Since reading The House of the Spirits, I have been a fan of multi-talented writer Isabel Allendes powerful fiction. Leaving the contemporary world aside, Ms. Allende returns to her historical roots with a resonant, brilliant story of a young womans search for her own place in the world.

As an infant Eliza is left on the doorstep of Rose and Jeremy Sommers house in 1832 Chile. Spinster Rose adores the little girl and as wealthy British import-exporters they can well care for her.

Eliza grows up tutored by Rose to become the perfect Victorian woman, but her passions override her good sense when she falls in love with young, handsome Joaquin Andieta, Jeremys clerk. Lured by the promise of gold, Joaquin runs off to California and Eliza, pregnant with his child, decides to find him.

Running away on one of Jeremys ships she meets a Chinese doctor, a brilliant acupuncturist who had been shanghaied. He nurses Eliza through her miscarriage and helps her disguise herself as a boy when they disembark in America.

For four years Eliza, dressed as a man, searches for Joaquin, rumored to have become a bandit. She holds all kinds of jobs, even playing piano in a bordello, and in the process, learns about life, love and what freedom and independence truly are.

Ms. Allende once more gifts readers with a story of great power, fascinating historical perspective and a feminist view. Passionate and exciting, I could not put this book down. Every woman should read Allende not just for the grand romance and magical prose, but for the inspiration she brings and the emotions she explores. SENSUAL (Available now, 299 pp., $26.00)

Reviewed by: 
Kathe Robin