BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende, translated by Anne McLean

Maya's NotebookI’ve never seen, but have read about (no surprise) the international popularity of telenovelas, but I imagine that if this, Isabel Allende‘s latest novel, was transferred to the little screen, it would fit quite well in what seems to be a rather histrionic genre with many (many!) socio-politically-correct messages. Although I avidly read Allende’s earliest works (The House of the Spirits, her debut and possibly still her most lauded title, I (contrarily) found to be a lacking imitation of Gabriel García Márquez; with Of Love and Shadows she seemed to have found her unique voice; Eva Luna and The Stories of Eva Luna remain my favorites among her titles), I found over the decades since that too many of her later stories just wouldn’t keep my attention enough to read to the final pages. Choosing the audible route this time (narrator Maria Cabezas is especially adept in treading a fine line between innocent youth and corrupted experience) helped greatly to ferry me to the very end.

I admit I chose Maya’s Notebook specifically for its title, hoping it might somehow (magical thinking!) be remotely related to Eva Luna and her Stories [in case you, too, were wondering – no such relationship exists that I discovered]. The cover should have been a clear message; indeed, a nose ring and the oversized tattoo are just two obvious details that Notebook is a distinct departure from Allende’s more historical, magic realism-infused, dare I say (?) … literary novels.

Before she’s even 20 years old, Maya Vidal is running from the law. The death of her beloved grandfather, Popo, destroys the foundation of her stable Berkeley life, and she eventually finds herself mired in the violent underworld of Las Vegas, molested, addicted, and bound to a volatile boss who makes her an accomplice to too many crimes. When she manages to return to her grandmother’s fiercely loving embrace, her Nini saves her shattered life by secreting Maya off to a remote Chilean island where she will be able to tell her story to her eponymous ‘notebook.’

Cell phones, the internet, contemporary challenges including eating disorders and self-harm/mutilation, and more, all suggest that Notebook seems to want to be a 21st-century morality tale. Meshed with glimpses of Allende’s signature magic realism (Popo’s posthumous presence, Nini’s mystical strength, an island coven of ‘good’ witches) and her political(-ly correct) history (Popo and Nini’s then-shocking racial and socioeconomically-crossing marriage, the historical horrors of Chilean dictatorships, the corruptibility of legal systems), the final result seems to be… well … something akin to a convoluted telenovela. Maya Vidal’s name even seems to concur: as Maya herself explains about her “Nini’s soft spot for India,” ‘Maya’ in Hindi, could mean “‘charm, illusion, dream,'”; ‘Vidal’ has Latin roots meaning ‘life.’ Ultimately, Maya’s Notebook indeed reflects the disjointed confusion of an illusive, dreamy life.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2013


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