Skip to main content



Daughter of Fortune


Everyone is born with some special talent, and Eliza Sommers
discovered early on that she had two: a good sense of smell and a
good memory. She used the first to earn a living and the second to
recall her life-if not in precise detail, at least with an
astrologer's poetic vagueness. The things we forget may as well
never have happened, but she had many memories, both real and
illusory, and that was like living twice. She used to tell her
faithful friend, the sage Tao Chi'en, that her memory was like the
hold of the ship where they had come to know one another: vast and
somber, bursting with boxes, barrels, and sacks in which all the
events of her life were jammed. Awake it was difficult to find
anything in that chaotic clutter, but asleep she could, just as
Mama Fresia had taught her in the gentle nights of her childhood,
when the contours of reality were as faint as a tracery of pale
ink. She entered the place of her dreams along a much traveled path
and returned treading very carefully in order not to shatter the
tenuous visions against the harsh light of consciousness. She put
as much store in that process as others put in numbers, and she so
refined the art of remembering that she could see Miss Rose bent
over the crate of Marseilles soap that was her first cradle.

"You cannot possibly remember that, Eliza. Newborns are like cats,
they have no emotions and no memory," Miss Rose insisted the few
times the subject arose. Possible or not, that woman peering down
at her, her topaz-colored dress, the loose strands from her bun
stirring in the breeze were engraved in Eliza's mind, and she could
never accept the other explanation of her origins.

"You have English blood, like us," Miss Rose assured Eliza when she
was old enough to understand. "Only someone from the British colony
would have thought to leave you in a basket on the doorstep of the
British Import and Export Company, Limited. I am sure they knew how
good-hearted my brother Jeremy is, and felt sure he would take you
in. In those days I was longing to have a child, and you fell into
my arms, sent by God to be brought up in the solid principles of
the Protestant faith and the English language."

"You, English? Don't get any ideas, child. You have Indian hair,
like mine," Mama Fresia rebutted behind her patrona's back.

But Eliza's birth was a forbidden subject in that house, and the
child grew accustomed to the mystery. It, along with other delicate
matters, was never mentioned between Rose and Jeremy Sommers, but
it was aired in whispers in the kitchen with Mama Fresia, who never
wavered in her description of the soap crate, while Miss Rose's
version was, with the years, embroidered into a fairy tale.
According to her, the basket they had found at the office door was
woven of the finest wicker and lined in batiste; Eliza's nightgown
was worked with French knots and the sheets edged with Brussels
lace, and topping everything was a mink coverlet, an extravagance
never seen in Chile. Over time, other details were added: six gold
coins tied up in a silk handkerchief and a note in English
explaining that the baby, though illegitimate, was of good
stock-although Eliza never set eyes on any of that. The mink, the
coins, and the note conveniently disappeared, erasing any trace of
her birth. Closer to Eliza's memories was Mama Fresia's
explanation: when she opened the door one morning at the end of
summer, she had found a naked baby girl in a crate.

"No mink coverlet, no gold coins. I was there and I remember very
well. You were shivering and bundled up in a man's sweater. They
hadn't even put a diaper on you, and you were covered with your own
caca. Your nose was running and you were red as a boiled lobster,
with a head full of fuzz like corn silk. That's how it was. Don't
get any ideas," she repeated stoutly. "You weren't born to be a
princess and if your hair had been as black as it is now, Miss Rose
and her brother would have tossed the crate in the

Excerpted from DAUGHTER OF FORTUNE (c) Copyright 1999 by Isabel
Allende. Reprinted with permission from the publisher. All rights

Daughter of Fortune
by by Isabel Allende

  • Genres: Fiction
  • Mass Market Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: HarperTorch
  • ISBN-10: 038082101X
  • ISBN-13: 9780380821013