And of Clay Are We Created

by Isabel Allende

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Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 670

Criticism about Allende’s works has focused on the novels, especially on The House of the Spirits, her first novel, usually considered to be her best. Although most critics admired the magical realism and the passion of The House of the Spirits and found a new authentic voice in Allende’s writing, some complained that the novel was an inferior imitation of the work of Gabriel García Márquez, the Colombian winner of the 1982 Nobel Prize for literature. The debate over García Márquez’s influence and Allende’s talent continued through the discussion of her next two novels, Of Love and Shadows and Eva Luna.

Another issue for critics has been Allende’s feminism. She has been heralded for her strong feminine voice, but criticized for turning her male characters into stereotypes of traditional machismo and for creating women characters who desire dangerous or otherwise inappropriate men. The third major issue for Allende critics has been her status as a Latin-American writer, the label she prefers for herself. Although there is no formal criticism of ‘‘And of Clay Are We Created’’ other than mentions in reviews of The Stories of Eva Luna, these critical issues all surface repeatedly.

The foremost American critic of Allende’s work is Patricia Hart, author of Narrative Magic in the Fiction of Isabel Allende (1989). In a review of the short stories, which she deems less successful than the novels, Hart finds three key elements: ‘‘lush, hyperbolic reality, a female sensibility and some none-too-subtle parodying of male stars of the Boom.’’ Hart insists that Allende does not imitate Boom writers, but mocks them, turning their style to her own purposes. On the other hand, Suzanne Ruta’s review reveals genuine irritation with Allende’s echoes of the Boom, stating, ‘‘It’s Allende’s glib, sentimental treatment . . . and her cutesy allusions to other writers’ inventions, that I dislike.’’

Critics have also divided over how well Allende handles the short story form. Louise Bernikow praises Allende’s unique voice, drawing special attention to the stories’ sense of place and visual imagery. In Bernikow’s judgment, Allende ‘‘has only gotten better from one book to the next.’’ Eleanor Bader finds the collection ‘‘touching, provocative, and entertaining,’’ and the character of Carlé ‘‘memorable and captivating.’’ Other reviewers were disappointed by The Stories of Eva Luna, feeling the short stories were too often melodramatic. Some observe that the short form did not give Allende room to create the rich characters and complex plots for which she had drawn praise. Dan Cryer describes the stories in the collection as ‘‘entertaining as long as you don’t think much about them,’’ and finds the plotting ‘‘energetic but given to soap opera.’’

Allende herself has admitted that she finds writing short stories much more difficult than writing novels, and less conducive to the ‘‘embroidery’’ she uses to steer and embellish her writing. Interviewed by Farhat Iftekharuddin she commented, ‘‘I would much rather write a thousand pages of a long novel than a short story. The shorter, the more difficult it is.’’

Although he judges the short stories as ‘‘some of [Allende’s] finest work,’’ Daniel Harris questions the author’s political stance and her authenticity as a Latin-American writer. He describes her as ‘‘a gifted opportunist’’ who ‘‘shamelessly sentimentalizes the droll aborigines of primitive society,’’ and ‘‘ransacks South America as if it were an insipid cache of folksiness.’’ The risk in this stance, he explains, is that the horrors and atrocities described in the stories become mere clichés.

Although critics have not always been kind to Allende, the reading public has embraced her work enthusiastically. The House of the Spirits, originally written in Spanish as is all of Allende’s work, has been translated into dozens of languages. It has sold over six million copies around the world, and been made into a film starring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons. Her subsequent books have also sold well, making her the most well-known and widely read female Latin-American writer in history.

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