The Stories of Eva Luna Isabel Allende
Chilean short story writer, novelist, and memoirist.
The following entry presents criticism of Allende's short story collection Cuentos de Eva Luna (The Stories of Eva Luna), which was published in 1990.
Allende's reputation as a short story writer is based primarily upon her collection Cuentos de Eva Luna (1990; The Stories of Eva Luna). The collection includes biographical sketches of persons integral to narrator Eva's development, stories derived from Allende's 1987 novel Eva Luna, and episodes based upon actual events in South American history. Although Allende has acknowledged that not all the stories are told in Eva's voice, the author asserts that “it's her tone” that binds the collection together.
Plot and Major Characters
Of all Allende's characters, Eva Luna is most like her: a feminist, a journalist, and a storyteller. In fact, Eva often refers to stories that she never tells; it was readers' clamoring for those stories that led Allende to try her hand at short fiction and produce The Stories of Eva Luna. In the prologue to Allende's collection, Eva's lover Austrian émigré Rolf Carlé writes to her, begging that she tell him stories. Rolf, a photojournalist, tells her, “You think in words; for you, language is an inexhaustible thread you weave as if life were created as you tell it. I think in the frozen images of a photograph.” In response Eva tells twenty-three stories that explore noteworthy themes such as sexuality, the exploitation of women, domestic violence, family relationships, economic inequality, and political oppression.
Perhaps the most powerful and revealing story is “And of Clay Are We Created,” which concerns a young girl who is trapped in a mudslide and Rolf, who is sent by helicopter to report her rescue. Unable to maintain his photojournalist's objectivity, he joins in the unsuccessful rescue attempt and then stays with the girl until she dies. As Rolf talks with the girl over a period of days, he remembers and begins to address his own youthful suffering, which he has repressed for many years. At a further remove, Eva experiences their pain as she watches them on television. The characters of the photojournalist and his lover are based both on Allende's own experiences in journalism and her witnessing of the death of Omaira Sánchez, one of the thousands of victims of Colombia's Nevado Ruiz volcanic eruption in 1985.
Just as The Stories of Eva Luna utilizes most of the same characters as Eva Luna, the collection also explores many of the same thematic concerns as the novel. Female desire is a recurring theme in the collection. In “Wicked Girl,” a young woman becomes obsessed with her mother's lover, but is scorned when she attempts to seduce him. “Simple María” concerns a prostitute who believes in love and pursues her profession as an expression of her insatiable passion. While Allende's feminism is often in evidence in her stories, her sympathy for women in the grip of a patriarchal society does not prevent her from seeing through the romantic delusions of the title character in “Tosca.” The economic and sexual exploitation of women is addressed in several stories. “Walimai” focuses on a young woman who is held captive and used for the sexual gratification of countless men working on a jungle rubber plantation. Revenge is another central theme of the stories. In “The Gold of Tomás Vargas,” both the wife and the lover of an abusive man conspire to murder him, after which the two women live happily together on the gold he had once horded. In “The Schoolteacher's Guest,” an elderly schoolteacher uses a machete to kill the man who murdered her son. Allende's preoccupation with human suffering and redemption is illustrated in “Our Secret,” which chronicles the story of two lovers who discover that they have been tortured in similar ways by the same oppressive political regime. The piece focuses on the psychological aftereffects of such a traumatic experience, as the lovers delicately reveal their scars to one another.
The Stories of Eva Luna has received mixed critical reviews. Much of the critical analysis of Allende's short story collection has been devoted to her feminist perspective, with many reviewers applauding her depiction of strong, passionate women in the stories. In addition, critics note that the stories combine fantasy, magic, biting social satire, and psychological insight as well as elements of magic realism. Most commentators commend her use of Eva as a modern-day Scheherazade and link The Stories of Eva Luna to the infamous The Arabian Nights. Some reviewers, however, find Allende's stories to be superficial and sentimental and her female protagonists idealized and unconvincing. A number of scholars have commented on the political overtones in Allende's fiction, debating whether she successfully combines her social beliefs with the more fantastic elements in her prose. Critics have found parallels between her fiction and that of such Latin American authors as Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez.