The Sum of Our Days

The Sum of Our Days

by Isabel Allende


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In The Sum of Our Days, internationally acclaimed author Isabel Allende reconstructs the painful reality of her own life in the wake of the tragic death of her daughter, Paula. Narrated with warmth, humor, exceptional candor, and wisdom, this remarkable memoir is as exuberant and full of life as its creator. Allende bares her soul as she shares her thoughts on love, marriage, motherhood, spirituality and religion, infidelity, addiction, and memory—and recounts stories of the wildly eccentric, strong-minded, and eclectic tribe she gathers around her and lovingly embraces as a new kind of family.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061551840
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/06/2009
Series: P.S. Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 600,936
Product dimensions: 5.34(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.79(d)

About the Author

Isabel Allende is the author of twelve works of fiction, including the New York Times bestsellers Maya’s Notebook, Island Beneath the Sea, Inés of My Soul, Daughter of Fortune, and a novel that has become a world-renowned classic, The House of the Spirits. Born in Peru and raised in Chile, she lives in California.


San Rafael, California

Date of Birth:

August 2, 1942

Place of Birth:

Lima, Peru

Read an Excerpt

The Sum of Our Days

A Memoir

By Isabel Allende HarperCollins
Copyright © 2008
Isabel Allende
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-06-155183-3

Chapter One Darkest Waters

In the second week of December, 1992, almost as soon as the rain let up, we went as a family to scatter your ashes, Paula, following the instructions you had left in a letter written long before you fell ill. As soon as we advised them of your death, your husband, Ernesto, came from New Jersey, and your father from Chile. They were able to tell you good-bye where you lay wrapped in a white sheet waiting to be taken to the crematory. Afterward, we met in a church to hear mass and weep together. Your father was pressed to return to Chile, but he waited until the weather cleared, and two days later, when finally a timid ray of sun peered out, the whole family, in three cars, drove to a nearby forest. Your father went in the lead, guiding us. He isn't familiar with this region but he had spent the previous two days looking for the best site, one that you would have chosen. There are many places to choose from, nature is prodigal here, but by one of those coincidences that now are habitual in anything related to you, he led us directly to the forest where I often went to walk to ease my rage and pain while you were sick, the same one where Willie had taken me for a picnic shortly after we met, the same one where you and Ernesto liked to walk hand in hand when you came to visit us in California. Your father drove into the park, followedthe road a little way, parked the car, and signaled us to follow him. He took us to the exact spot that I would have chosen, because I had been there many times to pray for you: a stream surrounded with tall redwoods whose tops formed the dome of a green cathedral. There was a fine, light mist that blurred the contours of reality: the light barely penetrated the trees, but the branches shone, winter wet. An intense aroma of humus and dill rose from the earth. We stopped at the edge of a pond formed by rocks and fallen tree trunks. Ernesto, serious, haggard, but now without tears because he had spilled them all, held the clay urn containing your ashes. I had saved a few in a little porcelain box to keep forever on my altar. Your brother, Nico, had Alejandro in his arms, and your sister-in-law, Celia, held Andrea, still a baby, wrapped in shawls and clamped to her breast. I carried a bouquet of roses, which I tossed, one by one, into the water. Then all of us, including Alejandro, who was three, took a handful of ashes from the urn and dropped them onto the water. Some floated briefly among the roses, but most sank to the bottom, like fine white sand.

"What is this?" Alejandro asked.

"Your aunt Paula," my mother told him, sobbing.

"It doesn't look like her," he commented, confused.... I will begin by telling you what has happened since 1993, when you left us, and will limit myself to the family, which is what interests you. I'll have to omit two of Willie's sons: Lindsay, whom I barely know-I've seen him only a dozen times and we've never exchanged more than the essential courteous greetings-and Scott, because he doesn't want to appear in these pages. You were very fond of that thin, solitary boy with thick eyeglasses and disheveled hair. Now he is a man of twenty-eight; he looks like Willie and his name is Harleigh. He chose the name Scott when he was five; he liked it and used it a long time, but during his teens he reclaimed the one given him.

The first person who comes to my mind and heart is Jennifer, Willie's only daughter, who at the beginning of that year had just escaped for the third time from a hospital where she had gone to find rest for her bones because of yet another infection, among the many she had suffered in her short life. The police had not given any indication that they were going to look for her; they had too many cases like hers, and this time Willie's contacts with the law didn't help at all. The physician, a tall, discreet Filipino who by dint of perseverance had saved her when she arrived at the hospital with a raging fever, and who by now knew her because he had attended her on two previous occasions, explained to Willie that he had to find his daughter soon or she would die. With massive doses of antibiotics for several weeks, he might be able to save her, he said, but we had to prevent a relapse, for that would be fatal. We were in the emergency room-yellow walls, plastic chairs, and posters of mammograms and tests for AIDS-which was filled with patients awaiting their turn to be treated. The doctor took off his round, metal-framed glasses, cleaned them with a tissue, and guardedly answered our questions. He had no sympathy for Willie or for me; he perhaps mistook me for Jennifer's mother. In his eyes we were guilty; we had neglected her, and now when it was too late, we had showed up acting distressed. He avoided going into details-patient information was confidential-but Willie could deduce that in addition to multiple infections and bones turned to splinters, his daughter's heart was on the verge of giving out. For nine years Jennifer had persisted in jousting with death.

