Eva Luna, the third novel by the Chilean author Isabel Allende, was first published in Spanish in 1985. An English translation was published in the United States in 1988. The story is narrated by the title character, who first tells the tale of Consuelo, her mother, and then proceeds through the rest of her own adventurous and sometimes bizarre life. The novel has a mythic, fairy-tale quality, though much of it is set against a backdrop of political unrest and violence that closely resembles the realities of several South American nations.
On the page before the story begins, Allende includes this quote from A Thousand and One Tales of the Arabian Nights (a classic collection of Arabian folktales written over several centuries): "Then he said to Scheherazade: ‘Sister, for the sake of Allah, tell us a story that will help pass the night….’" Like Scheherazade, Eva Luna uses her storytelling ability to help her survive a succession of hardships, and she eventually makes her living as a writer. The transformative power of words and stories is one of the major themes of the novel. Allende also explores themes such as women's rights and the abuse of power.
Readers should be advised that some scenes in Eva Luna are sexual in nature, and there are references to violence in both the story of the South American guerrilla fighters and the story of Lukas Carlé, the abusive father of Rolf Carlé.
In the end, however, Eva Luna is an uplifting tale that celebrates the redemptive powers of both love and the imagination.
Isabel Allende was born on August 2, 1942, in Lima, Peru. Her father and mother were Chilean; her father, Tomás Allende, was a diplomat and first cousin of Salvador Allende, the president of Chile from 1970 to 1973. When Isabel was two years old, her parents divorced. Isabel's mother, Francisca, took her to live with her grandparents in Chile.
After several years in Chile, Allende's mother remarried another diplomat, who took Allende and her two brothers abroad. During these years Allende lived in Bolivia, the Middle East, and various cities in Europe. In 1957 the family was living in Lebanon; political unrest and violence in the country prompted Allende's parents to send her back to Chile to finish her high school education at a private school. She finished at sixteen, and three years later, in 1962, married her first husband, Miguel Frías. During this time she worked as a secretary for the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, until 1965. Interested in work as a journalist, she then took a job with a radical feminist magazine titled Paula, working for several years as a reporter, editor, and advice columnist. She also edited a children's magazine and worked as an interviewer on a weekly television show.
Allende's life changed dramatically in 1973 when President Salvador Allende was assassinated in a military coup that installed General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte as Chile's new leader. Appalled by the oppression and violence supported by this new regime, Allende did her best to help, aiding many to escape military persecution, even driving some to safety in her own car. Soon, however, her family was warned that their close family connections to Salvador Allende put all of their lives at risk, and in 1975 Isabel Allende and several of her relatives fled to Venezuela (a democratic country).
Despite her wealth of experience, Allende was unable to find work as a journalist in Venezuela, and so she worked instead as a teacher. By this time Allende and her husband had two children, Paula and Nicola's. (The couple separated in 1978.) After several years' hiatus from writing, Allende began writing long letters to her dying grandfather in Chile, letters that eventually became the basis for her first novel, The House of the Spirits (published first in Spanish as La casa de los espiritus in 1982). Though Chile is not named as the setting of the novel, the similarity between political events in the book and those in Chile's recent history resulted in the book being banned in Chile (though many copies were smuggled in). The House of the Spirits became a bestseller in Europe, was eventually translated into fifteen languages, and was nominated for the Quality Paperback Book Club New Voice Award in 1986.
Allende's second novel, De amor y de sombra, published in Spanish in 1984 and later released in English as Of Love and Shadows, tells the story of a woman journalist investigating the political murder of a girl whose body is found in an abandoned mine. This novel was nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in 1987.
Eva Luna, Allende's third novel, was published in Spanish in 1985 and in English translation in 1988. It follows the title character through both personal and political adventures in an unnamed South American country. Eva Luna's abilities as a storyteller help her survive heartbreak and tragedy until she is united at the end with her soul mate, Rolf Carlé, the son of an abusive Austrian Nazi. In 1990, Allende followed the novel with a book of short stories titled The Stories of Eva Luna, in which Eva tells a series of tales to her lover, Rolf Carlé. She wrote the collection shortly after marrying her second husband, the attorney William Gordon, and settling in San Francisco.
The Eva Luna books were followed by, among other works, the novels The Infinite Plan (1991), Daughter of Fortune (1999), Portrait in Sepia (2000), My Invented Country (2003), Zorro (2005), and Inés of My Soul (2006) and the memoir The Sum of Our Days (2007). She has also written several young-adult novels and a memoir of her twenty-nine-year-old daughter's illness and death, titled Paula. As of 2008, Allende was living in California with her husband, William Gordon, and continuing to write.
The novel opens with Eva Luna introducing herself and then narrating the story of her mother's childhood. Missionaries in a jungle region take in an abandoned baby and name her Consuelo. They raise her until she is twelve and then send her to a convent. After she spends three years there, the Mother Superior finds Consuelo a job as the servant of a professor who has invented a new method for preserving dead bodies. Though eccentric and bad-tempered, Professor Jones is not unkind or abusive, and Consuelo is content living in his estate with the other servants.
Many years pass. One day a poisonous snake bites the estate's gardener, a Native American man whom Consuelo finds attractive. Consuelo nurses the gardener in his sickness, and they fall in love. Their love has a miraculous effect on the gardener, who recovers completely. Once he is well, he tells Consuelo good-bye, unaware that she is pregnant. Consuelo has the baby by herself and names her Eva, which means life, and Luna, for the Indian tribe the gardener belongs to. The household cook volunteers to be Eva's godmother, or madrina.
Eva spends her early years in the professor's mansion, helping her mother with her daily chores. When she and her mother are alone, her mother tells Eva tale after tale, sharing her gift for storytelling. She teaches Eva that when reality is difficult, "it is legitimate to enhance it and color it to make our journey through life less trying."
In this chapter, Eva narrates the childhood of Rolf Carlé, an Austrian boy whose family is headed by a tyrannical, abusive father. Rolf is just a baby when his father joins the army to fight in World War II, allowing him to grow up without the abuse his older siblings had to endure.
When Rolf is ten years old, Russian soldiers order all the residents of his village to come to a nearby prison camp to help bury the dead. A week later, Rolf's father returns from the war and resumes his job as a schoolmaster at the village school. One night Rolf and his brother suspect that their father is abusing their mother; Jochen bursts into his parents' bedroom and hits his father hard enough to break his jaw. Before his father can regain consciousness, Jochen bids his mother farewell and leaves the house forever.
In chapter 3, Eva tells the story of her mother's death. Consuelo unknowingly swallows a chicken bone at Christmas dinner and later begins bleeding internally. Three days later, realizing that she is dying, she calls in Eva's godmother and tells her to care for Eva; then, with Eva by her bedside, she passes away.
- While no audiobook version of Eva Luna was available as of 2008, the story collection The Stories of Eva Luna is available at http://www.audible.com as a purchasable audio download.
Eva remains at the professor's estate, now under the care of her madrina, the cook. The cook is a robust mulatto Catholic woman with precise ideas of good and evil, though her ideas are eccentric, due in part to her drinking large quantities of rum.
Not long after the death of Eva's mother, the professor dies as well, and Eva's madrina tells her that she must make her own living now. So at seven years of age, she becomes a servant in the household of an elderly woman.
Eva is unhappy about leaving the professor's mansion for this new household, but fortunately she is befriended by Elvira, the cook. Elvira makes sure Eva is well fed, tells her stories, and gives her money to buy candy when they go to the market. Like Eva's madrina, Elvira has her quirks; for instance, in her bedroom she keeps a wooden coffin that she bought for herself, fearing that if she died a pauper she would be buried in a common grave.
One day Eva has a fight with her strict, unforgiving employer and runs away into the city. When she stops to rest in a plaza, she meets a boy named Huberto Naranjo, who lives on the streets and survives as a con artist and pickpocket. Eva stays with Huberto for three days, and then, becoming homesick, she asks him to help her find her godmother. When they find her, she abuses Eva for running away and takes her back to her job.
Eva resumes her relationship with Elvira, whom she calls abuela, or grandmother. Eva works for the elderly woman for several years, during which time the country has "a brief interval of republican freedom," as followed by yet another dictatorship. Eva thinks often of Huberto Naranjo and their time together, which was so much more exciting than her life as a servant. She consoles herself by listening to soap operas on the radio and casting Huberto as the hero of her fantasies.
In this chapter, it is revealed that five students killed Lukas Carlé, Rolf's father, in the forest. Rolf's mother sends Rolf to South America to stay with her cousin. The cousin and his wife, whom Rolf calls Uncle Rupert and Aunt Burgel, run an inn in La Colonia, a town which looks like a European village. While living in La Colonia, Rolf meets Señor Aravena, the inn's best client, a famous and highly respected newspaperman. Aravena teaches Rolf to use a camera and encourages him to see more of the world. Rolf tells his aunt and uncle that he is leaving La Colonia to study cinematography at the university in the city.
Chapter 5 resumes Eva's story. Eva's madrina begins going mad after she gives birth to a deformed stillborn baby. She drinks even more heavily than before and pesters Eva's employer for loans and higher wages for Eva (as she has been collecting Eva's pay for years, as her guardian). Finally, Eva's employer loses patience with the whole situation and fires Eva.
Now Eva moves from employer to employer, wherever her madrina finds her work. One of her many employers teaches her to make a substance dubbed Universal Matter, which can be molded and painted to resemble almost anything. Another is a cabinet minister who insists on using an old-fashioned chamber pot instead of a toilet. Unable to find Elvira, and afraid of her mad godmother, Eva eventually goes into the city to look for Huberto Naranjo. When she finds him, he welcomes her warmly and takes her to meet a madam called La Señora. La Señora, a cheerful and flamboyant woman, takes her to a hair-dresser and then shopping for clothes. When they return home, Eva meets La Señora's best friend, Melesio, a softhearted schoolteacher who insists that he is not homosexual but a woman trapped in a man's body. Eva and Melesio become fast friends.
