With The Stories of Eva Luna, Isabel Allende creates a treasure trove of stories, delicious treats of woven fantasy that explore how people cope with, use, and abuse power. As Allende shows us, power can manifest itself in many ways: in many of the stories she gives us the power of love—how it can bring redemption or destruction. Allende draws for us many powerful women (and men)—people who persevere and tackle poverty, injustice, and brutality. In just a few pages, Allende paints a picture that enthralls you and pulls you into a world that is magical and ethereal.
“Two Words” tells the story of a poor, illiterate girl who learns to read and write with an inborn talent. She makes a living selling words, stories, and letters. She ends up taming the most powerful and feared man in her country with the power of her words and her beguiling spirit.
“Toad’s Mouth” brings us a powerful woman, who mesmerizes and enchants countless men through sexual prowess and who, in turn, is tamed by a mysterious foreigner in a hilarious, bawdy adventure of life in a wild and desolate country.
In one of my favorite stories, “The Little Heidelberg” gives us El Capitán, a Finnish sea captain who has retired in an unnamed Caribbean port and dances weekly with a lovely Russian woman, Eloísa; she smells of chocolate from so many years of making bonbons. While language keeps their communication at bay for forty years, his reticence for speaking is broken when a countryman is able to translate his words for the first time. “Will you marry me?” he asks his long time dance partner and she says “Don’t you think this is a little sudden?” As they dance the celebratory acceptance dance, with each twirl she becomes a bit younger. In the magic of the scene, she twirls out of existence. Her disappearance seems to reflect the dreamscape nature of the scene. Perhaps El Capitán simply imagined asking her and when the music stops, she is no longer there because she had entered his dreams years earlier. We don’t know if her disappearance is her lesson to not wait so long to reveal our true feelings or a magical journey that is unexplained.
Revenge and justice are topics that Allende also explores. In “Revenge” a woman dedicates her whole life to avenging her father’s death. Upon the moment of truth when she must cut down the man she has hunted her whole life, she cannot. Love takes away her ability to carry out revenge. This leaves her unwhole. Her only solution is to take her own life. And the man? He suffers fate worse than the revenge that was long planned for. “. . . he knew he would live to be ninety and pay for his guilt with the memory of the only woman who had ever touched his heart.”
The final story “And of Clay We are Created” is perhaps my favorite for its poignancy and mysticism. It elegantly details the transformation of two people, as well the narrator who vicariously injects herself into the story, in a mingling of spiritual comfort, facing the past, and accepting the present.
This book is one to read, savor, and reread. You will forget the details of a story, and as you go back to reread it, new details will emerge that make the story sweeter, more ironic, and more satisfying.