Novelist Isabel Allende's daughter, Paula, died after entering into a coma following an acute attack of a porphyria disease. Allende was at her daughter's side in a hospital in Spain, where Paula was living with her husband, and later in Allende's home in California, where Paula spent the last months of her life.

When Paula first lost consciousness, Allende began writing for her an account of her illness, which soon grew into a memoir of Allende's own life: "Listen, Paula, I am going tell you a story, so that when you wake up you will not feel so lost" (p. 3), Allende begins. As Allende tells of her childhood, political and feminist awakenings, and her growth as a writer, she also watches Paula sink deeper and deeper into coma. She remains insistent, however, that Paula will recover, works in secret with a sympathetic physician to wean Paula from the respirator that breathes for her, then flies her back to California for rehabilitation.

In the end, though, she faces the reality that Paula will not recover, and, as she finishes telling Paula the story of her own life, she discovers that she has found the strength to let Paula go. Paula dies in a sunny room in Allende's house, surrounded by family and friends.


This is a moving, magical auto/biography. Like many of the stories of the death of a loved one, the story of that person's dying also encompasses the story of the teller's life. While on one level, Allende tells a story of medical procedures, hospitals, doctors and nurses, alternative healers, and family, she also explores the importance of memory for survivors, how memory is shaped, and how it is transmitted.


Translated by Margaret Sayers Peden.



Place Published

New York



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