Eva's happy time with La Señora comes to an end when a new police sergeant is assigned to the red-light district. Late one night, El Negro, a local bar owner and friend of Huberto, knocks on La Señora's door to warn her that the sergeant is doing a house-by-house search and has arrested Melesio in the cabaret where he performs. Eva flees with La Señora through an underground parking garage, but when La Señora realizes Eva has come with her, she tells her to go away.
After this incident, Eva lives on the streets for days. One evening a kindly Turkish man with a cleft lip buys her some food. After learning that Eva has no home or family, he takes her home with him to be a companion for his wife. The man's name is Riad Halabí.
Riad Halabí had come to South America at fifteen to seek his fortune and send money back to his family in the East. He settled down in the small town of Agua Santa and built a home and a shop, which became the center of commerce in the village. Then he wrote to his mother and asked her to find him a bride. Riad's mother arranged a match with Zulema, a beautiful twenty-five-year-old. They married, but Zulema found Riad's cleft lip repulsive and was disappointed to find that he was not rich. Even after many years of marriage, Zulema remained disappointed and miserable in Agua Santa, spending most of her time lying in bed eating.
To this household Riad brings Eva Luna, who entertains Zulema with stories as she lies in bed. Riad arranges for Eva to have private reading and writing lessons with a schoolteacher named Inés. Compassionate and generous, Riad becomes like a father to Eva. Eva works in his store and does the housework; Zulema, utterly self-absorbed, has no interest in either of the two.
After Eva has lived with Riad and Zulema for about a year and a half, Riad's twenty-five-year-old cousin Kamal comes to stay with them. When Riad Halabí goes away on business, Zulema and Kamal have an affair. Afterward, Kamal packs his suitcase and leaves. Zulema, despondent, takes to her bed, losing interest in life.
Rolf Carlé now works as a television reporter for Señor Aravena. After an obviously fraudulent popular election in which the current leader is re-elected, the people begin to revolt. When the government is overthrown, Rolf makes a name for himself as a reporter, recording the events with his camera.
A new government is formed, but in a few short years, there is already discontent among students at the university, who feel betrayed by the new president. The Cuban Revolution gives them new hope, and the guerrilla movement is born. Rolf asks Aravena to let him cover the movement for television.
Huberto Naranjo, the leader of a feared gang in the city, first hears of the guerrilla movement when his friend El Negro invites him to a secret meeting. Identifying deeply with their cause, Huberto joins them. He becomes one of the most respected guerrilla fighters in the movement.
Meanwhile in Agua Santa, two years have passed since Kamal's departure, and Zulema still keeps to her bed like an invalid. Eva continues to study with the schoolteacher and spends so much time writing stories that her characters seem more real to her than does reality.
One weekend Riad Halabí goes on a business trip and leaves Eva to watch over Zulema. On Saturday morning, Eva finds that Zulema has committed suicide. The police come to the house and take Eva to jail, where she is beaten. Word of what has happened reaches Riad in the city, and he immediately returns. He arrives at the police station and demands that Eva be released; when they refuse, he offers them a bribe, and they relinquish her. Once safe at home with Riad, Eva is finally able to speak, and she tells him the story of what has happened. Riad comforts her, and together he and the schoolteacher Inés treat her bruises and injuries.
Three months later, rumors have begun to spread about Riad and Eva (now seventeen) living alone together in his house. In addition, the police lieutenant threatens to reopen the investigation if Riad does not pay him more money. Riad decides that it is best for Eva to go away and have a chance at a new life. Eva realizes that she loves Riad, and she begs him to let her stay. Riad insists that she go, giving her money and an address for a good boarding-house. She throws the address away, determined to make her own way.
She arrives at the capital in the midst of another coup d'état; with the sound of gunshots in the distance, she manages to find a hotel. One day, while looking for work, she is caught in a street riot and ducks into a church for safety. There she sees a beautiful woman in a nearby pew who recognizes her; it is Melesio, who is now living as a woman, Mimí. After being arrested in the police lieutenant's raid, Melesio was taken to the brutal penal colony at Santa Maria. He stayed there for a year, until La Señora managed to get him out through a combination of bribes and blackmail.
Delighted to see her, Mimí asks Eva to come live with her. Eva does and stays there for years, throughout Mimí's many stormy relationships with men. Mimí is always searching for love, though neither she nor Eva have much luck at this time in their lives.
One day Eva, now in her twenties, runs into Huberto Naranjo in the city. In seconds she falls in love with him all over again, just as she did when she was a girl. After a short time together, Huberto disappears; unaware of his activities as a guerrilla fighter, Eva wonders what has become of him. He returns again and again, always disappearing afterward. Often when he returns he has new scars or fresh wounds. Eva begins to suspect the truth about Huberto.
During this time Eva and Mimí are living in luxury, thanks to Mimí's success as an actress. She appears on stage and in television shows and is approached on the street for autographs. Mimí disapproves of Eva's relationship with Huberto and suspects that he is a smuggler or drug dealer. Eva's suspicions, however, are confirmed when he admits to Eva that he is part of the guerrilla movement. Eva wants to be a part of it, but Huberto insists, "This is a man's war." Eva realizes that even if the revolution is successful, Huberto will never see her as an equal.
As the chapter begins, guerrilla activities are escalating, and Señor Aravena wants more information on the men in the mountains. He asks Rolf Carlé to try to re-establish contact with Huberto Naranjo, whom he had met the first time he reported on the guerrillas. Through Huberto's friend El Negro, Rolf contacts him, and the guerrillas agree to let Rolf film their activities. Rolf lives with them for months. He is impressed with Huberto, who commands the respect and admiration of his men, endures hardships without complaint, and is a courageous leader. Knowing they can never show the guerrilla footage without endangering the lives of the fighters, Rolf puts the film in a locked suitcase and has his Uncle Rupert hide it at his inn.
During this time, Eva works at a factory that manufactures equipment for the military. The factory is regularly inspected by Colonel Tolomeo Rodriguez; he notices Eva, and he invites her to dinner. At dinner, Eva tells the colonel that she is not interested in a romance with him, though she finds him a pleasant companion. Determined, the colonel vows to pursue Eva.
Wanting to avoid the colonel, Eva quits her job at the factory, and Mimí buys her a typewriter so that she can dedicate herself full-time to her writing. She begins writing a script for a telenovela, the kind of televised melodrama that Mimí often stars in. She writes almost continuously for three weeks, weaving in characters from her own life. Mimí takes the script to Aravena, now the director of national television, who is inattentive and says that he will read the script later. Mimí turns on the charm and invites him to a dinner party at their home.
When Aravena comes to the party he brings along Rolf Carlé. After dinner, Mimí asks Eva to tell a story, and she spins a tale about a pair of Australian lovers. Rolf compliments her on the story, and they talk together for hours. The next week Aravena calls Eva to his office to sign a contract for the script, partly because he finds it intriguing and partly because he is smitten with Mimí.
Shortly after, days and days of rain cause massive flooding in the country. While watching the news on television, Eva hears of a woman found safely floating in a wooden coffin; it is Elvira. Eva immediately races to the shelter for the flood victims, finds Elvira, and brings her home to live with her and Mimí.
After returning home from an assignment, Rolf takes Eva to the seaside for the day, and they exchange life stories. It is the first time Rolf has told anyone about his abusive father and the way he died.
El Negro comes to see Eva, and he takes her to see Huberto in the city. Huberto tells her that the guerrillas are planning to break several of their comrades out of the penal colony at Santa Maria; their plan is to steal government uniforms from the factory where Eva works, to disguise themselves as prison guards. Eva tells him that she has quit her job, but she tries to draw the guerrillas a layout of the factory. Mimí is outraged that she is getting involved in the plan, but for Eva's sake, she comes to meet Huberto. Mimí draws Huberto a map of Santa Maria, a place she remembers all too well.
Huberto enlists the help of a tribe of Native Americans who live near the prison. The plan is that the prisoners will be rescued from the prison yard, but the problem lies in how to get the prisoners out of the cells and into the yard. Then Eva remembers the Universal Matter that one of her employers taught her to make, and she devises a plan.
El Negro drives Eva to the town of Agua Santa, which is close to Santa Maria. Eva cannot resist stopping at Riad Halabí's shop. He does not recognize her, and she does not reveal her identity. She discovers that he has married a teenage girl, who is helping him in the shop.
El Negro takes Eva to the tribe's camp, where they will stay during the attempted rescue of the guerrillas. Huberto's men arrive one by one, and then to Eva's surprise, Rolf arrives in a jeep with his camera. He is just as surprised to see Eva, because Eva never told him of her relationship with Huberto. Rolf tells her that Huberto asked him to come film the operation.
Now Eva carries out her part of the plan: she prepares a large batch of Universal Matter, dyed to exactly match the color of a hand grenade. The dough will be sent to the prisoners, who have already been sent instructions for making fake grenades, which they will use to force the prison guards to release them from their cells.
The night before the operation, neither Eva nor Rolf can sleep. They sit together by the fire all night, quiet. The next morning, Eva says goodbye to Huberto and Rolf and takes the bus back to her home. Two days later, Rolf arrives at Eva and Mimí's home with good news: the operation was successful. Rolf tells Eva that he wants her to come away with him for a while, in case someone in Agua Santa might have seen her and recognized her as the girl who used to live with Riad Halabí. He takes her to La Colonia to stay with his Aunt Burgel and Uncle Rupert.
