Retrato en sepia by Isabel Allende

book cover of Retrato en Sepia

I have to give this two stars and no more because, ultimately, I don’t think it held together very well. Making Aurora Del Valle the narrator, rather than opting for a third-person narration like in Daughter of Fortune, left Aurora narrating lots of things she wasn’t present for and has no realistic way of knowing the details of. It didn’t work.

And furthermore, Aurora Del Valle just isn’t that interesting. She’s surrounded by interesting people, but she doesn’t have much going for her herself – only her love of photography which didn’t interest me at all. She’s no Eliza Sommers.

I liked some things about this book. I liked that we finally got to see Eliza Sommers and Tao Chi’en consummate their love, although it would have been nice to see at the end of the last book. I got invested in hating Matías Del Valle (Aurora’s biological father), was pleased to see him meet his doom, and I liked Severo and Nivea. I don’t remember The House of the Spirits very well, so it took a long time before I remembered what role they played in that book, but I was almost tempted to put it on the “to reread” list to see what happened to them. Maybe one day.

I have to say that this book was better as a sequel to Daughter of Fortune than as a prequel to House of the Spirits. The latter draws on the magical realism tradition, unlike the other two, which are straight historical fiction. This leaves Aurora, in this book, having to say things like, “and then the strangest thing happened, wouldn’t you believe it, and this child had green skin! if only I’d had my camera…” It stood out and bothered me, I guess.

I did read this in Spanish, but I was too lazy to review it in that language (mostly I got stuck on how to translate “held together” from the first sentence of this review, so I gave up). The Spanish wasn’t too tricky, although as always, it slowed down my reading. Overall, you might as well read it if you finished Daughter of Fortune and feel cheated by the ending, but otherwise it’s not that great.


a cartoony avatar of Jessica Smith is a socialist and a feminist who loves animals, books, gaming, and cooking; she’s also interested in linguistics, history, technology and society.