We had been going to see her in the hospital for several weeks. Her wrists were tied down so that in the delirium of fever she couldn't tear out the intravenous tubes. She was addicted to nearly every known drug, from tobacco to heroin. I don't know how her body had endured so much abuse. Since they couldn't find a healthy vein in which to inject medications, they ...


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Sum of Our Days 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
SOUTHERN-READING-WOMAN More than 1 year ago
The Sum of Our Days, in my opinion, is the best and most enjoyable of all Allende's books thus far. It reads like the best of novels. The characters, Isabel's vast "tribe" of family, friends, and interesting acquaintances have left me loving them and wanting the best for their lives. The settings range from everything California to India, the Amazon, and, of course, Chile. The language is genius--delighting my senses and touching my heart. When she addresses the second person, I am understanding and mourn deeply as she tells her Paula, "you," about the varied lives of the tribe. Our politics differ as Allende is always frank about her liberal leanings. However, as one of her most ardent readers and fans who has bought every book she's written except the juvenile ones because I am a barren grandmother, I put this memoir at the top of my all-time favorite books. May January 8 always bring more great stories. My mind, heart, and love of great literature are in her tribe of grateful readers.
snowbird922 More than 1 year ago
Every one should have at least one Allende book in there home. She is a Latina novelist, storyteller, and enchanter. I just want to meet this woman and join her tribe. She is truly a master at what she does and I am proud to have her in my library.
margeNY More than 1 year ago
I have read a number of Isabelle Allende's books and this one made me feel she was speaking personally to me about her life. I truly enjoyed reading it.
Saludos More than 1 year ago
This book is all about the love of family, friends and the everlasting pain of having lost a child. The book was absorbing, all the love the family share with each other and with friends, the background of each character is enlightening. I recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As usual the author balances sadness with hope. I felt like I was sitting in a room listening to an old friend tell me what I had missed in her life over the past years.
tibobi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed reading about Allende's family. She talks of many challenges and doesn't hold back when it comes to giving her opinion. She's frank and honest and I admire that. Writing about your own family cannot be easy. One thing that really moved me is that she addresses Paula, her daughter that passed away, as if she is still there. As if she is just filling her in on what has happened since her illness. I was so touched by this.I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the family members and how they called themselves a "tribe". Their strength and loyalties came through for me. Reading this book was like visiting a very close-knit family at dinner time. Warm and inviting. I'm also glad that she shared some of the writing process with her readers. I am always fascinated with the creation process. Overall, it was a satisfying memoir and memoirs are not usually my thing.
JGoto on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Isabel Allende¿s memoir, The Sum of our Days, is written in an intimate, casual style that is very readable. That said, it is hard to believe that so much drama could really exist in one family. After awhile, even shocking events had the effect of being just more of the same. Still, the writing was good and I recommend this book for fans of Allende¿s novels. It lends insights into her family life, her spirituality and the books she wrote.
itadakimasu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is a sequel of sorts (for lack of a better word) to Allende's earlier memoir, Paula. I found the writing style in this book to be far less intense, precise, evocative, and engaging. Yes, her "tribe" and their various different trials and issues are still mostly interesting, and I found some wisdom in her words and perspectives. However, I felt a distance in her words and emotions that were not present in Paula. Of course, she is covering a much longer span of time in Sum of Our Days (1993 - 2006) without the anchor point of Paula's illness, so perhaps I am seeing the difficulty of writing across a large expanse of memories with the same focus and presence as was found in Paula, which only encompassed the span of one very difficult year - even though so much of the book discussed her entire family history. By the end of the book, I almost got the impression that maybe, she is done with writing for a while. I sensed a kind of a weariness with the process. I certainly don't feel that she has another memoir in her - I got a feeling that she cameto a point where she was even boring herself while writing it, and eager to be done with it!
noodlejet22 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Allende shares her views on motherhood, love, and writing in what at times seems to be an extension of her work Paula. Through the book she talks to Paula and recounts her family's histories and her inspirations for her stories.
beckmears on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This memoir is the most self reflective of Isabelle Allende's 3 memoirs. I really enjoyed how it gave me much more of a insight into both Isabelle herself and the writing behind some of my much loved novels of hers. I want to re read house of the spirits ( again!) and the infinite plan now I know a bit more about the writing of them. It was also heart warming to see that the author I so admire is probably a most lovable nightmare to live with! she reminded me of my mother some what: small in stature but fierce in heart and with family the greatest thing of all.
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I like Isabel Allende so of course I enjoyed reading this autobiographical journal. It does give you a sense of the woman and how her days go.
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