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Cuentos de Eva Luna (The Stories of Eva Luna).

Cuentos de Eva Luna (The Stories of Eva Luna) shows us Isabel Allende at her best. The twenty-three tales that compose the collection present a plethora of fascinating, robust characters, some of which appeared in Allende's 1987 novel Eva Luna.

The Chilean author presents her stories through the age-old device used by Scheherazade: the narrator tells them to her lover to entertain him. Like the famous Arabic tales, these stories combine fantasy with biting social satire and psychological insight. Critics have labeled this mixture of the imaginary and the socially and politically authentic "magical realism," and indeed, Allende's stories fit perfectly into this category. However, the author enriches the genre popularized by Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, among others, by adding a subtly feminist dimension.

Allende has always excelled in the creation of strong female characters, and the protagonists of Cuentos de Eva Luna are among her best. Maestra Ines, the determined, no-nonsense school teacher who waits decades to take vengeance on her son's killer; Dulce Rosa Orellano, who pledges to murder her father's assassin and winds up falling in love with him, then commits suicide rather than marry him; Casilda Hidalgo, who yields to an outlaw in order to protect her children; and Antonia Sierra, who makes friends with her man's mistress and manages to push him out of both their lives, are only a few of Allende's high-spirited women characters. But there are admirable men, as well. Riad Halabe's, the kindhearted Arab who helps Maestra Ines conceal her crime; Roberto Blaum, the gentle doctor who makes a pact with his terminally ill wife to die with her but lacks the courage to follow through; and Miguel Boulton, the gruff leftist priest who becomes the devotee of a highly conservative local candidate for sainthood, are three of the most memorable.

One of the most delightful stories, "Dos palabras" ("Two Words") is a tribute to the magical power of language. Belisa Crepusculario, a poor girl with no material resources, becomes a seller of words. Having obtained a dictionary, she assimilates the contents, then throws away the book, in order to avoid defrauding her clients with canned utterances. Belisa Crespusculario sells stories, poems, love letters, and insults. Her words endow her with tremendous power. When she sells a political speech to the Coronel, a savage fighting man, he becomes the most popular politician in the territory. As a bonus, Belisa grants him two secret words, and these reduce him to her slave. Those who cultivate and manipulate language, the story implies, are truly enchanters.

Allende covers a vast array of themes--from language to euthanasia, from love to money, from motherhood to adoption fraud. Her characters are from all walks of life--from prostitutes and delinquents to society types. Despite this diversity, the book's structure and the occasional intervention of the narrator create a sense of cohesiveness. Many of the stories have political overtones, and one deals specifically with former dictator Augusto Pinochet's victims of torture. However, readers who were put off by Allende's self-aggrandizing account of the resistance to the 1973 military takeover in La casa de los espiritus (The House of the Spirits) will be relieved to know that even in the most politically charged tales of Eva Luna, the tone is refreshingly unsanctimonius.

In Cuentos de Eva Luna Isabel Allende lives up to her potential as a storyteller. The success with which she combines insight and playfulness in these pieces suggests that the short story, rather than the novel, may be her best medium.

Barbara Mujica is a novelist, shortstory writer, and essayist, as well as an associate professor at Georgetown University, where she teaches Hispanic literature and directs El Retablo, a Spanish-language theater group.
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Author:Mujica, Barbara
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1990
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