The news of the rescue is told, but the real truth of it is censored. Rolf wants the real story of the guerrillas' struggle and the rescue at Santa Maria to be revealed, so he comes up with a plan: Eva will write the story into her telenovela, and they will use some of the real guerrilla footage that Rolf has hidden away. So Eva weaves fact and fiction together to tell the story of Huberto and the guerrillas. Not long after, she is summoned to the Ministry of Defense, where she is brought to the office of General Tolomeo Rodriguez, who is now commander in chief of the armed forces. He has read the entire script of her telenovela and has just one request: that she remove the part in the story about the fake grenades, because it makes the officers look ridiculous and also is "unrealistic."
The general then tells Eva that the guerrillas have been defeated and that the president will offer amnesty to those who agree to lay down their weapons and live peacefully. He knows about Eva and Huberto's friendship and asks Eva to persuade Huberto to accept amnesty; if Huberto does, his comrades will follow his lead. Eva refuses to lead Huberto into a trap, but Rodriguez convinces her of his sincerity.
Rolf leaves La Colonia for a few days to cover the public reaction to the escape from Santa Maria; Eva stays behind at the inn. When he returns, he finally confesses his love for Eva, which is requited, and the couple then announce the happy news to the rest of the family. Eva and Rolf Carlé live happily ever after—or not; the reader is left unsure whether Eva's rosy picture is reality or simply the result of her penchant for painting a more pleasant picture of life with her gift for storytelling.
Aravena is a famous and highly respected newsman who guides Rolf Carlé into his career as a reporter and filmmaker. He is honest, shrewd, and hedonistic, with a big appetite for the pleasures of life. Aravena's reputation as a newsman is so well known that even the corrupt government hesitates to censor his stories too heavily. His years of reporting have honed his instincts in political matters, and his predictions are usually accurate regarding government decisions and the public's reactions.
Burgel is the first woman in Rolf's life to show him unabashed, unrestrained affection; his own mother was shy and feared the reaction of Rolf's father, who felt that too much affection would make his son "soft." She is also a prolific cook, constantly churning out baked goods and her own secret stew. Through her love, humor, and cooking, she helps nurture Rolf back to health both physically and emotionally.
The last in the long line of Eva's employers, the vulgar cabinet minister achieved his high position mainly by fawning over others in power. He spends many hours seated on a plush armchair with a hole in the seat, so that he may relieve himself into a basin beneath; it is Eva's unenviable job to empty the basin.
Rolf Carlé's mother is a quiet woman who despises her husband, a man who takes every opportunity to humiliate her. Still, she is able to maintain her faith in God and an inner reserve of strength until her husband returns from serving his sentence at a labor camp (having been convicted of desertion); she then loses faith, unable to believe in a God who would allow Lukas Carlé to return despite all her prayers to the contrary. She loves her children but feels helpless to protect them from their father. Still, Rolf discovers that she has not been completely resigned to her fate; when Lukas is murdered by his own students, she tells Rolf, "I am grateful they did it, because if they hadn't, we would have had to do it ourselves one day."
Rolf's older brother, Jochen is not as bright as Rolf but is enormously strong, loyal, and protective of his mother and siblings. His father views him as a complete disappointment. Jochen leaves home after knocking his father unconscious with a single punch in protecting his mother.
Katharina, Rolf's older sister, was born with a heart defect and is also mentally disabled. Whenever Lukas Carlé is in the house, she hides under the kitchen table, behind the tablecloth; Rolf often keeps her company, even sleeping under the table with her. Katharina is not expected to live a very long life, due to her heart defect.
Lukas Carlé is the abusive, tyrannical father of Rolf Carlé. As a schoolteacher, he once broke a boy's hands when disciplining him with a ruler. Lukas Carlé harbors no affection for his wife; he considers her "an inferior being, closer to animal than to man, God's only intelligent creation." A violent man, he dies a violent death, murdered by his own students.
Rolf's life is a study in contradictions: he has a loving mother but a cold, abusive father, and he experiences childhood in Austria before coming of age in South America. His personality reflects these contradictions: "He prided himself on his coldness and pragmatism … but in truth he was an incorrigible dreamer…. He denied his emotions, but at any unguarded moment was demolished by them." His strong sense of truth and justice makes him an indefatigable reporter, while observing events through the lens of his camera allows him to maintain an emotional distance from the tragedies he sees.
Eva gets her storytelling gift from Consuelo, her mother. The identity of Consuelo's parents is a mystery; as a baby, alone and covered with mud, she was discovered by missionaries and taken in. She later tells Eva that she was set adrift in a rowboat by a Dutch sailor, a romantic invention to stop Eva's many questions. There are many parallels between Eva and her mother; for instance, as an adolescent, Consuelo spent hours in the convent chapel, daydreaming and inventing stories in her mind; later Eva does the same thing, staring at the seascape in her elderly patrona's (employer's) dining room.
Consuelo's most important lesson for Eva is that when life becomes too hard, she can transform her experience through her imagination, to make it more pleasant. This lesson leaves the reader in some doubt as to how much of Eva's life story is true and how much is just a product of her fondness for weaving a colorful tale.
Uncle Rupert and Aunt Burgel have two cheerful, rosy-cheeked, blue-eyed daughters, who always smell of spice and vanilla due to their many hours in the kitchen with their mother. Both girls have romantic feelings for Rolf.
With Eva's mother gone and her godmother mentally unstable, Elvira becomes the guiding force in Eva's life. Eva meets Elvira when she comes to work in the house of an elderly woman and her bachelor brother; Elvira is the household cook. Eva becomes so attached to Elvira that she calls her abuela, or grandmother. Elvira makes sure Eva eats well, does the harsher household chores for her, plays with her, and comforts her when she is the object of the patrona's wrath. After Eva attacks her employer and rips off her wig (with Eva, unaccustomed to wigs, thinking she has scalped the woman), Eva's godmother gives her a beating, but Elvira approves of the feat; she tells Eva, "You have to fight back. No one tries anything with mad dogs, but tame dogs they kick. Life's a dogfight." Eva calls this "the best advice I ever received."
Professor Jones's gardener, a Native American man from the Luna tribe, is Eva's biological father, though she never meets him. When Eva's godmother insists that Eva should have a last name, Consuelo chooses Luna in honor of the gardener's tribe.
Riad Halabí is a kind, compassionate Turkish man who takes Eva, who is living on the streets, home to live with him and his wife. Riad has a cleft lip that he keeps covered with a handkerchief, not so much because he is ashamed but out of concern that he might make others uncomfortable. He is much admired and beloved in the town of Agua Santa, by everyone except his own wife, who is repulsed by his deformity and disappointed that he is not rich. His shop is both the center of commerce and a social meeting place for the small village. Riad is a quiet man but is not afraid to take charge in a crisis or stand up for his beliefs. He becomes like a father to Eva, and gives her the greatest gift of her life: reading and writing.
Eva becomes both a daughter and a sort of substitute wife to Riad, as she does the housework, irons his shirts, helps in the store, accompanies Riad to the movies, and discusses the news, eats meals, and plays games with him. Because of his upbringing, Riad does not speak of his feelings, though he is deeply wounded by Zulema's rejection of him and is starved for love and affection. His tendency to put all others' needs ahead of his own allows him to ignore the failure of his marriage.
Inés is the schoolteacher who teaches Eva to read and write, at Riad Halabí's request. On the day that Riad first came to Agua Santa, Inés's son was killed for trespassing on a wealthy outsider's property to pick a mango. Riad takes charge and arranges the wake and burial of the son. After leaving Agua Santa, Eva imagines that Riad and Inés will someday marry.
Consuelo's first and only employer, Professor Jones is a scientist who has invented a system for preserving the dead. Eva grows up in the professor's house, and because he has no interest in national or world events, she and the other occupants are mainly ignorant of the political unrest of the times. Professor Jones is from Europe and is "as handsome as a picture of Jesus, all gold, with the same blond beard as the Prince of Peace, and eyes of an impossible color." Obsessed by his work, the professor has concern for little else. When government officials order the burial of his most famous preserved cadaver, he has a stroke; when the gardener is bit by a snake, Professor Jones's reaction to the news is, "As soon as he dies, bring him to me." When the professor is dying, however, Eva cares for him, and during his last days, he becomes very fond of her and asks that all his property be willed to her. This request is ignored by the local minister, who disposes of all his assets after his death.
Kamal is Riad Halabí's cousin, who comes to live with Riad about a year and a half after Eva does. Though Kamal is of slight build, with delicate features, he has a way with women; according to Eva, "the whole street felt his magnetism; he enveloped everyone in a kind of spell." Fifteen-year-old Eva falls desperately in love with Kamal, but he ignores her.
Eva Luna is the central character and narrator of the novel. Eva uses her imagination as a way to cope with the many hardships she has to face; following her mother's advice, she uses storytelling to put a more positive spin on her life's events. Thanks to the love of her mother, Eva has an innate sense of her own worth as a human being; the mistreatment she receives at the hands of her godmother, her employers, and the police in Agua Santa only serve to make her more determined to triumph and live life on her own terms. Eva also has a generous and compassionate nature and so often makes excuses for the bad behavior of the people she loves. For instance, her godmother sometimes hits her, but Eva excuses her: "That was the only way she knew, because that was how she had learned." Later she spends hours at Zulema's bedside, devotedly caring for her, even though the cause of her ailment is lovesickness for Kamal, with whom she has had an adulterous affair. When Zulema speaks to Eva, it is usually to scold her or order her around, yet Eva says, "In her own way Zulema was good to me; she treated me like a lapdog." By taking such a compassionate, optimistic view of the people in her life, she paints a world in which she is surrounded by those who care for her, and in the end, this vision becomes truth.
Eva grows up without much formal religion; her godmother's understanding of Catholicism is so eccentric, and Eva's limited exposure to the church is such a negative experience, that Eva goes through life with her own personal moral code rather than one dictated to her. She does heed the teachings of the kindly Elvira, who encourages her to fight back when oppressed. Eva's life experiences are so varied and peculiar that her personal code is truly unique, a patchwork of philosophies taken from different religions, countries, and ideologies.
