Isabel Allende

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Isabel Allende Short Fiction Analysis

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Isabel Allende’s literary career is notable in that it stands outside the shifting fashions of the Latin American literary scene. Since the 1960’s in Latin America the literary fashion has tended to favor intricate, self-conscious novels that test the reader’s interpretative powers. Flying in the face of this trend, however, Allende’s novels favor content over form, reality over novelistic devices. Though her fiction has been dismissed by some critics as simply an imitation of Gabriel García Márquez’s work, especially his so-called Magical Realist style, it is clear that Allende enjoys unparalleled popularity. Her novels and short stories have attracted an enormous readership in Spanish as well as languages such as English, French, and German. Allende tends to write plot-centered, reader-friendly fiction. Her stories often focus on love and sex as seen from a feminine perspective.

The Stories of Eva Luna

The short-story collection The Stories of Eva Luna is essentially a sequel to her novel Eva Luna (1987), published three years earlier; thus the narrator of The Stories of Eva Luna is the Eva Luna who appeared in the earlier novel, that is, a resourceful, bright young woman who, though born to poverty, rises to riches as a result of becoming a famous soap-opera writer. Two of the stories provide a direct link to Eva Luna the novel. “El huésped de la maestra,” for example, finishes a story that was left unresolved in the novel. The novel describes how Inés, the schoolmistress of Santa Agua, saw her son brutally murdered at the hands of a local man, who caught him stealing mangoes in the garden. Riad Halabí, by an ingenious plan, managed to force the murderer to leave town. In the short story, the reader learns that the murderer returns many years later to Santa Agua and is then killed by Inés in an act of revenge; much of the short story is taken up by a description of the ingenious way in which Halabí disposes of the body. Also related to the novel is the short story “De barro estamos hechos.” The novel introduces the reader to Rolf Carlé, a cameraman, who eventually becomes Eva’s companion. Here the reader sees firsthand his experience of the floods that ravaged the country and that caused a young girl called Azucena to die slowly and painfully, even while he was filming her. The short story focuses on how this experience has changed Rolf’s life. These two short stories can be seen as sequels to Allende’s long fiction and show continuity of theme and character.

There are twenty-three short stories in The Stories of Eva Luna and only two of them, as described above, use the same characters that the novels do. In other words, above all, they are new stories that Eva Luna has invented for the enjoyment of her lover, Rolf Carlé. The overriding structure is provided by the theme of Alf layla wa-layla (fifteenth century; The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments , 1706-1708) in which the female narrator, Scherezade, must tell a story each night in order to avoid being executed by the king. The collection of short stories opens, indeed, with Rolf Carlé asking the narrator, who, though unnamed, is obviously Eva Luna, to tell him a story that has never been told to anyone else. The first story, “Dos palabras,” explores the same theme. Here the protagonist, Belisa Crespusculario, wrote a speech for a man who wanted to become president; and she also gave him two secret words. The speech was an enormous success, but the Colonel soon discovers that he is fatally attracted to Belisa as a result of...

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the linguistic spell she has cast over him.

There are a number of themes that run through the stories. The most obvious one is that of sexuality and love, which forms the focus for nineteen out of the twenty-three stories in the collection. Love is often presented as occurring purely through chance. In “Tosca,” for example, a love relationship begins in this short story as a result of the apparently insignificant fact that Leonardo is seen by Laurizia reading the score of the work Tosca by the famous Italian composer Giacomo Puccini. From this chance encounter a passionate affair develops. Of the nineteen stories that focus on love and sexuality, ten focus on illicit sex. A good example is “Si me tocaras el corazón,” which tells the story of Amadeo Peralta, who, while on a visit to Santa Agua, seduces a fifteen-year-old girl called Hortensia; when he tires of her, he decides to lock her up permanently in the basement of a sugar refinery. Years later, some children hear monstrous noises coming from the basement, and Hortensia is discovered, diseased and at the brink of death, which leads to Amadeo’s discomfiture. The moral of this short story seems to be that unbridled sexual passion can have disastrous consequences. Some of the stories, such as “Boca de sapo,” “María, la boba,” and “Walimai,” explicitly allude to prostitution.

Other themes covered in the stories include vengeance, as in “Una venganza,” in which revenge for rape is enacted on the rapist; the clash between cultures, as in “Walamai,” which describes the struggles between the tribe of the Sons of the Moon and the white man, told from an Indian perspective; the miracle, as in “Un discreto milagro,” which tells how Miguel, a priest, has his sight restored by a local saint, Juana de los Lirios; as well as predestination, as in “La mujer del juez,” a well-written, suspense story which focuses on the protagonists, Nicolás Vidal and Casilda Hidalgo, who conduct an illicit affair even though they know beforehand that it will lead to their deaths. One particularly powerful story, “Un camino hacia el norte,” contains a strong social critique. It describes how Claveles Picero, and her grandfather, Jesús Dionisio Picero, are tricked into giving up Claveles’s illegitimate son Juan to a United States adoption agency, which is later discovered to be a front for a contraband agency which sells human organs. The story ends with a description of their journey to the capital in an attempt to discover Juan’s fate; they, like the reader, fear the worst. The message is that poverty leads to exploitation and death.

A common technique in the stories involves the story opening with a scene (whose import is not understood) and then cutting to the past, at which point the narrative of the lives of the main protagonists is told. This occurs in a number of stories, including “El camino hacia el norte” and “El huésped de la maestra.” Most of the stories are told in the third person, although some, such as “Walimai,” are told in the first person.


Isabel Allende Long Fiction Analysis