Cuentos de Eva Luna (Stories of Eva Luna), by Isabel Allende

>> Saturday, April 21, 2012

TITLE: Cuentos de Eva Luna (Stories of Eva Luna)
AUTHOR: Isabel Allende

PAGES: 247
PUBLISHER: Plaza & Janes

SETTING: 20th century (varies) South America
TYPE: Short stories
SERIES: Related to Eva Luna (these are supposed to be the stories she narrates to her lover)

Isabel Allende is one of the world's most beloved authors. In 1988, she introduced the world to Eva Luna in a novel of the same name that recounted the adventurous life of a young Latin American woman whose powers as a storyteller bring her friendship and love. Returning to this tale, Allende presents The Stories of Eva Luna, a treasure trove of brilliantly crafted stories.

Lying in bed with her European lover, refugee and journalist Rolf Carle, Eva answers hes request for a story "you have never told anyone before" with these twenty-three samples of her vibrant artistry. Interweaving the real and the magical, she explores love, vengeance, compassion, and the strenghts of women, creating a world that is at once poingnantly familiar and intriguingly new.

Rendered in the sumptuously imagined, uniquely magical style of one of the world's most stunning writers, The Stories of Eva Luna is the conerstone of Allende's work. It is not to be missed by anyone -- whether a devotee of Ms. Allende's oeuvre or a new acquaintance to her work.
I read this one for my April book club. I've read and loved Allende before, so I was quite happy with the choice. Her House of Spirits made me bawl, and I don't cry easily.

Unfortunately, this book didn't live up to those in the least. I tend to be pretty measured in my opinions, so the fact that I think the best word to describe this book is "vile" and that I can honestly say I absolutely hated it will tell you something.

It's full of rapes portrayed as seductions and women who fall in love with their rapists, of women who stay with abusive men, and of supposed great love affairs where the man has his "adventures" with other women (but as long as he's discreet, he's a good husband) and insulting portrayals of people with learning disabilities. Sex is always something that is done to women, and it's often portrayed in terms of taming and domination. I have no objection to the subject matter per se, but it was all written in a superficial, self-consciously whimsical way that achieved the impossible task of making this book even more offensive, as the inescapable conclusion was that it was intended to be romantic and exotic.

Additionally, the language, especially when describing women and sex, just made my skin crawl. I expect other people at book club will have read it in English and not had the same problems, as the sort of horrible feeling it engendered in me is difficult to translate. I tried translating sections I was having trouble with to see what they would sound like in English, and even trying to choose the right words, it was impossible to properly convey the leering, dehumanising quality of words like "hembra" for a woman, which in English will probably simply be translated as its much more-neutral sounding equivalent: "female". It's NOT the same. It's frustrating. Not unexpected, though. Traduttore, tradittore, and all that.

Out of 23 stories, there were only a couple that were different from the rest, and which I enjoyed. "The Most Forgotten of the Forgotten" was the single one I loved. It has two Chileans abroad coming together, and after an unpromising beginning, discovering a truly moving connection. It's short, but it made me feel like crying. I recognised the Allende I know and love in it. Another, called "The Little Heidelberg", takes place in a small dance hall, where two people who don't speak the same language have been dancing for years without being able to communicate in any other way. And that's it. Two out of 23. Not good enough.

There are quotes from The Thousand and One Nights at the beginning and end, but Eva Luna is no Scherezade. With me, she would not have survived to a second night.



Barb in Maryland 22 April 2012 at 01:42  

Thank you for this most instructive post. I have often wondered just how much nuance I was missing when I read a book in translation. Now I know--I could be missing quite a bit! I figured as much. Happy?/Sad? to see that my feelings were on target.
Did you go back and re-read this in the English translation? or were you so squicked out after reading it in Spanish that you just couldn't face the book again??
Barb in Maryland

Rosario 22 April 2012 at 07:25  

Barb: It's a bit frustrating to even think about it, isn't it? I guess the ideal would be to read books in their original language, but while I can do that with the majority of what I read, there's always going to be some books where I'm wondering what I'm missing.

I didn't read it again in English (you're right, I couldn't even bear the thought!), but I marked particular bits as I was reading and checked them against my friends' copies, and I was right!

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