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Book review and recommendation: Eva Luna by Isabel Allende


 Isabel Allende is an author that never fails to impress me. Her magical writing style always captures my attention, while her characters capture my heart. Still what I'm enamoured the most (when it comes to Allende's writing) are her poetical passages and meditations on life. Allende's an unique writing gift. 

Having previously read four of her novels ( The House of the Spirits , Of Love and Shadows , Daughter of Fortune and Zorro ) , I can't deny having certain expectations when it came to this author. Sometimes we dive into book blissfully unaware of where it might take us. Other times, we have expectations (not to say prejudice). Being already familiar with the writer is both a blessing and a course. Having been (already) accustomed to someone's writing style might make the reading easier. Similar like with friends, we're ready to pardon things to writers we love. On another hand, if our expectations are high, we might end up disappointed.

At this point, I think I can say that I'm not only familiar with this writer's style but also with Allende's imaginative scope. Allende's imagination is truly impressive. Still, I realized that her imagination (despite being so potent), is in some ways a world within world, a labyrinth of sorts, that is a narrative enclosed within certain themes. I will explain what I mean later on, but for now it will suffice to say that having identified those themes I could foresee much of what happened. That being said, I still felt this book was magical in the sense that it managed to steal my heart.
“At times I felt that the universe fabricated from the power of imagination had stronger and more lasting contours than the blurred realm of the flesh-and-blood creatures around me.” ― Isabel AllendeEva Luna



There was at least a dozen times that was truly moved while I was reading it and it was more that enough to make up for occasional predictably and possible flaws. Allende's a talented writer, no doubt about that. You may tire of her books, you might even dislike her style to start with, but you must give her credit, for if this is not writing talent, what is?

 Nevertheless, I could not help wondering how I would have felt about this book if this was my first Allende and not book no.5. Would I have had enjoyed the story more? So, to bring this introduction to an end. Did I expect to like this book based solely on the fact I enjoy Isabel Allende's writing? I must admit that I did. Did I end up liking it? Yes, I did. It was an enjoyable read and I'm happy I had the change to read this book.  

“There is no death, daughter. People die only when we forget them,' my mother explained shortly before she left me. 'If you can remember me, I will be with you always.” 



The book's protagonists Eva stole my heart. However, somewhere along the way, I started feeling deja vu. As I was reading this story, all of the Allende's other novels came to my mind. That analytical part of my brain didn't seem to get in the way of the other part that enjoyed this novel for what it was- good literature. Knowing where the narrative is going to take me didn't ruin neither the feeling of an authentic story, nor the emotional impact it had on me. The fact that I didn't find many things plausible didn't bother me either ( it is called magic realism for a reason, right?). However, at some point the similarities between Eva Luna and all her other female protagonists started to create this feeling of deja vu than subsequently lead to ask myself how much of them was in Eva Luna (and vice versa).


“My name is Eva, which means 'life,' according to a book of names my mother consulted. I was born in the back room of a shadowy house, and grew up amidst ancient furniture, books in Latin, and human mummies, but none of those things made me melancholy, because I came into the world with a breath of the jungle in my memory.” 
 I wonder how much these mental wanderings of mine were prompted by the fact that Eva Luna is, among other things, a novel about a woman who becomes a writer. In this novel, I really hung on those passages about the writing process. I found what the author (or Eva Luna? Or is it the same person in this case?) had to say about it very interesting. When Eva Luna explained how and even more importantly WHY she writes---that's such a precious passage. As someone who obviously loves reading, I found myself (metaphorically) nodding in agreement. We write and we read to make sense of this world. To put things into perspective. To be heard....Allende's (or Eva Luna's ?) words made me think of Tennessee Williams who (in one of her prefaces) compared all writers with a little Southern girl who wanted to be heard and payed attention to. In one other instance (or perhaps within the same preface) Williams said (something along the lines) that in real life we love and betray one another, if not in the same breath, then within a very short time period. Literature gives us an opportunity to process things. In life so many things are happening at once that sometimes we're simply unable to make heads or tails of it. When we read, we get the chance to breathe, to take it all in....we open our hearts (well, at least if we're doing the reading properly) and let literature be our teacher.



 
“I felt an unrelenting restlessness. It was the first time I had ever experienced jealousy, and that emotion clung to my skin day and night like a dark stain, a contamination I could not shed; it became so unbearable that when finally I rid myself of it, I was freed forever of the desire to possess another person or the temptation ever to belong to anyone.” 

A few words about this novel's heroine. Its protagonist is Eva Luna, a daughter of a servant and of a wandering Indian. Eva grows up in a house of her mother's employer, a strict doctor who doesn't even know Eva is there and who didn't even notice that his loyal servant (Eva's mother) had been pregnant. Eva's mother conceived her with a snake bitten Indian. Eva's Indian father miraculously survived the snake bite, but left her mother as soon as he recovered. Eva Luna is an imaginative child, enchanted by her mother's stories. Eva's inherited, among other things, her mother tendency to daydream. What does life has in store for this little girl? As I was reading the story of Eva Luna and her childhood, I couldn't help comparing it with the childhood of the protagonist of Daughter of Fortune. Is this one so different, I asked myself? As long as I enjoy her writing, does it even matter? Should it matter?