Eva's godmother, or madrina, takes care of Eva after her mother dies. In agreeing to be Eva's godmother, she believes she has a sacred obligation, saying that "anyone who neglects a godchild is damned to hell." Vast quantities of rum, and perhaps a lack of education, make her practice of Catholicism eccentric at best. She prays to a variety of saints, including one that she petitions for relief from hangovers, and believes that they can contact her via the telephone. Her devotion to religion does not prevent her from drinking heavily or treating Eva harshly; Eva's godmother sees religion as a series of black-and-white punishments and rewards. Her inability to live up to the standards of her religion hastens her descent into madness (as does her rum intake).
Eva first meets Melesio, a man who says he is a woman trapped in a man's body, when she comes to live with La Señora, Melesio's best friend. Melesio teaches Italian by day and performs as a woman in a cabaret at night. Eventually he decides to become Mimí, his cabaret alter ego, permanently. He becomes a strikingly beautiful woman who is devoted to the teachings of her spiritual guide, the maharishi, and also seeks guidance from astrology and tarot cards. Mimí is on a quest for her romantic soul mate, but finding a man who is open minded enough to love her for who she is proves difficult.
Huberto, Eva's first love, grows up on the streets of the capital city, surviving on his wits. Later, as a teenager, he becomes the leader of a feared gang, originally formed for the purpose of opposing a gang of privileged youths from wealthy neighborhoods who entertain themselves by tormenting others. After this he joins the guerrilla movement. In short, Huberto has spent his whole life as an underdog, fighting despite the odds against him. With the guerrillas, he discovers the satisfaction of fighting for a cause greater than his own survival. Though he loves Eva, the guerrilla cause is his true devotion. His tough-guy, macho persona is so ingrained that he is unable to see women as equals in this fight, a failing which, in the end, dooms his relationship with Eva.
El Negro is Huberto Naranjo's mixed-race friend who works at a bar in the city. Throughout the story, El Negro always knows where Huberto can be found, even when he is in the mountains with the guerrilla fighters. El Negro first introduces Huberto to the guerrilla movement by taking him to a secret meeting.
Eva's first pair of employers are an elderly woman, the patrona, and her bachelor brother, the patron. Eva's patron is a hedonistic man with little ambition who spends most of his time and money at the racetrack. He drinks too much and is irresponsible but is much kinder to Eva than is his sister, who runs the household.
Eva's patrona is a strict, unforgiving, and humorless woman who spends most of her time shouting at the household servants. After Eva attacks her and tears off her wig, however, she backs off; she fears Eva's defiance and self-confidence.
Colonel Tolomeo Rodriguez
Colonel Rodriguez (who by the end of the book becomes General Rodriguez) is an anomaly in Eva Luna: an honorable government official. He pursues Eva, but when she refuses him, he honors her refusal. When he tells Eva that he will offer Huberto amnesty for his guerrilla activities, Eva believes his sincerity.
See Huberto Naranjo
Uncle Rupert, the cousin of Rolf Carlé's mother, takes in Rolf after Lukas Carlé's death. A good-natured, robust, overweight Austrian, Rupert makes a good living in La Colonia; in the company of his wife and two daughters, he runs an inn, builds and sells cuckoo clocks, and breeds dogs. Rolf becomes the son Rupert never had, with Rupert showing Rolf all the kindness and pride that Lukas Carlé was incapable of.
La Señora is the flamboyant madam of an upscale brothel. When Eva has lost her job and is homeless, Huberto takes her to La Señora to live with her. La Señora is first and foremost a survivor. Though she is kind to Eva and fond of her, when the police are raiding the red-light district, her primary concern is for her own escape, and she leaves Eva to fend for herself. For Melesio, La Señora makes her one selfless exception: she goes to great lengths to free him from the prison at Santa Maria, even putting herself in jeopardy.
Zulema, the wife of Riad Halabí, is a completely self-absorbed individual. When Eva meets her, Zulema has been lying in bed eating for most of the ten years that she has been married to Riad. Despite his kindness and devotion, Riad does not measure up to Zulema's ideal for a husband. She is obsessed with personal hygiene, her collection of jewels, and the stories of romance that Eva tells her. After Kamal abandons her, Zulema becomes even less involved in life than before; as Eva puts it, "We grew accustomed to thinking of Zulema as a kind of enormous and delicate plant." In a way, she is the opposite of Eva, who makes the best of all that life gives her, whereas Zulema spends her life pining for what she does not have.
The Transformative Power of Words
Eva uses her words and stories to paint her life experiences in more appealing hues. She helps Rolf do the same; in one scene, when Rolf tells Eva that his sister died "a sad death, alone in a hospital," Eva retells the story in a happier way, saying that Katharina died with a smile, repeating Rolf's name and feeling the warmth of their love for each other. Eva paints a vivacious and compassionate picture of her godmother, even though the woman abuses Eva and takes the wages she earns. While living with Riad Halabí, Eva says, "I developed a tolerable image of my madrina, and suppressed bad memories so I could remember my past as happy."
Eva is not the only one who uses words to reshape experience; the government regularly spins its own version of events in the fight against the guerrillas, including their account of the rescue at Santa Maria, calling the guerrillas "terrorists." And when Eva tells Huberto about the murder of a policeman near the factory where she worked, Huberto says, "They executed him … The people executed him. That isn't murder. You ought to choose your words more carefully. The murderers are the police." Each side chooses the words that paint their view as righteous and just. In Eva's case, she aims to improve only her own view of events, whereas Huberto and the government look to sway others to their side with the right choice of words.
Similarly, the boys who murder Lukas Carlé use words to transform their deed into something noble: "The story passed from mouth to mouth, enhanced at every telling, until it was transformed into a heroic feat." By showing both the positive and negative ways that words can transform experience, Allende demonstrates the importance of language, of storytelling, and of choosing one's words carefully.
Perception versus Reality
Closely related to the theme of transforming experience with words is the idea that because we each perceive events from our own inherently biased viewpoint, there is no such thing as a fixed reality. As Eva puts it, "Maybe Zulema, Riad Halabí, and others had a different impression of things; maybe they did not see the same colors or hear the same sounds I did. If that were true, each of us was living in absolute isolation." Eva's vivid imagination and the long hours she spends writing contribute to her impression that reality is an amorphous, shifting entity: "I began to wonder … whether reality wasn't an unformed and gelatinous substance only half-captured by my senses."
The connection between perception and reality, and the difficulty of separating the two, is a recurring theme in the novel. Eva works with one employer who teaches her to make Universal Matter, or porcelana. The employer has actually become addicted to creating objects from Universal Matter; as Eva explains, "Porcelana is a dangerous temptation, because once its secrets are known, nothing stands in the way of the artist's copying everything imaginable, constructing a world of lies, and getting lost in it." Coincidentally, the same thing happens to Eva when she writes her stories. She says, "At times I felt that the universe fabricated from the power of the imagination had stronger and more lasting contours than the blurred realm of the flesh-and-blood creatures around me." Words are Eva's Universal Matter. At the end of the book, Eva makes even the reader uncertain of what is real; she first states that she and Rolf Carlé loved each other "until that love wore thin and nothing was left but shreds." In the very next sentence, she contradicts herself: "Or maybe that isn't how it happened. Perhaps we had the good fortune to stumble into an exceptional love." Which version is reality, and which is Eva's creation? And does it matter? These are questions that Eva brings to mind with her intentionally ambiguous description. If no one can accurately perceive reality anyway, why should it not be perceived in the most pleasant light possible?
TOPICS FOR FURTHER STUDY
- Eva Luna is often described as a "picaresque" novel. What is the definition of picaresque? What other novels, stories, or movies do you think could be called picaresque? Make a list of ten titles that could be considered picaresque and explain your choices in a class presentation.
- Research the history of Venezuela. What similarities and differences can you find between the history of this country and the events in the novel? Write an essay about what you discover.
- In the novel, Eva enjoys taking stories from the radio or from books and changing the endings or rearranging events. Write a new beginning, middle, or end for Eva Luna, using the same characters but altering the events for a different outcome.
- Allende mentions A Thousand and One Tales of the Arabian Nights more than once in the novel. How is Eva Luna similar to this tale? Does Eva Luna use her storytelling abilities in the same way, or differently? Write a paper comparing and contrasting the two works.
- How many Latin American authors have won the Nobel Prize for Literature? Choose one of these authors, research his or her life, and write a short biography.
Abuse of Power
Throughout the novel, the government of the country changes hands numerous times, but all the governments have two common threads: corruption and violence. During Consuelo's time with Professor Jones, the country is run by El Benefactor, a dictator and tyrant. When El Benefactor dies, the government actually uses military force to make the citizens come out and pay their respects. The people celebrate his death, but their rejoicing is cut short when El Benefactor's minister of war steps in and takes over. The new government vows to be more progressive, but this brief period of democracy gives way to another dictatorship; this dictator is known only as the General, a man "so harmless in appearance that no one imagined the extent of his greed." The General becomes very wealthy from the country's oil boom, maintaining order through military force: "While those in power stole without scruple, thieves by trade or necessity scarcely dared practice their profession: the eyes of the police were everywhere." Some years later, an obviously fraudulent election angers the public, and rebellion begins; fearing for his life (and his fortune), the General escapes on a plane provided by the United States.Anew democracy forms.
