Review of Eva Luna by Isabel Allende

Meet New York Times bestselling author Isabel Allende’s most enchanting creation, Eva Luna: a lover, a writer, a revolutionary, and above all a storyteller.

Eva Luna is the daughter of a professor’s assistant and a snake-bitten gardener—born poor, orphaned at an early age, and working as a servant. Eva is a naturally gifted and imaginative storyteller who meets people from all stations and walks of life. Though she has no wealth, she trades her stories like currency with people who are kind to her. In this novel, she shares the story of her own life and introduces readers to a diverse and eccentric cast of characters including the Lebanese émigré who befriends her and takes her in; her unfortunate godmother, whose brain is addled by rum and who believes in all the Catholic saints and a few of her own invention; a street urchin who grows into a petty criminal and, later, a leader in the guerrilla struggle; a celebrated transsexual entertainer who instructs her in the ways of the adult world; and a young refugee whose flight from postwar Europe will prove crucial to Eva’s fate.

As Eva tells her story, Isabel Allende conjures up a whole complex South American nation—the rich, the poor, the simple, and the sophisticated—in a novel replete with character and incident, with drama and comedy and history, with battles and passions, rebellions and reunions, a novel that celebrates the power of imagination to create a better world.

review of eva luna

When discussing this book with Jay (read his review here) after our buddy read, I described this book as a winding, scenic, enjoyable drive back home. What I mean is that the journey through the story is wonderful, enchanting even, but the destination isn’t necessarily somewhere new. It’s not a place you’ve been building up to and anticipating with bated breath. It’s just the final point in that day’s journey. 

Perhaps I should make it clear that I love winding, scenic drives and so I was thoroughly charmed while reading the story of Eva Luna. From the first pages describing her own mother’s birth and childhood to Eva’s fulfilment in finding her place in the world, the narrative is rich in imagery and evokes responses from each of the senses. This is definitely the kind of story that one gets lost in, even when you are pushed to imagine the unimaginable and fantasy begins to meld with reality. 

Magical Realism is a genre with which I have a love-hate relationship. I suspect the hate originated during A level Spanish Literature. Admittedly, in English, it’s not so bad! Eva Lunamakes use of this oft used element in Latin American storytelling and it adds layers of complexity and richness to the tale. From the mother whose spirit remains close to the extraordinary prescience of some characters to the malleability of ‘universal matter’, each unrealistic occurrence seems almost ordinary and expected as part of this imaginative tale.  

Eva travels through her life making connections with people who bring both goodness and turmoil to her life. She never accepts the role of victim in any of her relationships and is often an architect in how those relationships evolve. I wasn’t quite keen on the evolution of one of those relationships in particular but I do see the role it played in the story.  I also wish there was more detail on the development of her relationship with Rolph, her soulmate. 

In many ways Eva Lunacould be compared to a collection of short stories. Each individual she encounters has their own back story, ambitions and challenges. We get those details which allow us to bask in the satisfaction of meeting the multi-faceted players in Eva’s life. We are afforded glimpses into other tales, where those individuals are the stars of their own show. The main timeline of the story, however, is Eva’s life. There is no major overarching plot that involves the whole book. It’s more a compilation of issues, challenges and eventualities as seen mostly from Eva’s perspective.  In that way, the structure ofEva Lunaleft me a little lost, even if well-entertained. 

Speaking of secondary characters who are stars of their own tales, perhaps my favourite is Melesio/ Mimí. A beautiful, giant-hearted woman trapped in a man’s body. The strengths, weaknesses and vulnerabilities of this character turn her into a most remarkable figure. Her undying loyalty to her friends, the masks she wears and the struggles that torment her make her a truly sympathetic and lovable figure. 

There is so much I loved about this story.  Yes, there were aspects I felt needed some extra smoothing or structure; and it was great to have Jay to talk over some of those bits.  However, like him, I found this tale to be far more enchanting than anything else.

I give Eva Luna 4.5/5 mystical espresso shots.

12 thoughts on “Review of Eva Luna by Isabel Allende

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    1. Oh my, that would be a challenge. Even though I can read in Spanish, it takes me forever with these kinds of books. I’m trying to imagine having read about universal matter in Spanish… hahaha.
      So glad to have had your company along the way!

      Liked by 2 people

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