Notes from un­der­ground

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - BOOKS - AMY DRISCOLL

Fout what ails her and tackle some of the cen­tral mysteries of her life. Al­lende, who was born in Peru, raised in Chile and now lives in Cal­i­for­nia, has said she wrote this book with her six grand­chil­dren in mind, real­is­ing she couldn’t pro­tect them from all the evils of the world. In­deed, Maya’s char­ac­ter is writ­ten with an un­der­tone of sym­pa­thy. She’s an open- hearted mess: an­gry, im­pul­sive, funny, tum­bling from one dis­as­trous sit­u­a­tion to an­other, the hot- headed run­away with scrappy ap­peal. Watch­ing her char­ac­ter evolve from de­fi­ant kid to hum­bled but clear- eyed young woman is a com­pelling jour­ney. You want to see her emerge on the other side, older and wiser but still true to her­self. Al­lende is kind to her read­ers, start­ing the story as Maya heads to the is­land, the grand­moth­erly res­cue al­ready a fait ac­com­pli. The flash­backs of drug over­doses, rape and crim­i­nal­ity are bru­tal – they’re con­veyed as en­tries in Maya’s note­book – but read­ers al­ready know she sur­vived to tell the tale. That’s not to say there’s no sus­pense. Maya’s voy­age of self- dis­cov­ery leads to de­tec­tive work in­volv­ing her own fam­ily. Up­ping the ten­sion is the fact that Maya is cut off from the world – no email or phone calls – be­cause law en­force­ment agen­cies and killers are try­ing to track her down. Even­tu­ally, just as Maya be­gins to un­der­stand her past and adapt to the tiny, slow- paced so­ci­ety of the is­land, her two worlds col­lide with po­ten­tially cat­a­strophic re­sults. Al­lende’s old magic works its way into Maya’s story through her grand­mother and the is­land peo­ple. As Maya opens her­self to the pos­si­bil­i­ties of the is­land, she’s in­vited to a midnight meet­ing with a group of women who may or may not be witches. She falls in mind- bog­gling love, feels her­self dy­ing and be­ing re­born, sees new hori­zons where once there were none. And that’s where Al­lende uses her re­li­able lit­er­ary tools to fresh ad­van­tage. The mag­i­cal touches, which could have felt like a re­tread of pre­vi­ous books, seem new again as they play out through Maya’s eyes. Some of the ear­lier crit­i­cisms of Al­lende’s work still ap­ply here. She’s not the most sub­tle of writ­ers, em­brac­ing high drama ev­ery time. Love and vi­o­lence, themes she has em­braced be­fore, are once again cen­tre stage. But there’s a lot to like here, start­ing with Maya. She re­minds us of the cen­tral role that luck or lack of it can play in our lives. And her slow re­turn to a more sure- footed ex­is­tence shows us that some­times, we can tri­umph any­way.

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