In the course of all this turmoil, little changes in the lives of ordinary people like Eva and Riad Halabí. In fact, according to Eva, "In many places people did not learn of the overthrow of the dictatorship because, among other things, they had not known that the General was in power all those years." Eva herself does not learn of the rebellion until years later; when she asks Riad what it means, he answers, "Nothing that involves us." The people of the country have grown so accustomed to corrupt governments in which they have no say that only those with power are truly affected by the transfer of power. Eva mentions political upheaval, riots, rebellions, and coups, but none of these seem to affect the story of her own life, with the exception of the guerrilla movement, and in that case only because of her personal relationship with Huberto Naranjo. Mimí's attitude sums up the people's disillusionment with those in power; when Eva tells her that they cannot ignore what is going on in the country, Mimí replies, "Yes, we can. We've done it up till now, and because we have, we're doing fine. Besides, no one in this country cares about those things; your guerrillas don't have the slightest chance." When Eva counters by espousing Huberto's philosophies, Mimí says, "In the unlikely event that your Naranjo wins his revolution, I'm sure in a very short time he would be acting with the arrogance of every man who attains power." In a country where today's government may be gone tomorrow, Eva and Mimí have learned to focus on their own lives and on the lives of those they love; anything beyond that familial realm is beyond their control.
The second-class status of women in this patriarchal, or male-dominated, society is frequently referred to in the novel; just as the people of the country are resigned to the corruption of the government, the women in the book are resigned to this reality as well. Because women have few rights, they are even less affected by changes in government than men, because even though the government may change, it is always run by men who bear the same ingrained attitudes toward women. For example, when a new democracy comes to the country, the only difference Consuelo notices is "occasionally being able to attend a Carlos Gardel movie—formerly forbidden to women" (Gardel was a popular, suave Latin American singer who specialized in songs
of the tango and who made several movies in the 1930s).
Later, after Consuelo dies, Eva's godmother tells her, "If you were a boy, you could go to school and then study to be a lawyer and provide for me in my old age." She believes that men have it best in life: "Even the lowest good-for-nothing had a wife to boss around." Whatever power women may gain is achieved through the help of men. (For example, Eva is able to influence others through her telenovela-under the direction of Aravena and Rolf Carlé.) Although Huberto gallantly struggles to free the people, Eva realizes that his definition of "the people" is actually just men: "We women should contribute to the struggle but were excluded from decision-making and power." Even if the guerrillas succeed, it will mean little to Eva, Mimí, and other women. Eva sums up the plight of women in the country when she says, "I realized that mine is a war with no end in view; I might as well fight it cheerfully or I would spend my life waiting for some distant victory in order to be happy."
First-Person Point of View
Eva Luna is written in the first person, from the point of view of Eva. This choice is important for several reasons. First, Eva's prowess as a storyteller and her love of writing are key elements of the novel. Simply by reading the way she tells her own story, the reader is given proof of her abilities. Second, Eva gives us several examples of the ways in which she alters reality to make it more palatable—for instance, when she retells the story of Katharina's death for Rolf to ease his grief. After reading these examples, the fact that the story is told from Eva's point of view leaves the reader to wonder if it is the character's real life story or just another tale spun from the raw material of her experiences. This is one of the points Allende is making in the novel: a person's story is just his or her own perception of the events, and it may be vastly different from another person's perception of the same events. In that sense, all of life is fiction, so it does not matter if Eva is telling the truth or a tall tale; it is all fiction.
The term magical realism is used to describe a genre of literature in which magical, bizarre, and illogical events take place in an otherwise realistic setting. Allende uses this technique to give a fairy-tale quality to a story that also contains some very grim real-life issues. Wars rage; political leaders imprison, torture, and murder those who oppose them; ethnic groups are oppressed and persecuted; and yet within the same story, the vision of a palace appears from nowhere and then disappears, fictional characters come to life and wreak havoc in a real-life household, and Eva regularly summons the spirit of her dead mother to accompany her in lonely times. Another element that contributes to the fairytale feel of the story is Allende's technique of giving characters generic, conceptual names. The country's dictators do not have actual names but rather titles such as El Benefactor and the General; one corrupt official is known only as the Man of the Gardenia.
Rolf Carlé's story in particular is reminiscent of a tale from the Grimm Brothers. La Colonia, the town where Rolf Carlé's relatives live, is described as "a fairy-tale village preserved in a bubble where time had stopped and geography was illusory. Life went on there as it had in the nineteenth century in the Alps." Yet when Rolf leaves La Colonia to see more of the world, he witnesses atrocities, riots, wars, and corruption. This juxtaposition of the unreal with the only-too-real is typical of the genre of magical realism.
Allende often hints at events to come or even overtly states what will happen later in the story. When Eva first meets Huberto Naranjo, she drops a hint of his future as a guerrilla: "At sixteen he would be the leader of a street gang, feared and respected … until other concerns took him off to the mountains." Similarly, after Eva first meets Melesio, she foreshadows his troubled future: "He never talked about his family and it would be years later, during his time in the penal colony on Santa María, that La Señora learned anything about his past." These hints of future events keep the reader turning pages, eager to discover how they will come about.
Corruption in Venezuelan Government
Although Allende never specifies the country in which Eva Luna takes place, the political events Eva describes closely parallel the history of Venezuela. The government corruption that is rampant in the novel is also a part of Venezuelan history. Eva Luna was first published in 1985 during the presidency of Jaime Lusinchi, whose administration was even more rife with corruption than those of many of his predecessors. It is estimated that as much as thirty-six billion dollars was stolen from the country through government corruption during Lusinchi's time as president.
The dictator that Eva refers to as "El Benefactor" bears a strong resemblance to Juan Vicente Gómez, who effectively ruled Venezuela from 1908 until his death in 1935, after which his minister of war took over temporarily, just as El Benefactor's does in the story. "The General," who flees the country by jet later in the novel, is likely meant to be Marcos Pérez Jiménez, another dictator who became wealthy at the expense of the people. Though Venezuela later developed into one of South America's more stable democracies, corruption in government has remained a lingering problem for the nation.
Women's Rights in Venezuela
The advancement of women's rights has come more slowly in South America than in the United States. As late as the 1970s, married or cohabiting women in Venezuela were not allowed to work, own property, or sign official documents without spousal consent. The advent of democracy in the 1960s was essentially a democracy for men only; women still had limited rights.
COMPARE & CONTRAST
- 1960s: In the 1960s, there are no female heads of state in Latin America.
1980s: Lidia Gueiler Tejada serves as the interim president of Bolivia from 1979 to 1980, becoming only the second female head of state in South America; the first was the Argentinian interim president Isabel Martínez de Perón, who succeeded her husband, Juan Perón, after his death in office in 1974. Neither woman was elected.
Today: As of 2008, there are two female heads of state in South America: Michelle Bachelet of Chile, elected in 2006 (the first female president in Chile's history), and Cristina Kirchner, elected in 2007 (the first female elected president of Argentina).
- 1960s: The Cuban Revolution of 1959 results in social reforms for health and education, giving hope to oppressed peoples in other Latin American countries and inspiring an upsurge in guerrilla activities.
1980s: Although Fidel Castro established better education and health care, Cuba's economy relies heavily on aid from the Soviet Union throughout the 1970s and most of the 1980s. Guerrilla activity continues in many Latin American countries, most notably in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Peru.
Today: Although guerrilla activity is not as prevalent in Latin America as it was in earlier decades, guerrilla organizations are still active in some countries. In 2008, a Colombian military assault killing seventeen members of the guerrilla group FARC (in English, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) draws the ire of the Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, who usually supports the group, and also angers the Venezuelan allies Ecuador and Nicaragua. The United States supports the Colombian president Álvaro Uribe in his fight against the guerrillas.
- 1960s: By 1960, Latin American countries export a significant percentage of the world's oil supply. An oversupply of oil on the market has led to lower and lower oil prices; in response to this situation, the world's main exporters of oil form the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1960.
1980s: The Middle East oil embargo of the 1970s was a boon to Latin America's oil industry, but in the 1980s, due to OPEC countries breaking their production quotas, the price of oil once again plummets to record lows (under ten dollars a barrel). This is especially problematic for net oil exporters such as Venezuela and Ecuador.
Today: With oil prices well over one hundred dollars per barrel, Latin America's oil industry has enjoyed a recent boom.
In 1982, just three years before Eva Luna was first published, the Ministry for the Participation of Women in Development brought women together to achieve the reform of the
civil code in Venezuela. This reform improved the legal standing of women in the country but still stopped short of achieving true equality. Three years later, in 1985, a new group called the Coordinator of Women's Non-Governmental Organizations united women from a wide array of socioeconomic backgrounds and political persuasions. This group would help achieve labor reforms for women, but not until 1990.
The Latin American Boom in Literature
Following World War II, improving economies in many Latin American countries helped bring about a boom in Latin American literature. The most celebrated novel of this period was One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez, of Columbia, published in 1967. That same year, the Nobel Prize for Literature was given to the Guatemalan writer Miguel Ángel Asturias. Other significant authors active during this boom include Julio Cortázar, of Argentina; Carlos Fuentes, of Mexico; and Mario Vargas Llosa, of Peru. This fertile period in Latin American literature coincides roughly with the time in the novel when Eva Luna is first discovering the joy of writing and is beginning to write down the stories of her own life. Allende's style of writing is sometimes compared to that of Márquez; Allende's first novel was not released until 1982, well after the boom period.
The critical reception of Allende's third novel, Eva Luna, was mixed. Reactions ranged from the wildly enthusiastic (the novelist Margaret McClusky, in a review in the Sydney Morning Herald, calls it a "perfect novel") to the decidedly negative (in a review in the London Sunday Times, Peter Kemp complains that the novel is "devoid of even the most elementary narrative skills.") More reactions, however, fall between the two extremes. Several reviewers, though not wholly negative, disparage Allende's tendency toward sentimentality; the reviewer Jill Neville of the Independent writes, "Occasionally it veers close to Mills and Boon [a British publisher of romance novels] and there are moments of sentimentality, even carelessness." Nicci Gerrard of the New Statesman agrees: "Isabel Allende used to translate Barbara Cartland novels…. Perhaps she was slightly corrupted in the process." John Krich of the New York Times says that Allende has "yielded to her worst tendencies," including "sentimentality" and "pat judgments."
