The only book of Isabel Allende’s which I had read prior to Eva Luna was The House of the Spirits. I liked it well enough, but I must admit that I did find it a little disappointing, particularly considering the wealth of great reviews which I made sure to read before making my selection. Regardless, several years have elapsed, and I felt that it was time to pick up another of her books. I plumped for Eva Luna as the storyline appealed to me the most, and I felt that it would be an interesting inclusion for my Reading the World project, too.
Allende is rather a prolific author, who was born in Peru and now resides in California; many of her books have been widely translated into ‘more than twenty-seven languages’, and have consequently become bestsellers over four continents. This particular translation of Eva Luna, which was published originally in 1987, has been worked on by Margaret Sayers Peden.
In the novel, Allende ‘tells the sweet and sinister story of an orphan who beguiles the world with her astonishing visions, triumphing over the worst of adversity and bringing light to a dark place’. The novel’s opening sentences certainly captured my attention: ‘My name is Eva, which means “life,” according to a book of names my mother consulted. I was born in the back room of a shadowy house, and grew up amidst ancient furniture, books in Latin, and human mummies, but none of these things made me melancholy, because I came into the world with a breath of the jungle in my memory’.
Allende then moves to the story of Eva’s mother, Consuelo, who is raised in a convent after being abandoned by her parents. Consuelo fashions stories about herself in order to craft the solid history which has been taken from her. The political detail and customs which have been included is rich and interesting, and whilst the country in which the action as such takes place is unnamed, many similarities can be drawn between different dictatorships around the world, not just in South America. I was reminded in this of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It should be mentioned too that the retrospective positioning of Eva is effective in telling her story.
After her mother’s death, when she is just six years old, Eva is moved to a convent and is expected to work: ‘I never hurried to obey, because I soon discovered that if I was careful I could dawdle and get through the day without doing much of anything’. Despite the plot enticing me, I do not feel as though it was detailed enough to fill a novel of this length; it also tended to become rather convoluted and predictable. My interest was not held as much as I had expected it to be; indeed, I have come away from the novel feeling a touch disappointed.
Allende’s writing is certainly intelligent, and her descriptions detailed. At times, however, the novel did feel a little pretentious in its prose. This is strongest at the beginning of the book, as we are getting to know about Eva and her background. Afterwards, some of the prose is quite lovely: ‘She manufactured the substance of her own dreams, and from those materials she constructed a world for me. Words are free, she used to say, and she appropriated them; they were all hers. She saved in my mind the idea that reality is not only what we see on the surface; it has a magical dimension as well and, if we so desire, it is legitimate to enhance it and color it to make our journey through life less trying’. Despite any qualms which I had about the writing, Eva Luna has been well translated, and there is a definite fluidity to it. It has made me a little reluctant to pick up more of Allende’s work in future, however.