The majority of the characters drawn by the writer Isabel Allende (1942– ) possess some special talent or attribute. Eva Luna, the protagonist of the novel Eva Luna, is not an exception to that rule. In this novel, Allende experiments with a protagonist whose abilities mimic her own: Eva Luna, like her creator, the Chilean author Allende, is a storyteller. Fiction becomes both her reality and her livelihood.
In the character of Eva Luna, Allende adds another element to her usual mix of feminism and social commentary: She explores the nature of storytelling and, to some extent, the nature of reality. Both Eva Luna and her exceptional mother, Consuelo, possess the ability to recreate the world around them, shaping it so that people never really die and unpleasant events may be restructured. Consuelo, whose life has been both harsh and difficult, bequeaths to her daughter the ability to fill silences with words, and with words to create wondrous narratives and experience literally any event she can imagine. Consuelo, a servant woman, exemplifies both the oppression of the lower classes and the lack of freedom for women of her class and time, but she also values a particular type of liberty. With words, Consuelo does not merely escape reality but lives; “words are free,” she instructs her daughter.
Eva Luna, the illegitimate daughter of Consuelo and an Indian gardener, whose snakebite Consuelo cures through an ingenious sexual remedy, does not benefit from the status or opportunities many of Allende’s other female characters have enjoyed, including the upperclass heroines of her first two novels, Alba and her relatives in The House of the Spirits and Irene in Of Love and Shadows. Instead, Eva Luna’s life proceeds without the scripted education and wealth or professional jobs available to upper-class women. After her mother dies, the very young Eva enters the employment of a wealthy woman, whose petty abuse eventually inspires the child to snatch her wig from her head. Though she soon returns to her employer’s house after a short break of freedom, Eva Luna eventually runs away for good—and begins to survive by telling stories.
Though Allende often includes colorful and marginal characters in her books, Eva Luna, because of her own plebian roots, finds herself surrounded by three very unusual people: her friend Huberto Naranjo, at first a street child and later a revolutionary; the inventive madam La Señora; and Melesio, the woman mistakenly equipped with a man’s body. Eva practices her stories and gains worldly knowledge. After the police raid the red-light district, however, she finds sanctuary with another unusual character: Riad Halabí, called the Turk by his neighbors and whose benign presence in the novel perhaps reflects Allende’s own early experiences in the Middle East.
Allende occasionally steps away from Eva Luna’s story in order to relate the much shorter series of events that have brought Rolf Carlé, a native Austrian, to South America. The son of a brutal man whose favorite pastimes included sexually humiliating his wife and abusing his children, Rolf is scarred by more than his own virulent hatred of his father. Having witnessed firsthand the human bodies left behind at a German prison camp from World War II, and having helped to bury them, Rolf is fascinated with documentaries, the objective depiction of real events. As such, his interests contrast those of Eva Luna: fact versus fiction, with neither really able to tell the entire story.
With Riad, Eva experiences her first transcendent sexual encounter, and though she initiates a passionate relationship with Huberto Naranjo, Eva is fated to love Rolf. The two encounter each other against a backdrop typical of Allende’s concerns and interests: guerrilla resistance against a tyrannical government. Notably, Allende recognizes a central flaw in the guerrilla movement that brings Rolf and Eva together: Though the ostensible goal of the “Revolution” is freedom, it would be an exclusive freedom, one in which Eva—being female—and many of her marginalized, socially unacceptable friends could not partake. Eva and Rolf meet at a party during which Eva tells one of her stories, a story that has the dual effect of convincing the director of national television to give her a contract and of attracting Rolf’s interest.
Unlike both The House of the Spirits and Of Love and Shadows, the novel Eva Luna does not end with the immediate triumph of the existent government and a hopeful projection of change sometime in the future. Instead, the guerrilla movement to which Eva’s former lover Huberto Naranjo now belongs succeeds in rescuing many of its members from a prison. Rolf captures the reality of the event on film, and Eva transforms it into the dubious fiction of her soap opera Bolero. Eva’s soap opera mimics and reflects her own life: Its fictitious characters assume a reality of their own separate from the people who actually lived their lives. Eva spins the truth of her own experiences and the people around her into a complex web of illusion and fiction. Ultimately, Eva applies the same process to her own life.
Though the book is as full of sensuality as any other of Allende’s books, Eva and her destined mate, Rolf, do not realize their love until the story’s final pages. Nor do they exactly live happily ever after. Instead, Eva provides the reader with several projected future possibilities: Their love wears out, or perhaps Eva and Rolf luckily experience a love she does not have to continually invent. Eva ends the novel with an image of writing, an example of the type of recreation she has applied to both her life and her relationship with Rolf. She describes their honeymoon as exceptional, almost perfect, and she repairs the broken bits of her human characters; Rolf’s nightmares disappear and she herself dances, envisioning stories with happy endings. While the “true” fate of Eva and Rolf remains ambiguous, Eva is nonetheless able to construct a happy ending for herself through the magical medium of storytelling.
Diamond-Nigh, Lynne. “Eva Luna: Writing as History.” Studies in Twentieth Century Literature 19, no. 1 (1995): 29–42.
Rojas, Sonia Riquelme, and Edna Aguirre Rehbein. Critical Approaches to Isabel Allende’s Novels. New York: Peter Lang, 1991.
Categories: Literature, Novel Analysis, Spanish Literature
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