Karen Valby
March 28, 2008 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The Sum of Our Days

Current Status
In Season
Isabel Allende
Nonfiction, Memoir

We gave it an A-

So much life happens to Isabel Allende. In her 1995 memoir, Paula, she artfully interwove her dramatic childhood with the cruel illness and eventual death of her 28-year-old daughter. In The Sum of Our Days, Allende celebrates and smacks her head over her grand, always growing family. At the end of this funny, tender book you may find yourself wanting your own invitation to sit and laugh and scream at the author’s table.

Allende’s writing is the main feast. Describing her drug-addicted stepdaughter’s premature baby, she writes, ”I opened the bundle back fold by fold, and in its depths found a little curled up snail in a diaper.” But it’s the fully alive people in these pages, including the author herself, who will drive you pleasantly nuts. In Chilean tradition, Allende wants all of her extended tribe in spitting distance; nobody has a sense of boundaries. When she is on vacation in India, her daughter-in-law calls at 3 a.m. to announce, unbeknownst to Allende’s son, that she’s gay. Seeking a mate for her now-single son, Allende takes one woman with her on a trip to the Amazon to test her mettle. No matter how often relatives stumble or screw up, Allende lovingly takes them, and her reader, into her embrace. A-

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