Allow me to explain what I mean. If my observations are correct, Allende's novels are strikingly similar not only in their choice of protagonist, but also in their plot. It is almost as there is a formula to them (something you wouldn't exactly expect in magic realism). Often there is a young female protagonist with an interesting family background. This background is always revealed, making her novels a mix of individual and collective, of individual story and family sagas. Childhood memories always play an important part in the development of the heroine (and the other protagonists for that matter. )


 The atmosphere of South America as a multicultural and unique blend of contrasts, is always well recreated and often reflected on. Often there is an elderly man who (not having an emotional contact with anyone due to whatever reasons) establishes it with a young girl. In The House of Spirits, the strict (scientific) Estaban loves his granddaughter dearly. In Eva Luna, the little girl cares for a dying elderly man so tenderly that he decides to leave everything to her, despite him not being exactly sure who she is. This older man, an employer of her late mother, establishes a first real emotional connection only on his death bed. As a life of one young girl gets started. An appropriate metaphor, I would say. Life and death travel hand in hand in Allende's novels- as they do in life. 





There is another theme that is often repeated in Allende's novels. Theme of forbidden 'almost' incestuous love (the so called Wuthering Heights syndrome, love between people not related but raised together or in some cases that of one raising the other- this would qualify asThe Thorn Birds syndrome, right?) are frequent. In addition, Allende's heroines often fall in love with man who are revolutionist and guerrilla fighters. Often they have to hide their love from everyone. 

Similarly, often Allende's heroines have to decide between two man, one of whom was their first love and to whom they feel bound with strong strong passion AND the other someone they met after the first, learned to love more slowly but more steadily). As far a I noticed this was pattern was followed in Eva Luna, Daughter of Fortune and Of Love and Shadows. Another thing I noticed is that there is no stereotyping. A heroine may have romantic feelings or attraction even towards man from the regime (take for example, the army fiance in Love and Shadows and the military figure who courts Eva in Eva Luna).

As long as I'm listing similarities, here is another thing I noticed. Often the Allende's female protagonist is, at some point in the narrative, imprisoned or tortured. At any rate, the heroine always observes a lot of suffering but despite of it she always manages to establish meaningful relationships and friendships. There is always a bit of humour, amidst of all the melancholy, death and sadness. 

Allende's female protagonist always feel a connection with their country and people. Their gaze is both critical and loving at the same time. The conditions and the times in which the heroine lives in are always turbulent, there is always a revolution of some kind. Politics are always a part of her heroine's life, which doesn't mean that romantic lives of Allende's heroines are lacking in anything. Quite on the contrary, the themes of politics, war, power, oppression and danger often get mixed up with friendship, idealism, artistic tendencies and love. Moreover, Allende's heroines often break taboos be it by falling in love too early and running away only to change their mind and fall in love with someone else towards the end of the novel, or by loving someone out of their social circle, or/and someone of other race or religion. 





Isabel Allende has a very unique writing style, and this I'm sure, was noted by many. Personally, I'm a fan of her style of writing but it is not the only thing that fascinates me. You see, somehow Allende manages to retell stories without making them sound repetitive and that is something quite exceptional. 


I could find 1000 similarities between her novels, between her protagonists, between her plots...I could find so many to make a good case that she is recycling them...However, I don't believe that to be the case. As Allende herself notes in Eva Luna- sometimes changing even a little detail can change the story. For example, at one point in the story, Eva retells the story of a death of loved one in such a way as to make that person deal with loss more easily...and who knows if this 'invented' story isn't in some ways true? Perhaps their loved one really felt they were there with them in that moment? 



So, I'm not sure it could be said that Allende recycles her stories. Probably it wouldn't matter to me- even I believed it to be true. Her stories move me deeply. You know how most painters have a certain style and you can recognize them in different stages of their artistic development? Well, the same can be said about Isabel Allende. I will probably never tire of her books. Enough said. I do recommend this novel and not only this one. I recommend all of her books, even the one I wasn't crazy about- and that would be Zorro. 


The only novel of hers that I didn't fall in love with was Zorro. I used to think that Zorro didn't turn out that well because Isabel Allende was limited by the theme and because those limitations somewhat cramped her style. Now, that I think about it, I think Zorro failed because the protagonist was a man. Allende was meant to write from a female point of view, her novels are stories told from a distinctly womanly/feminine point of view. Not that I mind that, you know. 


Allende's sensual heroines are a refreshment. They are like a breath of fresh air. In real world, I find it somewhat hard to believe that such bold woman would be so universally liked- but who knows? After all, persons who know how to love are often the ones who end up being loved the most. Doesn't it make sense? The more we love, the more we are loved. The more we love, the more are we capable to love- and to be loved in return. Sometimes we must forget cynicism and think with our hearts. 

“She sowed in my mind the idea that reality is not only what we see on the surface; it has a magical dimension as well and, if we so desire, it is legitimate to enhance it and color it to make our journey through life less trying.” ― Isabel AllendeEva Luna

How can love be just a coincidence? The more we love, the greater the odds we will be loved in return. Friendships are born out of love. Romantic love is just another form of love. Friendship are hardly ever developed without courage and initiative. The same could be said for love. It is not a matter of chance or of a coincidence. I, for one, don't believe in coincidences. I believe in magic. I'm sure of one thing. Allende's writing has the tendency to stay with me. I'm thinking of what Eva Luna's mother told to her- that if she remembers her, that she will always be there. I actually believe in that.

I believe that by reading books with an open heart we establish a dialogue with the person who wrote them. They reveal a part of their soul to us- and that's precious. I believe that when we treasure somebody's memory that person stays with us. I believe that when we treasure a book, we gain a new friend.  





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