Critical Overview

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The critical reception of Paula was divided: although most reviewers praise the book as a passionate and candid voyage through memory and grief, some find it disappointing after Allende’s previous work. Negative reviews range from criticism of the author’s use of her daughter’s tragedy as a peg on which to hang the story of her own life to seeing the book as an overly romanticized autobiography relying on questionable facts, to pointing out that the author’s kitschy rhetoric camouflages the book’s introspective parts. However, the majority of critics applauded Allende’s effort in her first nonfiction work and admitted to feeling drawn into the story’s powerful emotional pull.

In a review for the San Francisco Chronicle, Patricia Holt praises the book and writes: ‘‘In her feverish determination to bring it all to life, and Paula along with it, Allende produces some of her best writing.’’ Her writing, Holt says, is ‘‘voluptuous’’ and universally moving, as she seeks ‘‘answers to life’s largest questions’’ in wondering about loss, death, revival, and acceptance. Liz Warwick writes in a Montreal Gazette review that Paula is ‘‘a haunting memoir of [Allende’s] life and a poignant meditation on her daughter’s year-long descent into death.’’ Warwick also recognizes the honesty with which Allende reveals the many layers of her personal and public personae, including the one of writer, while remaining humble throughout. As Allende states in the interview with Warwick:

Mothers across the world for millennia have experienced the loss of their children. Why should I, in my terrible arrogance, imagine that I don’t deserve this or that my daughter didn’t deserve to die young? This is what life is about—coming into the world to lose everything we have . . . And from each loss, we learn and grow.

In the introduction to Conversations with Isabel Allende, John Rodden recognizes the stages in Allende’s work as indivisible from her personal life and notes that Paula is a testimony to the author’s individual development, saying: ‘‘Allende’s courage and openness have also extended to a greater capacity for self-disclosure about her private demons.’’ Rodden also points out the author’s personal investment in the book, made remarkable by her willingness to share the experience with an audience of her readers. He further observes, in ‘‘After Paula,’’ another chapter of the same book, that the magic in Paula, criticized for its presence in an autobiography, is in fact strangely existent in her life: a psychic once told Allende that her daughter would become known all over the world, which ‘‘was to come ironically true in another way: by the end of April 1995, Paula was number eight on the New York Times best-seller list, after having already become a best-seller throughout Europe.’’

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Essays and Criticism