Inspired by Scheherazade and a Thousand and One Nights this book is a feast of 23 short stories all starting from the moment Eva Luna’s lover asks her to tell him a story she has never told anyone before.
The tales are crammed with sensuous and slightly macabre imagery and are all written in gorgeous prose with a strong sense of Allende’s Chilean-American identity. Allende and her translator illustrate a mastery over language that made each story part of an opulent and intense world that touched all the senses. I was expecting stories that were all style and little substance but what I found was a treasure chest of warm painful and joyful human emotion. Nevertheless there was still a thread of magical realism or even just an archaic fairytale quality to each story that made them addictive to me:
Hermelinda was the only young woman in all the land – aside from the English lady who crossed through the rose fence with her shotgun only when in search of hares; even then, all the men could glimpse was a bit of veiled hat amid a cloud of dust and yelping English setters.
The stories have a variety of protagonists from schoolteachers to sex workers, corrupt politicians to campaigning priests, spirits, tyrants and great beauties. The politics and history of Latin America simmer underneath each story often with tragic and heated results.
There wasn’t a weak story in this collection but my favourites were The Gold of Tomás Vargas, The School Teachers’s Guest and A Discreet Miracle which all had an undercurrent of humour to the difficult themes of the plot which I really enjoyed.
There were also stories which left me with a deep feeling of horror at the fate of the characters as child slavery, human experimentation, domestic abuse and colonialism were all shown without mercy. Overall however the collection left me with an uplifting feeling as it focuses on the healing power that love and community can bring.