At a glance:
- Author: Isabel Allende
- First Published: 1991
- Genres: Long fiction, Bildungsroman, Magical Realism, Novel
- Subjects: Maturation or coming of age, Family or family life, North America or North Americans, Self-discovery, United States or Americans, Parents and children, Traveling or travelers, Adolescence, Twentieth century, Friendship, California, Los Angeles, Inner cities or inner-city life, Vietnam War, Abortion, Clergy, Latinos
The Infinite Plan was Chilean writer Isabel Allende’s first novel following her move to the United States. Although it was written in Spanish, the book is set in California and chronicles the life of a European American man. Allende uses her character’s experiences to examine the factors that shaped the United States’ social history in the decades following World War II. Her focus is the Latino culture in California, in which the main character comes of age.
As the book opens, young Gregory Reeves and his family are living a nomadic life as his father preaches a spiritual doctrine he calls the Infinite Plan. When the elder Reeves falls ill in Los Angeles, the family settles in the barrio (although they are not Latino). Gregory grows up experiencing life as a member of a minority group within the community. His closest friend is Carmen Morales, whose family comes to regard him as an honorary son. Following high school, Gregory leaves home for Berkeley and college while Carmen remains in the barrio until an unwanted pregnancy and near-fatal abortion make her an outcast.
Gregory leaves an unhappy marriage to serve a harrowing tour of duty in Vietnam, while Carmen lives abroad and begins designing jewelry. Both meet again in Berkeley, where Gregory embarks on an ambitious quest for success that leads him away from his youthful idealism and into a second failed marriage and problems with alcoholism. Carmen adopts her dead brother’s half-Vietnamese son and discovers a strong sense of herself, marrying an old friend and settling in Italy. Gregory begins at last to take stock of his life and to see the pattern—the infinite plan—that has shaped it.
Allende’s first novel set in her adopted country reflects her perspective on the United States as an immigrant. Her delight in tolerance and openness—matters of great importance to a writer whose life was marred by the repressive military coup in Chile in 1973—is apparent in her affectionate portrait of the freewheeling Berkeley of the 1960’s. Her cultural identity as a Latina also comes into play in her portrayal of life in the barrio and the effect that religion and a patriarchal society have on Carmen.
Allende makes use in the novel of some aspects of the Latin American literary style known as Magical Realism, bringing a kind of heightened realism to the story, which blends realistic events with exaggerated or improbable ones. The result is a book filled with memorable characters that brings a fresh perspective to the post-World War II history and culture of the United States.
Bly, Robert. Review of The Infinite Plan, by Isabel Allende. The New York Times Book Review, May 16, 1993, 13.
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