Novel that cap­tures the heart

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - READS - Maya’s Note­book Is­abel al­lende Harper, 387 pages Re­view by SULOSHINI JAHANATH star2@thes­tar.com.my

MAYA’S Note­book is the story of 19year-old Maya Vi­dal, who, af­ter the death of her beloved Popo (grand­fa­ther), loses her way and falls into a life of crime and drugs.

Af­ter get­ting into some se­ri­ous trou­ble, Nini, her grand­mother, sends her far away to Chiloe, a re­mote is­land off the coast of Chile, where she is to live – safely – un­der the care of an old fam­ily friend, Man­ual. And Maya needs safety badly, as she is run­ning not only from the po­lice but also the FBI and In­ter­pol as well as a group of as­sas­sins.

Maya ini­tially hates the place. How­ever, she finds un­likely com­pan­ion­ship in the sleepy town and also dis­cov­ers a long buried fam­ily se­cret, and learns about love, loy­alty and her­self in the process.

Is­abel Al­lende has al­ways writ­ten nov­els that tug on the heart­strings, nov­els that can si­mul­ta­ne­ously make you laugh and cry. Maya’s Note­book, trans­lated from the orig­i­nal Span­ish, is no dif­fer­ent. Her rich de­pic­tions of Maya, grand­mother Nini and the colour- ful peo­ple Maya meets pulled me in strongly. Add in a mys­te­ri­ous fam­ily se­cret, a vul­ner­a­ble Maya who is, nev­er­the­less, a sur­vivor and you have a truly en­joy­able read.

There’s sym­pa­thy for Maya, as well as em­pa­thy, be­cause how many among us don’t know what it’s like to lose some­one we love? How many of us have made bad choices? This is ba­si­cally the core of Maya’s Note­book, and her jour­ney of self-dis­cov­ery and com­ing into her own is one that most of us can re­late to.

One of Al­lende’s great­est strengths is her lyri­cal writ­ing, with rich de­scrip­tions of peo­ple and places. In­deed, there is an al­most ef­fort­less feel to her writ­ing here, with the novel mov­ing be­tween Chile’s Chiloe and Berke­ley and Las Ve­gas in the United States.

The con­trast be­tween gritty and dark Las Ve­gas and the peace­ful, tran­quil Chiloe is es­pe­cially well done, and there is a smooth flow be­tween Maya’s re­cent past and the present. This, as well as Al­lende’s por­trayal of the peo­ple of Chiloe, their cus­toms and his­tory, make this a book that’s easy to get lost in.

One of the big­gest dif­fer­ences be­tween this novel and Al­lende’s other works is that Maya’s Note­book is set in the present in­stead of decades ago. This, I feel, makes Maya a much more re­lat­able char­ac­ter to me in the con­text of her age (another de­par­ture for Al­lende, who usu­ally writes from a more ma­ture per­spec­tive) and how eas­ily she seems to fall into a life of crime and drugs. Raised by her Nini and Popo be­cause her par­ents had ne­glected her, Maya was ex­tremely close to her grand­par­ents, so it’s no sur­prise that Popo’s death is a cat­a­lyst to her down­ward spi­ral.

If there’s one thing about the book that can put the reader off, it’s that there are so many char­ac­ters, and not all of them are fully fleshed out – some are even rather one-di­men­sional. They are more like passers-by in Maya’s life in Chiloe (and maybe that’s what Al­lende in­tended).

Be­cause the book is trans­lated, there are some sec­tions that made me won­der how close to Al­lende’s orig­i­nal prose the trans­la­tor got. This loss of nu­ance can be a bit jar­ring, but over­all, the trans­la­tion must be pretty good be­cause the novel cer­tainly cap­tures the heart.

Maya’s Note­book is one of those books that you have to read in one sit­ting, and then go back over it just to ap­pre­ci­ate all the lit­tle things that make a great story. One thing’s for sure: Al­lende has done a fab­u­lous job – again.

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