Eva Luna by Isabel Allende (thoughts)
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. ;)