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Eva Luna by Isabel Allende (thoughts)

February 27, 2013

Eva Luna
Eva Luna is one of Isabel Allende’s earlier novels, and its youthful exuberance simply shines through. This is straight-up magical realism at its best, with crazy characters getting into unlikely scenarios all tied together with a narrative voice whose storytelling ability is simply marvelous. I loved this wholeheartedly, and the fact that the narrator and I happen to share a name is just icing on the cake. ;)

So! Eva Luna is born to a maid in an unnamed South American country (I suspect it’s not Allende’s native Chile, though, since it has rain forests) and follows an almost picaresque route to adulthood that happens to reflect her country’s history. Meanwhile, all of the important people she meets in her life come with extensive back stories, all shared with the reader by Eva herself, whose God-given talent is story telling. I shan’t tell you any more of the plot that that, because you should discover it for yourself.

What I think I loved most, other than the pervasive insistence on the power of stories to people and their lives, was the thoroughly domestic attitude of the novel. I love magical realism, but many of its most famous authors are male, so it was neat to see the same ‘type’ of storyline told from a completely different perspective. There’s a guerrilla fighter, and various wars go on in the background (it is the 20th century after all), but the novel is primarily concerned with how homes are made (I originally typed ‘maid,’ which is appropriate!) and relationships forged and how people carry on in the face of life, tragic and silly and always surprising. There is certainly a fair amount of sex, but women are often the initiators and they retain their complete personhood regardless of the escapes they do or don’t get up to. It was unspeakably refreshing. There is a transgendered character who I thought was portrayed sympathetically, but as I’m cis and straight, I’m not the best judge. If anyone better versed in that area has read this and has an opinion, I’d love for you to weight in.

By the end, I couldn’t help wondering why Allende isn’t classed on the same level as, say, Garcia Marquez. I had my suspicions, but there was only one thing to do: dust off my copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude for a reread. You’ll hear my findings soon. In the meantime, I enthusiastically recommend Eva Luna to anyone who enjoys Latin American lit, magical realism, women-centered fiction, or just well written novels with plots that will carry you along. As for me, I’ll be picking up more of Allende sooner rather than later. I’ve already read quite a bit of her, but don’t be surprised if she turns up in an Assembling My Atheneum post one of these days. ;)

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30 Comments leave one →
  1. February 27, 2013 3:58 pm

    I made myself a little map this year to chart the setting of the books I read, and as I was adding my latest read yesterday, the lack of anything set in South America was glaringly evident. And I got to thinking about it, and realized it’s not just the first few months of this year, but really probably the past decade or so. :( This sounds like a good start for remedying that! And being magical realism, that would work for OUaT, don’t you think? (I’m trying to see where I can fit it into my themed reading for the year. :P )

  2. February 27, 2013 5:30 pm

    Do you know who did the cover illustration? It looks so familiar to me, but I can’t think of the name.

  3. February 27, 2013 5:57 pm

    I’m thinking this will be my next Allende–I’m waffling between this and Of Love and Shadows. I’ve really liked all the books of hers that I’ve read but haven’t quite managed to fall in love with her work. I think it’s because I started with her more pot-boilery books (Daughter of Fortune, Zorro). The one Garcia Marquez novel I’ve read (Love in the Time of Cholera) felt a little more complex than most of the Allende novels I’ve read, but I’ve not read enough of either to make a fair comparison. I intend to read more of both, however, because they’ve both been worth my time so far!

    • March 3, 2013 5:08 pm

      I loved her early work when it came out, but I am not sure that her later books are as good.

  4. February 27, 2013 6:22 pm

    A very convincing review ( even w/o plot) that has made me want to go and read it. Also time I started reading Garcia Marquez

  5. Geraldine permalink
    February 27, 2013 10:27 pm

    Well fancy that, I just picked up a secondhand copy of it yesterday ! I have particularly liked her non fiction books. Paula about the death of her daughter and My Invented Country. A Memoir.

  6. February 28, 2013 8:15 am

    I loved, loved this book, which I read a long time ago now. But it made me a stalwart Isabel Allende fan…Glad you enjoyed it as well. I have not read a lot of her later works, but have “Daughter of Fortune” on my bedside table, so will get to it soon.

  7. February 28, 2013 4:38 pm

    I really enjoyed this book; I read it almost four years ago. Here is a link to my review: http://beastmomma.squarespace.com/from-shelf-to-hand/2009/9/8/eva-luna.html It is so nice to catch up with your blog!

