Book: The Stories of Eva Luna by Isabel Allende (1989)
Age/Genre: Historical Fiction, Short Story Collection
Content Notes: Sexual Violence, Rape, Classism, Ableism, Racism, Homophobia
Every time I see an Isabel Allende book at a thrift store or used book store, I buy it (unless I already own it). As I mentioned in my reviews of Paula and Daughter of Fortune, I want to read more of Allende’s works, as I find her writing beautiful and her characters endlessly fascinating. I love the way she portrays people of different stations in life and shows how circumstances dictate so much of who people become.
A while ago, I decided I was going to read one of my Allende books. I chose The Stories of Eva Luna because it is short and I thought that a brief collection of short stories would be a fun little romp. That was months ago, because I pseudo-quit about halfway through. Eventually, I decided to pick it up again because I do like how Allende utilizes setting and I figured the collection was worth finishing. I learned after I finished the book that it’s a sequel of sorts. Allende wrote Eva Luna in 1987, and while the Stories are told by the titular character, they have little-to-nothing to do with her, plotwise (though several stories briefly utilize first person, it’s always just once or twice and she mostly just “heard about” or briefly met the protagonists of each story). You don’t need to read Eva Luna to understand or enjoy The Stories of Eva Luna, though it might help with the context.
By the way, the context of The Stories of Eva Luna is basically that of Scheherazade. Eva Luna tells stories to her lover in bed. She’s supposed to tell him stories that she’s never told anyone, even making them up as she goes. That is basically communicated in the blurb about the book on the back and sort of vaguely in the prologue, which is the only part of the book told by her lover, Rolfe Carle, instead of Eva Luna herself.
This is one of Allende’s works that was originally written in Spanish. I read the English translation. I feel that in certain places this made it difficult to ascertain tone, but I think the descriptions of people and places came through beautifully.
Okay, now about the stories themselves. There are 23. Most of them center around poor people in rural areas of an unspecified Latin American country. I assumed it was Chile since that is where Allende is from, but most of the location names are fictional. She does include the presence of National Petroleum and their effect on native people, as well as other aspects of colonialism. The was a National Petroleum Company of Chile, but I don’t know if it was common to abbreviate it to “National Petroleum.” Regardless, it’s safe to say that this is a fictionalized version of our world, which is common in Allende’s works. And with Allende’s renown for magical realism, it isn’t surprising that some of these stories include magical elements.
Usually by this point in a review, I’ll have discussed specific stories. It’s been hard for me to choose which stories to talk about because so many of them deal with traumatic events. Also, for me to include my thoughts and analysis on most of them, I’d have to delve into spoilers. Instead, I’m going to list some of the moments I loved and hated in this book, without specifying which story they belong to. I think these lists will help you to determine whether you should give this book a try or not.
- A mystical woman creates words, imbuing them with power. This was some fun magical realism.
- Two women band against the man who wrongs them instead of letting him pit them against each other. They support each other when society refuses to.
- A man from a remote tribe puts the spirit of a violated woman to rest.
- A woman dances until she vanishes.
- A man dedicates his life’s research to the idea that love and happiness can heal, then pours all his energy into loving his wife into health.
Moments I Hated (Be warned, Lots of trauma here)
- A man rebuffs the naive advances of a twelve year old, but then spends the rest of his life pining over children, and it’s framed to insinuate that it’s all the girl’s fault. Gross.
- A man stalks a woman, making her fear for her life, and then wins her over in the end.
- A doctor lusts after a girl as she grows up.
- A woman “redeems” a general by magically infatuating him with her words. Apparently they’re in love now, and he never has to answer for his war crimes.
- A man waits 40 years for someone to speak his language to come to a tourist town so he can propose to the woman he dances with every night. 40 years? You can find some way to communicate
- A woman lets the man who killed her husband have his way with her in an effort to save her children, then feels bad when he’s gunned down.
There was one story I just have to vent about, and it’s full of both potential triggers and spoilers. So I’m putting it in white text below.
In “Revenge,” soldiers attack a villa. A father swears to kill his daughter so that she won’t be “ruined” by the soldiers, but gives in to her pleas to live for revenge. A soldier rapes her, but out of the goodness of their hearts, the townspeople allow her to live in peace anyway. She spends 25 years telepathically tormenting the man who raped her. He finally returns to the villa, where they spend a month together in love before she kills herself because she can’t follow through with her revenge. The soldier is devastated, one interpretation being that his fate is worse than the revenge she had planned. UGH. I just….nope. I hated everything about this plotline.
Overall, I did not enjoy this collection. The writing is great, the characters are interestingly written (though some are somewhat superficial), but man, did I really dislike most of the storylines. Like I said, it is hard to get a feel for the tone, and I feel like most of the terrible moments were illustrative of life’s injustices, not glorifying them, but a few too many bad actors received what I felt was too much benefit of the doubt or undeserved redemption. I slogged through The Stories of Eva Luna, but I am glad I finished it. Although, it’s not one I highly recommend, especially if you’ve never read Allende. I can see this being a good book for a creative writing study, as it brings up a lot of hard questions, and makes you really analyze why you like or dislike certain elements. There is also a ton to learn from Allende’s artful descriptions and how she establishes a larger world while focusing on individuals. I can’t see myself reading this in its entirety again, but it didn’t dampen my desire to read more of Allende’s works.