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22 January 2014

Isabel Allende: Maya's Notebook

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Maya's Magic Notebook
Isabel Allende is renowned for her works of literary fiction featuring her homeland of Chile and the ghosts of the Pinochet dictatorship. "Maya's Notebook" is a remarkable coming of age story told through the eyes of the current generation and an interesting glimpse at the life of everyday rural Chileans and a look back at the horrors of the past in Chile.

Maya Vidal had a good childhood, being brought up in  in Berkeley CA in a loving, libertarian but paradoxically strict household by her activist Chilean grandmother, Nini, and her kindly and beloved African -American step-grandfather, Popo. Despite this loving upbringing, Maya is extremely rebellious during her adolescence. At a party she gets into the mood "with a cocktail of my own invention, gin, vodka, whiskey, tequila and Coca-Cola - and smoked a pipe of marijuana mixed with cocaine and a few drops of LSD that hit me like dynamite."

When her beloved Popo dies, Maya is devastated and flees home to a desperate life in Las Vegas and becomes an alcoholic, drug addict and minor thief, helping a habitual major criminal to peddle drugs in Casinos to support her habits. Her life goes out of control when her criminal mentor is murdered, she lives on the streets and is on the run from the FBI, Interpol as well as a murderous Las Vegas criminal gang.

Just in time a good samaritan rescues Maya and partly rehabilitates and delivers her home to Nini. Recognising the danger, Nini arranges for Maya to go into exile/sanctuary on the remote island of Chiloé off the southern coast of Chile, living with Manuel Arias, an old acquaintance from Nini's days in Chile. Before she leaves Nini gives Maya a notebook to record her experiences in Chiloé and to understand her personal experiences and failings that led her to this exile.

With author's licence, in remarkable prose Maya tells the story in her notebook of her acceptance by the ordinary people of Chiloé and their remarkable lifestyle of helping one another in a remote, poor and challenging environment. She also slowly discovers herself as she recalls her devastating past and becomes a valued part of the people around her, especially Manuel who she grows to love and respect dearly.

In "Maya's Notebook" Allende has written a powerful message of concern, love and hope for the current generation, a loving description of the life of ordinary Chileans and a continued memory of violence and torture during the Pinochet dictatorship. This is one of most memorable mainstream literary fiction books I have read for some time.

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