Most of these same reviewers, however, found things to praise in Allende's work. Gerrard calls Eva Luna "an immensely likeable book, more interesting in its failure than are many books in their success." Neville writes, "Isabel Allende makes a plucky Scheherezade; she can spin a tale out of a pebble and a piece of string." John Krich comments that Allende has "an evident affection for words … and a nearly maternal approach to narrative that bathes characters in a warm, milky light." Allende's apparent love of language is noted also by the reviewer Susan Benesch of Florida's St. Petersburg Times: "What glows from the pages of this novel is the pleasure with which Allende writes. She rubs herself against the language like a cat."
Although Eva Luna did not garner the over-whelmingly positive reviews of Allende's first book, The House of the Spirits, many reviewers agree that it is good enough to keep the author's followers coming back for more. Writing for Washington Post Book World, Alan Ryan concludes, "Reading this novel is like asking your favorite storyteller to tell you a story and getting a hundred stories instead of one."
Pryor has been a professional and creative writer for more than twenty years. In this essay, she debates whether or not Eva Luna is a picaresque novel and compares Eva's story to that of Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist.
Isabel Allende's novel Eva Luna is often called a "picaresque" novel. Though it does share many qualities with picaresque adventures, Eva Luna herself arguably does not live up to the definition of a picaro, the Spanish term from which picaresque is derived, meaning rascal or rogue. The main character of a picaresque novel is usually a wily, cynical, and clever one who must live on his wits, using them to extricate himself from the various predicaments in which the author places him. In addition, the picaresque hero often has scant or questionable morals and often survives through theft and deception, though he may be charming enough for the reader to excuse such transgressions.
By contrast, while Eva finds herself in many predicaments throughout her story, she is rescued from these scrapes more often by others than through her own cunning, though she is by no means a helpless or unintelligent character. In this aspect—and many others—Eva's story is more comparable to that of Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens's hapless orphan, than that of a true picaro. Like Oliver, Eva is an orphan, though she benefits from knowing her mother until the age of six. Both Eva and Oliver are cared for after their parents' demise by individuals whose child-rearing skills are less than ideal. While Eva insists that her godmother has her best interests at heart, the madrina's tenuous grasp of reality, vast consumption of alcohol, and use of corporal punishment hardly recommend her as an ideal guardian. Luckily for Eva, she is delivered into the hands of the kindly Elvira at her next place of employment. Oliver begins life under the care of the self-serving Mrs. Mann, who receives money from the local parish to care for several children too young to go to the workhouse, where older poor children are usually sent. At the age of nine, Oliver, too, is sent to the workhouse. Compared to Oliver's lot in life at this point, Eva's situation with her irritable patrona is a veritable paradise.
Oliver is then sent to work for an undertaker, to spend his nights sleeping among coffins. Interestingly, Eva spends a good deal of her youth surrounded by death also, first in living with the embalmer Professor Jones, who in his house keeps corpses that are awaiting his preparation, and then in performing mock funerals with Elvira, who keeps a coffin in her room as a precaution against being buried in a pauper's common grave.
Eva and Oliver find themselves homeless in very similar manners. Eva, pushed too far by her unforgiving patrona, attacks her and snatches off her wig; thinking she has "scalped" her, she runs away, preferring to take her chances on the street than be arrested. Oliver, likewise, is driven to the brink, by Noah Claypole, his fellow employee, who insults the memory of Oliver's dead mother. Oliver attacks Noah, after which his employer beats him as punishment. Oliver decides to take to the open road rather than endure more mistreatment.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
- The House of the Spirits, published first in 1982 in Spanish, then in English in 1985, is Allende's first novel. It tells the epic tale of one family, the Truebas, through many years in South America. Many of the same elements found in Eva Luna (political strife, characters with unusual powers, an unspecified South American setting) are present in this novel as well.
- Gabriel García Márquez's novel One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) is considered not only a central work of the Latin American boom but also a quintessential example of the magical realism genre. Allende's style is often compared to that of Márquez.
- Allende has written a trilogy of adventure books for older kids (ages ten and up), in which the teenager Alexander Cold and his grandmother, an intrepid reporter for the International Geographic, venture first into the Amazon rain forest (in the first book, City of the Beasts ), then into the Himalayas (in the second book, Kingdom of the Golden Dragon ), and finally to Kenya (in the third book, Forest of the Pygmies ).
- The character Eva Luna is compared to Scheherezade, the heroine of A Thousand and One Tales of the Arabian Nights. This classic collection of folktales was written over centuries, with the earliest known partial manuscript dating back to the 800s. In the tales, Scheherezade is the new bride of the King, a man who kills a new wife every night, for fear that each will eventually stop loving him. Scheherezade spins such fascinating stories for the King that he postpones her execution each night, eager for the next story. The tales include well-known characters such as Ali Baba (and his forty thieves) and Sinbad the Sailor.
- Like Scheherezade, Eva Luna has her own collection of tales, in Allende's 1989 book The Stories of Eva Luna. Though some of the same characters from Eva Luna appear in this book, it is not really a sequel but a collection of different stories that Eva tells to her lover, Rolf Carlé.
In a true picaresque tale, the hero (or heroine) spends much of his time living by his wits and not much else. Eva, on the other hand, spends the majority of the novel cared for by well-meaning, if somewhat bizarre, characters. Oliver's companions are equally eccentric, but unfortunately, not all are so well-intentioned. Still, regardless of Fagin's evil designs, he and his band of thieves do keep Oliver from starving on the street, and their behavior is far more interesting to read about than that of the bland but lovable Oliver. In fact, Eva Luna is most Dickensian in this aspect: the novel has at its center a less colorful but reliable main character who is surrounded by a supporting cast of quirky, even freakish people who lend interest to the tale.
These characters rescue Eva time and again. First, Huberto Naranjo cares for Eva after her attack on her employer, protecting her, providing her with food, and finally helping her find her godmother, who promptly beats her and sends her back to her place of employment. Huberto rescues Eva a second time after she rebels against another employer, now placing her in the care of La Señora, a madam, and Melesio, a future transsexual. Later, when Eva is on the streets again, Riad Halabí comes to the rescue, providing her with not only food and shelter but also love and literacy. Finally, when she is almost out of the money Riad has provided her with, Melesio—now Mimí—appears and takes her in.
Likewise, it is the kindness (or avarice) of strangers that keeps Oliver alive, not his wits. First it is Fagin who keeps him from starvation (though later delivering him into the hands of those who would see him dead). Then the kindly Mr. Brownlow saves him briefly from Fagin and also from illness. Snatched back by Fagin, he is then again rescued, by the kindly Mrs. Maylie and Rose.
Eva, of course, is a far more complex character than Oliver Twist; a boy as guileless, loving, and saintlike as Oliver perhaps never existed, in Dickens's time or any other. While Dickens uses Oliver more as a symbol of the poor and oppressed in British society than as a real character, Eva has her own set of quirks, talents, and opinions that enable her to thrive despite her hardships, and she also is far more rebellious and defiant to her persecutors than Oliver. Her fierce loyalty to her friends and repeated kindnesses toward them establish her not as the rascal or rogue of a picaresque tale but as the novel's moral center. In any other story, Eva would appear eccentric, but when surrounded by a Turkish merchant with a cleft lip, an obese wife who never leaves her bed, a man who goes on to become a famous actress, a mad godmother who gives birth to a two-headed baby, and a fierce guerrilla boyfriend, Eva is a paragon of normality.
Another characteristic that separates Eva from the decidedly unpicaresque Oliver Twist is her ability to transform her miserable experiences through the use of her imagination. While Oliver spends his first night at the undertaker's terrified of a coffin in the room with him, Eva has a wonderful time lying in Elvira's coffin and pretending to be a corpse. Similarly, if Eva's patrona had told Oliver to stay away from the seascape in the dining room, certainly Oliver would have placidly obeyed, but it holds too strong a pull for Eva's vivid imagination: "That painting of the sea with its foaming waves and motionless gulls was essential to me; it was the reward for the day's labors, the door to freedom." In fact, in her imagination and in her zest for life and adventure, Eva is very nearly a picaro, but in actions she is not. In her most daring adventure, she becomes part of a guerrilla plot to free prisoners from a penal colony. But even this adventure is undertaken somewhat reluctantly, at the request of Huberto Naranjo, and her part in the plot is to make a large batch of dough that can be used by the prisoners to make faux grenades. After this, she rides the bus home, before the actual prison break takes place, and waits at home for news of the outcome.
At the end of Oliver Twist, Oliver is still just twelve years old, whereas Eva is a grown woman by the end of her story. At Oliver's tender age, it is no great surprise that he is unable to outwit the conniving Fagin and his cronies, as a picaro might have done. In Eva's case, it is interesting to note that although Allende makes comments on the inequality of women in South American society and has written the character as an independent thinker who resists being dependent on a man, at no time in the novel does Eva actually have to survive independently, without the help of others. She does make her own money while living with Mimí, but she works in a factory, which surely would not support her in the style to which she and Mimí are accustomed, and so she is still dependent on Mimí's fame as an actress. Then she quits her job at the factory to avoid Colonel Rodriguez, an option that would have been unavailable to her if she were on her own. Only near the close of the novel, when she writes her telenovela, does she make a good living. She has barely achieved this when she is united with Rolf Carlé, who, like Mimí, is also conveniently famous and well-off.
Most of Eva's adventures are visited upon her rather than being sought after. Is Allende telling us that because of the inequality of women in South America, the only way they can have adventure is to have it foisted upon them? Certainly Dickens's intention was to show the helplessness and misery inflicted upon the poor by the British poor laws; to have Oliver be too plucky or spirited would have blunted the point he was trying to make. In Eva's vivid imagination, and in her stories, she is no doubt the fearless heroine, outwitting and vanquishing foes at every turn; she creates "a world where I imposed the rules and could change them at will." In her life, however, Eva must live by the rules that men in power impose upon her, necessitating that her greatest, most picaresque adventures remain on the page.
