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Paula by Isabel Allende
Published by Harper Collins, 1995

The Paula of the title is the daughter of Chilean writer, Isabel Allende. Paula suffered from a disease called porphyria. In 1991 she was living in Spain with her husband when she fell into a coma. She was 28 years old. This is the true story of Paula's illness. Isabel Allende travelled from her home in California to stay by her sick daughter's bedside in a Madrid hospital. When Paula lost consciousness Isabel began writing: "Listen Paula, I am going to tell you a story, so that when you wake up you will not feel so lost". Her writings developed into an autobiography, covering her family and childhood years in Chile, her political involvement, her feminist beliefs and her development as a writer. All the while she is willing Paula to recover and refusing to deal with the possibility that Paula's condition may never improve. Eventually, in a last desperate bid, she takes Paula back to her home in California. Various alternative medicines are tried as she gradually comes to accept the fact that Paula will not get better. Paula died in December, 1992. Isabel Allende writes; "She died in my arms, surrounded by her family, the thoughts of those absent, and the spirits of her ancestors who had come to her aid."

This is a very moving and powerful autobiography. It is a very personal and honest account and it grips the reader right to the final pages. Though covering subjects such as grief, death and dying this is not a morbid book. There are several lighthearted moments and funny anecdotes about her family. Some very interesting characters are introduced. Isabel Allende is a niece of former Chilean President, Salvador Allende and we get wonderful insights into life in Chile at the time of Pinochet's military coup.
This book is very readable. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by a local Book Club