Magical Places in Isabel Allende's Eva Luna and Cuentos De Eva Luna

Article excerpt

Widely recognized as a major contributor to Latin American literature, Isabel Allende holds a preeminent place in its literary history. In The Post-Boom in Spanish American Fiction (1998), Donald Shaw writes" "Without question the major literary event in Spanish America during the early eighties was the publication in 1982 of Isabel Allende's runaway success La Casa de los Espiritus" (53). Similarly, in his recent book, Literature of Latin America (2004), Rafael Ocasio identifies Allende as "the woman writer from Latin America with the greatest international readership," noting also that "she has a significant influence on an increasingly popular, worldwide literature written by women" (168). Linda Gould Levine in her Twayne book (2002) succinctly assesses the author's status: "Isabel Allende is the most acclaimed woman writer of Latin America" (ix).

Shaw maintains that the "emergence of strong female characters" is what made Allende's first work a "genuinely 'inaugural' novel" (59, 58). This feminist perspective continues throughout her fiction and is especially apparent in her third novel, Era Luna (1987). As numerous critics observe, this work displays aspects of the picaresque tradition" a pseudo-autobiography with an episodic structure, Eva's marginalized status as an orphan and domestic servant who serves a series of oftentimes unkind masters, a streetwise survival instinct promoted by her friendship with Huberto Naranjo, a variety of experiences in different economic classes during which she experiences both hunger and abundance, and frequent demands for her to be self-reliant and inventive. (1) Yet acts of kindness are more numerous than acts of cruelty, and benevolent mother and father figures often replace tyrannical masters. By the end of the novel, the protagonist is a successful writer, a political activist who has participated in a guerrilla raid and escaped without harm, and the lover of an intelligent journalist. Overall, the tone is optimistic, a characteristic of other Post-Boom narratives that contrasts with the negative visions typically developed in Boom novels (Shaw 10, 65). Levine views the novel as a "female bildungsroman, a novel of a young woman's psychological, intellectual and moral development" (60), and Shaw describes it as "a feminist ... quest for selfhood" (64). Above all, Eva Luna is a "celebratory novel that bears tribute to the power of words and the imagination, the joys of sensuality and friendship, the ability of human beings to overcome social barriers, and the re-creation of reality through the lens of fiction" (Levine 55).

The present study will analyze five magical places that appear in Era Luna and in the collection of short stories that followed two years later, Cuentos de Era Luna (1989). Four are named places: El Palacio de los Pobres, Calle Republica, Agua Santa, and La Colonia, and all but the first receive extensive development in the novel and reappear frequently in the stories. (2) Spanning multiple works, these fictional places recall Garcia MArquez's Macondo and Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County. (3) A fifth magical place is the lugar ameno, the safe haven where the act of writing takes place. This space is specified in only one story--"Cartas de amor traicionado"--but is emblematic of the novel and of many of the stories which center on storytelling, writing, and the dialectic between art and life. An overview of these magical places will enrich our understanding of Allende's documented focus in her early fiction on the themes of love, social activism, and storytelling (Jehenson 100-01; Levine 55-56; Shaw 59). In addition, my reading of these spaces will allow us to consider ways in which Allende's fiction may be more complex than its commercial success leads some critics to surmise. (4) In particular, it will be demonstrated that although Allende's fiction in these two works is grounded in human emotions arising from the drama of everyday life, it is simplistic to label her work as melodrama as some critics have done (Jehenson 100; Invernizzi [1991], cited in Shaw 58). …