Isabel Allende is another author I adore who is very good at putting together characters that catch your attention and hook you. I've read The House of the Spirits, but not Eva Luna yet. (This book was a present from my Aunt Judy and Uncle Gary.) I was excited to finally read this collection, started it last month on the plane to visit my family in Ohio and finished on the plane ride home. This is a collection of short stories that create and involve people from every kind of social background. There is an element of Fantasia to these "mystical realism" stories; the worlds and characters in them are full of magic and unusual possibilities. In the prologue, Eva is lying in bed with her lover Rolf Carle, a European refugee and journalist. He asks her to tell him a story "you have never told anyone before". Eva's answer is in the twenty-three stories that follow. They are romantic, rich, enchanting stories of different people and different places.
We are lead to believe that most of these stories are pure invention by Eva for Rolf. In fact, Allende slyly adds an excerpt about Scheherazade from A Thousand and One Nights before the prologue: "The King ordered the Grand Vizier to bring him a virgin every night, and when the night was over, he ordered her to be killed. And thus it happened for three years, and in all the city there was no damsel left to withstand the assaults of this rider. But the Vizier had a daughter of great beauty, named Scheherazade...and she was very eloquent, and pleased all who heard her."
But the last heartbreaking story of the book, "And of Clay Are We Created", is Eva writing about a natural disaster that strikes and that Rolf becomes directly involved in; an earthquake that looses an avalanche that buries a great deal of people, animals, and land. "Much later, after soldiers and volunteers had arrived to rescue the living and try to assess the magnitude of the cataclysm, it was calculated that beneath the mud lay more than twenty thousand human beings and an indefinite number of animals putrefying in a viscous soup. Forests and rivers had also been swept away, and there was nothing to be seen but an immense desert of mire", page 354.
During this last story, Rolf goes out in his television helicopter to follow the story, and befriends a young girl, Azucena (Lily), who is hopelessly trapped in a mire of mud with only her head above ground. Despite his struggles to help her, he fails and he is with her when she dies, watching her sink below the surface. What makes the story especially sad is that there was a very obvious way to help the girl; Rolf is trying to obtain a special kind of pump that will save her from being sucked into her tomb, but help came too late because all the officials and people making decisions had more important things to do. I cried while reading this story and cried again later, when the images and emotions were still in my mind. This is the last passage of that particular story, Eva is observing the changes in Rolf:
"You are back with me, but you are not the same man. I often accompany you to the station and we watch the videos of Azucena again; you study them intently, looking for something you could have done to save her, something you did not think of in time. Or maybe you study them to see yourself as if in a mirror, naked. Your cameras lie forgotten in a closet; you do not write or sing; you sit long hours before the window, staring at the mountains. Beside you, I wait for you to complete the voyage into yourself, for the old wounds to heal. I know that when you return from your nightmares, we shall again walk hand in hand, as before" page 367.
And the book comes to an end, with a small and final excerpt from A Thousand and One Nights:
"And at this moment in her story, Scheherazade saw the first light of dawn, and discreetly fell silent."