Source: Laura Pryor, Critical Essay on Eva Luna, in Novels for Students, Gale, Cengage Learning, 2009.
Barbara Foley Buedel
In the following excerpt, Buedel analyzes five "magical places" found in Allende's novel Eva Luna and her short story collection Cuentos de Eva Luna (Stories of Eva Luna).
Widely recognized as a major contributor to Latin American literature, Isabel Allende holds a preeminent place in its literary history. In The Post-Boom in Spanish American Fiction (1998), Donald Shaw writes, "Without question the major literary event in Spanish America during the early eighties was the publication in 1982 of Isabel Allende's runaway success La Casa de los Espiritus" (53). Similarly, in his recent book, Literature of Latin America (2004), Rafael Ocasio identifies Allende as "the woman writer from Latin America with the greatest international readership," noting also that "she has a significant influence on an increasingly popular, worldwide literature written by women" (168). Linda Gould Levine in her Twayne book (2002) succinctly assesses the author's status: "Isabel Allende is the most acclaimed woman writer of Latin America" (ix).
Shaw maintains that the "emergence of strong female characters" is what made Allende's first work a "genuinely ‘inaugural’ novel" (59, 58). This feminist perspective continues throughout her fiction and is especially apparent in her third novel, Eva Luna (1987). As numerous critics observe, this work displays aspects of the picaresque tradition: a pseudo-autobiography with an episodic structure, Eva's marginalized status as an orphan and domestic servant who serves a series of oftentimes unkind masters, a streetwise survival instinct promoted by her friendship with Huberto Naranjo, a variety of experiences in different economic classes during which she experiences both hunger and abundance, and frequent demands for her to be self-reliant and inventive. Yet acts of kindness are more numerous than acts of cruelty, and benevolent mother and father figures often replace tyrannical masters. By the end of the novel, the protagonist is a successful writer, a political activist who has participated in a guerrilla raid and escaped without harm, and the lover of an intelligent journalist. Overall, the tone is optimistic, a characteristic of other Post-Boom narratives that contrasts with the negative visions typically developed in Boom novels (Shaw 10, 65). Levine views the novel as a "female bildungsroman, a novel of a young woman's psychological, intellectual and moral development" (60), and Shaw describes it as "a feminist … quest for selfhood" (64). Above all, Eva Luna is a "celebratory novel that bears tribute to the power of words and the imagination, the joys of sensuality and friendship, the ability of human beings to overcome social barriers, and the re-creation of reality through the lens of fiction" (Levine 55).
The present study will analyze five magical places that appear in Eva Luna and in the collection of short stories that followed two years later, Cuentos de Eva Luna (1989). Four are named places: El Palacio de los Pobres, Calle Republica, Agua Santa, and La Colonia, and all but the first receive extensive development in the novel and reappear frequently in the stories. Spanning multiple works, these fictional places recall Garcia Marquez's Macondo and Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County. A fifth magical place is the lugar ameno, the safe haven where the act of writing takes place. This space is specified in only one story—"Cartas de amor traicionado"—but is emblematic of the novel and of many of the stories which center on storytelling, writing, and the dialectic between art and life. An overview of these magical places will enrich our understanding of Allende's documented focus in her early fiction on the themes of love, social activism, and storytelling (Jehenson 100-01; Levine 55-56; Shaw 59). In addition, my reading of these spaces will allow us to consider ways in which Allende's fiction may be more complex than its commercial success leads some critics to surmise. In particular, it will be demonstrated that although Allende's fiction in these two works is grounded in human emotions arising from the drama of everyday life, it is simplistic to label her work as melodrama as some critics have done (Jehenson 100; Invernizzi , cited in Shaw 58).
Of the five magical places, the summer estate known as El Palacio de los Pobres in the novel and El Palacio de Verano in the short story, "El palacio imaginado," is the most ostensibly marvelous. Eva Luna records that it was built by El Benefactor (a code name for General Juan Vincent Gomez, the Venezuelan dictator who was in power from 1908 to 1935) and that upon his death, it was reclaimed by the natives and the jungle…. The night that Eva Luna travels to Agua Santa with Riad Halabi, she sees the enchanted palace for the first time and recounts that experience as follows: "El viaje duro toda la noche a traves de un paraje oscuro, donde las unicas luces eran las alcabalas de La Guardia, los camiones en su ruta hacia los campos petroleros y el Palacio de los Pobres, que se materializo por treinta segundos al borde del camino, como una vision alucinante." The second time Eva witnesses the magical apparition is the day she returns by bus to the capital after participating in a guerrilla raid near Agua Santa: "En un recodo de la ruta, la vegetacion se abrio de subito en un abanico de verdes imposibles y la luz del dia se torno blanca, para dar paso a la ilusion perfecta del Palacio de los Pobres, flotando a quince centimetros del humus que cubria el suelo." Strikingly similar is the description that closes "El palacio imaginado." …
These depictions of an enchanted palace that materializes briefly and floats above the ground are undoubtedly several instances where the marvelous is most obvious, yet they are not without ambiguity. For example, the fortress appears "como una vision alucinante" and "como un espejismo"; does it "truly" matenalize or only in Eva's imagination? Similarly, the second time Eva "sees" the palace she calls it "la ilusion perfecta del Palacio de los Pobres." In addition, the multiple meanings of "imaginado" in the short story's title also contribute to the sense of wonder that elicits the following question: within the world of fiction, is the apparition a dream, an illusion, or does it magically "appear"?
In analyzing the tradition of magical realism in La casa de los espiritus, Laune Clancy notes a real tension between realism and fantasy and questions whether or not Allende is somewhat ambivalent about its use: "Are we to believe in ‘hidden forces’ or the laws of science? Sometimes Allende hedges her bets: Rosa, for instance does not actually float but seems to float; she seems to be a mermaid but is not finally, as she lacks a scaly tail" (40). In Eva Luna and "El palacio imaginado," the narration of the construction of the summer palace and its subsequent transformation blends social realism with the extraordinary in order to highlight a sociopolitical truth: marginalized indigenous people are able to retake their land only when the invaders (or their descendants) abandon it. Allende underscores this idea in Eva Luna when her narrator explains why the Indians help the guerrilla fighters….
In this passage, the plight of indigenous cultures is established via didactic summary. In the same way, "El palacio imaginado" begins with a didactic introduction of the social injustices suffered by indigenous cultures and then employs magical realista, a blend of social realism and the extraordinary, to narrate the origin and outcome of the summer palace.
Whereas El Palacio de los Pobres (El Palacio de Verano) epitomizes the historical reality of indigenous cultures in Latin America, Calle Republica functions as a microcosm of the cultural institution known us the red-light district. It is magical not in the sense of the extraordinary or the supernatural but because of its allure as a site of transgression…. Although Eva is not a "working girl" of the neighborhood, she lives there twice: once briefly when she is about thirteen and later during her twenties.
When Eva Luna rebels from one of her last masters, a government official on whose head she deliberately overturns the chamber pot she has been summoned to empty, she finds herself alone, hungry, and in the street once again. But her childhood friend Huberto Naranjo, local gang leader and petty thief, takes her to reside in an establishment run by La Senora on Calle Republica. Telling everyone that Eva is his sister, Huberto pays for her lodging and meals and instructs La Senora to insulate her from the sordid aspects of the brothel. In turn, he confirms that Eva will be a delightful young companion who will use her talent for storytelling to amuse her guardian. The arrangement works well for several months. Eva is adopted and cared for by La Senora and her best friend, Melesio, a transgendered man who by day is an Italian teacher and by night the best artist in the cross-dressing cabaret theatre. Business runs smoothly and peacefully on Calle Republica because of the cooperation of local police officials who collect their weekly commissions from the establishments, but when a new police sergeant takes over and creates trouble for the residents, their response forces the Chief of Police and the Minister of the Interior to intervene. Calle Republica becomes a war zone which the press names "Guerra al Hampa" and which the locals rename "Revuelta de las Putas." La Senora barely escapes, Melesio is imprisoned, and Eva finds herself in the street once again.
Rescued by un Arab merchant, Riad Halabi, Eva spends the next five years of her adolescence in Agua Santa, a third magical place. She describes it as "uno de esos pueblos adormilados por la modorra de la provincia"; "una aldea modesta, con casas de adobe, madera y cana amarga, construida al borde de la carretera y defendida a machetazos contra una vegetacion salvaje que en cualquier descuido podia devorarla." In general, the inhabitants seem kind and pleasures are simple in this "pueblo olvidado" and "perdido" (EL) "donde nadie se queda y cuyo nombre los viajeros rara vez recuerdan" (CEL 68). In this almost idyllic town unscathed by modern inventions, isolated from political upheavals that characterize the capital, and joined to the rest of the world by only one phone line and a curvy road, Eva is protected and nurtured by the most respected inhabitant of the town: Riad Halabi, her Turkish-born father figure. Through his intervention, Eva acquires two things that will be invaluable in the future: a fraudulent but legal birth certificate and literacy.
Taught to read and write by the school-teacher Ines, Eva can now complement her oral storytelling with the written word. Though her daytime hours are spent reading, working in the successful merchant's store, and attending his infirm wife, Eva devotes most nights to writing her stories, an activity that she later recalls as "mis mejores horas." Routine and tranquility thus characterize life in Agua Santa…. The only exception occurs on Saturdays when the guards from the nearby prison known as the Penal de Santa Maria visit the local brothel and when the Indians from a nearby settlement enter town to beg for alms. Eva lives in Agua Santa until gossip unfairly implicates her in the suicide of Riad Halabí's wife. Before she leaves, the merchant, who has already given her the tool (literacy) to become a writer, also introduces her to her own sensuality.
