Like Margaret Atwood, I didn’t discover Isabel Allende until a few years ago, but once I did I immediately started searching for her books every time I hit Half Price Books. Eva Luna, one of her earlier novels (1987) wasn’t my favorite of hers, but still a great example of her beautiful way with words. This woman can create a backstory for a character better than just about anyone I can think of — her characters rarely seem to do anything as far as plot goes, but the way she introduces them so completely never fails to amaze me.
“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.”
Eva Luna follows the life of…Eva Luna orphaned at age six and left to live with her mother’s employer, an absent minded man called The Professor who has created a special method of embalming dead bodies. When he dies, she ends up working at a brothel helping the madam. Then the police chase her out and she ends up with a nice man in a small village, adopted in a way by himself and his wife. She undergoes several more transitions in her life, moving back into the city and eventually falling in love. As we watch Eva’s life move forward, we also get glimpses into tragic story of her eventual love, Rolf.
As I said, Allende imbues these characters with incredible histories…but nothing much happens in the present. Eva seems to just drift forward, helped by the kindness of strangers. Rolf escapes a horrible childhood and sort of floats around South America until he meets Eva. It’s beautifully told, but not much in the way of gripping plot.