similar to Eva Luna, with childhood memories and later discoveries forming most of its basis. I absolutely loved Daughter of Fortune and have been eagerly awaiting the sequel for years. Anyone who cannot get enough of Isabel Allende and her magical realism style of story telling will love this book. As for claims that it is not as good as the original, I would say so only in the aspect that I think I like the character of Eliza Sommers more than that of her granddaughter. However, this is a powerful book and I am grateful to the author for writing it.
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Format: Hardcover
Maybe it's me, but I had a hard time getting "into" this book. It didn't keep me very interested, but I read on to see if it would get better & how it would end. I read Daughter of Fortune and it was much of the same way for me, but it picked up after the first 75 pages. I thought this would be the same way, but really it picked up in the middle, after 150 pages! It was a neat story to tell, but it could have been told faster, and therefore made the book more engrossing.
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