When Eva returns to the neighborhood surrounding Calle Republica, she goes to work in a factory and shares an apartment with the trans-sexual Mimi, the former Melesio. She also reunites with Huberto Naranjo, now Comandante Rogelio and leader of the guerrillas, and for a while, the friends become lovers. Eventually, however, their relationship moves full circle, and they end as friends. Meanwhile, with Mimi's support and encouragement, Eva leaves the factory to devote herself to her writing. She also meets Rolf Carle, and the final chapters of the narrative focus on their social activism and budding romance. The novel closes with a celebration of their union, a conclusion that is set in motion in chapter 2 when the narration of Rolf's life story begins. The narrative makes clear that while Eva lives a portion of her childhood on Calle Republica and all of her teenage years in Agua Santa, Colonia is the town where Rolf Carle spends his adolescence after emigrating from Austria.
Eva Luna identifies this fourth magical place as a "pueblo de fantasia" originally founded by a rich South American landowner with utopian goals who, in the mid nineteenth century went to Europe to secure a group of eighty impoverished families who were willing to move half way around the world with the express purpose of creating "una sociedad perfecta donde reinara la paz y la prosperidad." Distant cousins of Rolf Carie's mother moved to La Colonia to escape the war in Europe, and it was to them that Rolf was sent as a teenager…. A safe harbor, La Colonia offers Eva and Rolf temporary asylum after they help Huberto Naranjo free nine guerrilla prisoners from the prison near Agua Santa.
Turning to the last magical place analyzed in this study, it is emblematic of the storytelling motif extensively treated in Eva Luna and Cuentos de Eva Luna. For example, as narrator of her pseudo-autobiography (the novel) and as author of a television script entitled Bolero and based on her life, Eva Luna is the consummate storyteller. She reprises this role in Cuentos de Eva Luna, a collection of short narratives that purport to be her response to Rolf Carle's request that she tell him a story. In addition, a number of the female protagonists in this collection are storytellers of writers. Belisa Crepusculario of "Dos palabras" epitomizes the teller of tales who has learned the power of words. Elena Mejias of "Nina perversa" invents stories and attributes them to the guests who lodge in her mother's boarding house. Maurizia Rugieri of "Tosca" tries to live life as the fictional heroine of an opera. Abigal McGovern of "Con todo el respeto debido," along with her husband, invents a fantastic story of kidnapping and ransom as a strategy to climb the social ladder. And, finally, Analia Torres of "Cartas de amor traicionado" retreats to a special place to invent stories, read, and write.
Raised in a convent because of her parents' death, Analia finds quiet refuge in the attic. Unlike the attic or upstairs room that imprison, respectively, Bertha Mason Rochester of Jane Eyre and the narrator-protagonist of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper," the attic in "Cartas de amor traicionado" recalls Emily Dickinson's upstairs bedroom as a place to which the female writer voluntarily retreats in order to cultivate her imagination. In Allende's story, Analia repeats the journey of Eva Luna and Belisa Crepusculario, who first begin as storytellers in the oral tradition and later become readers and writers. As a child, Analia relishes the solitude that the attic affords her, escaping there to amuse herself with invented stories. But as an adolescent, she returns to her lugar ameno to savor the epistles she receives from her cousin and to enter into a clandestine relationship of amorous letter writing….
Analia's enjoyment of the multiple layers of meaning made possible by words recalls a crucial lesson on the magical nature of words that Eva Luna learns from her mother…. Thus, the attic is a magical place, a sacred space, where the writer uses her imagination to celebrate and cultivate the creative possibilities of language.
This reading of magical places in Eva Luna and Cuentos de Eva Luna has identified four named places as well as a generic space. El Palacio de los Pobres (El Palacio de Verano), Calle Republica, Agua Santa, and La Colonia span multiple works and function, respectively, as microcosms of a historical condition (the plight of the indigenous), a cultural institution (prostitution), and the Latin American town geographically isolated from the political battles waged in the capital and other large cities. Magical realism is the predominant mode used to portray the four named places, although the marvelous is most obvious in the narration of the enchanted palace. The fifth place—the attic—serves as a safe haven for the artist who retreats there to celebrate the magic of words. These special places are essential in the portrayal of three major themes: love and friendship, social activism and politics, including social satire, and storytelling and writing.
As a way of conclusion, I would like us to consider how three of these magical places undermine the charge that Allende's fiction is based on melodrama. Classic melodrama creates a simplified moral universe in which the conflict between good and evil is embodied in stock characters and operates according to a series of conventions: the villain poses a threat, the hero or heroine escapes, and the work has a happy ending (Rios-Font 10, 19-49). With Allende's focus on storytelling, both her third novel and her collection of short stories display characteristics frequently associated with melodrama: plot centeredness, highly dramatic incidents, and strong emotionalism. In addition, El Palacio de los Pobres clearly reflects the polarization between good and evil: reclaimed by the Indians and the jungle, the enchanted palace returns to its rightful owners, and justice is served. Calle Republica, La Colonia, and Agua Santa, however, are more complicated.
Although Huberto Naranjo wants to insulate Eva Luna from the illicit world of prostitution located on and around Calle Republica, it is the community he knows, and he places her there in the care of La Senora. The inhabitants of the neighborhood foster a sense of community that allows them to survive and at times to prosper. The polarization between good and evil blurs because the narrative does not rigorously censor their activities. In fact, La Senora's entrepreneurial skills are celebrated….
The true objects of satire are the "banqueros, magnates y encumbradas personalidades del Gobierno" who pay for her services with "fondos publicos" and the police who receive weekly pay-offs. Furthermore, Mimi's response to the neighborhood is ironic. In spite of being a marginalized individual who finds social acceptance on Calle Republica, Mimi views the neighborhood as flawed: as soon as she and Eva can afford to move, Mimi finds them a house in the most prestigious neighborhood of the capital city. Her decision to leave the neighborhood depicts the extent to which she is affected by traditional bourgeois values and prejudice.
Rolf Carle's adolescent home, La Colonia, is consistently portrayed as a utopia of refuge from the political and social evils of the outside world. Nevertheless, La Colonia's fairy-tale existence as a safe harbor is undermined by its self-isolation. It is "a place where no one speaks Spanish, and where many of the children have defects because of inbreeding, another reference, perhaps, to the Nazi policy of the ‘pure race’" (Diamond-Nigh 37). Thus, whereas in the context of El Palacio de los Pobres magical realism honors the rights of indigenous cultures, in the case of La Colonia it portrays outsiders (Europeans) with a fantastic desire to live in a cultural bubble intended to marginalize Latin America. In short, the representation of La Colonia as a utopia is subverted by satire.
The polarization between good and evil also blurs in Agua Santa. Although it appears to be an idyllic community, integrating Hispanic, Arabic, and indigenous cultures, it is characterized by a number of social flaws. First, most of its inhabitants are illiterate, a condition that contrasts sharply with the importance Eva attributes to her own ability to read and write. Some humor is created at the expense of these simple townspeople when in the story "Tosca" they cannot distinguish between art (the opera that Maurizia is performing) and life (Maurizia's real situation). Second, the townspeople are not always charitable: founded on the mistaken belief that Eva contributed to the death of Riad Halabi's wife, gossip forces Eva to leave town. Third, patriarchal traditions such as domestic abuse are sanctioned in Agua Santa….
Finally, Allende's characters, or at least many of them, are not the one-dimensional stock characters of melodrama. Eva's memory portrays Riad Halabi as an incredibly generous and nurturing father figure, but at the same time he sleeps with her on the eve of her departure from Agua Santa. In addition, when Eva begs him to allow her to stay, he says he cannot marry someone as young as she. Yet when she secretly visits Agua Santa several years later, Eva discovers that his second wife is even younger than Eva.
The schoolteacher Ines is beloved by all her former pupils. Together with Riad Halabi, she generously helps a number of needy children in Eva Luna and "El oro de Tomas Vargas," and in "El huesped de la maestra" she is described as "la matrona mas respetada de Agua Santa" (CEL 163). Nevertheless, when the schoolteacher avenges her son's death by killing the man who accidentally shot her boy twenty years ago, the whole community, led by Riad Halabi, joins together to help her dispose of the body. Halabi enjoys significant prestige in Agua Santa and is known as a fair man, but the system of justice operating in the town clearly reflects old laws (and for some readers, outdated traditions), as Ines notes when she defends her own actions and seeks Halabi's approval….
"La esposa del juez" portrays both Casilda, the protagonist, and Nicolas Vidal, the violent outlaw, as multifaceted characters. Although a criminal, Vidal is also a victim of birth and circumstance: "no conocia la intimidad, la ternura, la risa secreta, la fiesta de los sentidos, el alegre gozo de los amantes" (CEL 147). His crimes are not condoned, but his psychological make-up cultivates the reader's sympathy. Similarly, in spite of the story's title that minimizes the protagonist as subject and insinuates she is merely an extension of her husband, Casilda's actions depict her as an intelligent individual with a strong will. Both Vidal and the townspeople are initially deceived by the demure and soft-spoken exterior that masks her inner strength…. The outlaw who initially appears more cunning and powerful loses his life at the end of the story to a woman who is stronger and smarter than he. Traditional stereotypes are subverted in favor of more complex characters.
Although justice is served in El Palacio de los Pobres and the attic is celebrated as the writer's lugar ameno, three magical places—Caile Republica, La Colonia, and Agua Santa—blur the polarization between good and evil. In addition, many of Allende's characters are far more complicated than the one-dimensional stock characters of melodrama. Thus, while Allende's fiction, as represented by Eva Luna and Cuentos de Eva Luna is indeed accessible, a close examination of its magical places and their inhabitants demonstrates a complexity that may not be readily apparent.
Source: Barbara Foley Buedel, "Magical Places in Isabel Allende's Eva Luna and Cuentos de Eva Luna," in West Virginia University Philological Papers, Vol. 53, Fall 2006, p. 108.
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