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Part of the anthology The Stories of Eva Luna, "And of Clay Are We Created" is a short story by Isabel Allende about a reporter who tries to save a victim of a volcanic eruption.
Rolf Carlé reports on the plight of a young girl, Azucena, who is stuck in heavy mud after the volcano erupts. Initially, he is confident that Azucena will be rescued easily, providing a great human interest piece for his network:
She was thirteen, and she had never been outside her village. Rolf Carlé, buoyed by a premature optimism, was convinced that everything would end well: the pump would arrive, they would drain the water, move the rubble, and Azucena would be transported by helicopter to a hospital where she would recover rapidly and where he could visit her and bring her gifts.
His first interest is in the story. However, as time wears on and the proper equipment is not obtained, Carlé becomes emotionally invested in Azucena; he sees it as his mission to rescue her and refuses to leave her side, without concern for his career or safety:
Rolf Carlé had a growth of beard, and dark circles beneath his eyes; he looked near exhaustion. Even from that enormous distance I could sense the quality of his weariness, so different from the fatigue of other adventures. He had completely forgotten the camera; he could not look at the girl through a lens any longer.
The damage from the volcano is massive and Azucena is only one facet of it, yet Carlé is obsessed with her rescue and ignores all other distractions. As he tries to keep her spirit strong, Carlé begins to see himself as trapped like her, but in his own past and memories:
That night, imperceptibly, the unyielding floodgates that had contained Rolf Carlé's past for so many years began to open, and the torrent of all that had lain hidden in the deepest and most secret layers of memory poured out, eveling before it the obstacles that had blocked his consciousness for so long.
Finally, both he and Azucena come to terms with her inevitable death; no one is taking steps to help and there is simply nothing Carlé can do by himself.
"Don’t cry. I don’t hurt anymore. I'm fine," Azucena said when dawn came. "I'm not crying for you," Rolf Carlé smiled. "I'm crying for myself. I hurt all over." ... I recognized the precise moment at which Rolf gave up the fight and surrendered to the torture of watching the girl die. ... I watched as he leaned down to kiss her poor
forehead, consumed by a sweet, sad emotion he could not name. I felt how in that instant both were saved from despair, how they were freed from the clay, how they rose above the vultures and helicopters, how together they flew above the vast swamp of corruption and laments. How, finally, they were able to accept
(All Quotes: Allende, "And of Clay Are We Created," teacherweb.com)
In his mind, rescuing Azucena would be a confirmation of his own goodness and absolution of his life, of which he is ashamed. The emotional investment of the story gave Carlé a reason to continue trying to help, day after day, and each time he failed he felt the guilt of his previous life; when he finally gives in, it is because Azucena herself forgives him, letting him know that her death is not his fault.
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