  8. Ioana permalink
    February 28, 2013 5:17 pm

    Love your choices, as always. Have to read this since my only Allende was Of love and shadows and more than a year ago!

    However, I read a translated version and I think that’s why I didn’t enjoy it to the fullest but the story was really good and you kind of fall in love with the characters. They’re well written and that’s what stuck with me the most.

    Marquez is a favorite of mine and always will be! I have Love in the Time of Cholera in Spanish and your post made me want to get to read it already. :) Hope you will share your thoughts about the reread of 100 years of Solitude.

  9. February 28, 2013 7:59 pm

    I’ve only read House of the Spirits by Allende, and while I liked it, I didn’t think it was quite on the same level as Marquez. I think I didn’t find the language or the imagery as striking or moving as I did when reading Marquez’s novels—his writing is so melancholy and beautiful, it positively makes my heart ache at times (in the best possible way!). I found Spirits diverting, but it didn’t shake the foundations of my reading world, the way One Hundred Years of Solitude did when I read it. I’ll be very interested to hear your thoughts on this when you report back on your Marquez re-read!

  10. March 1, 2013 5:15 am

    I dislike magical realism in general, but I really enjoyed all the Isabel Allende books I have read (The House of the Spirits, Eva Luna and Of Love and Shadows and the non-fiction book about her daughter Paula).
    I actually prefer her novels to those of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, which i think is due to the focus on female characters.

  11. March 1, 2013 4:25 pm

    Allende is one of my favorite author-The House of the Spirits was amazing! I am going to put this book on my to read list- I can’t believe I haven’t read it already- or since I am getting older, maybe I did and totally forgot it! Seems like a good way to save $- just keep reading all the books I have already read… Hope you are feeling better. I enjoy your taste in books- Austen anything is my favorite also.

  12. aartichapati permalink
    March 1, 2013 9:18 pm

    I was just looking at my copy of House of the Spirits on my shelf the other day and thinking that Allende is an author I really NEED to read – I’ve never read anything by her yet! I will pick her up after I finish my Dunnett, I think.

    • March 3, 2013 5:09 pm

      Yes. do read either House of the spirits or this one. You will enjoy them I think.

  13. March 3, 2013 5:13 pm

    Thanks for a great review. Allende is an old favorite of mine. I like her better than Marquez. I identify with her characters more–and laugh more. Perhaps his writing is more complex and thus is more appreciated by establishment (male) critics. But her creativity in her early novels is unbeatable.

  14. Ash permalink
    March 5, 2013 12:40 pm

    Eva – Interesting that you should mention Eva Luna. I found this along with the House of Spirits in the library but for whatever reason I chose House of Spirits over this. Just a thought :)

  15. March 5, 2013 9:29 pm

    One of many unread books sitting ignored in my personal library. Maybe after reading your wonderful post I’ll get off my butt and finally read it! Thanks!

  16. boardinginmyforties permalink
    March 8, 2013 3:52 pm

    I’ve read neither Allende nor Marquez so I can’t weigh in with an opinion. I do have both authors on my list so perhaps in the future I will manage a review of something.

  17. March 10, 2013 1:44 pm

    Though Marquez will forever be my favorite of the two, I think Allende is a very very close second.

  18. March 11, 2013 3:17 am

    I read House of the Spirits last year and found it really moving- I wondered the same thing about the critical reception of Allende, after going to her wikipedia page and reading some of the criticism she has faced from the (mostly male) establishment. There could be other reasons though, like the way she draws on real life experiences/history but then fictionalises them heavily. Although that doesn’t seem unusual for magic realism? Anyway I would be really interested to read your comparison! I do love Garcia Marquez, but haven’t read a lot of Latin American authors so am not really sure I’m equipped to compare. I do know that I liked House of the Spirits a whole lot more than Like Water for Chocolate though.

  19. March 11, 2013 1:13 pm

    I own this, I own this! I think it’s time I read it. Very curious about your findings re: One-Hundred Years of Solitude.

  20. Heqit permalink
    October 9, 2013 5:37 pm

    Have you read the companion volume of short stories, called, appropriately enough, The Stories of Eva Luna (Cuentos de Eva Luna en Espanol)? If you liked Eva Luna and haven’t read the short story collection, I HIGHLY recommend it. The stories are generally independent, but several of them are set in and around a particular small town and there are some recurring characters. They’re told by Eva Luna, and the atmosphere and magical realism and Eva’s distinct voice are just…lush. This is one of my favorite short story collections ever, actually, and I’ve re-read it over and over again – many more times than I’ve read Eva Luna itself!

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