51 pages • 1 hour readIsabel Allende
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Isabel Allende’s “And of Clay Are We Created” is the final piece in her short story collection The Stories of Eva Luna. The collection, originally published in 1989 and printed in English in 1991, chronicles the tales that the writer Eva Luna tells her lover Rolf Carlé as they rest in bed. Allende fashions Eva Luna after Scheherazade, a key character in the framing narrative for the multi-tale Middle Eastern epic A Thousand and One Nights. The Stories of Eva Luna received widespread critical and commercial acclaim, further establishing the best-selling author as a contemporary literary giant. Though the stories in the collection traverse the spheres of magical realism, fantasy, and realism, “And of Clay Are We Created” belongs to the latter genre. The piece’s opening, with one of its primary characters suspended in mud while much of the world mills uselessly about her, seems to invite one’s suspension of disbelief. Yet Allende largely bases this story on the true predicament of 13-year-old Omayra Sánchez Garzón, a Colombian girl who became trapped up to her waist in a 1985 mudslide and died days later, the systems around her unable to rescue her in time.
This guide refers to the paperback edition produced by Atria, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.
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The first sentences of “And of Clay Are We Created” hook its audience with a central, clearly delineated conflict: “[T]hey discovered the girl’s head protruding from the mud pit, eyes wide open, calling soundlessly” (Paragraph 1). A recent mudslide along a local mountain has buried the small villages that cling to the mountainside, killing most inhabitants and interring some survivors in meters of wet earth. The young girl whose head juts from the mud pit, 13-year-old Azucena, is alive at this point of the story—a startling circumstance to those who witness it. The piece’s unnamed narrator tells us that her lover, the reporter Rolf Carlé, is one of the journalists who has been called to provide coverage of the mudslide. Rolf quickly befriends the girl. Rolf requests a pump to remove some of the mud’s water, hoping that this will counteract the suction and allow him to free Azucena. However, there is no available transport for the pump, and it cannot be sent until the following morning. Rolf remains with Azucena overnight and consoles her. He imagines a future for her, where “[S]he would recover rapidly and [...] he could visit her and bring her gifts” (Paragraph 15).
On the second day, the narrator goes to the National Television broadcasting headquarters to watch coverage of Azucena’s mud pit because she cannot bear to do so at home. She begins to feel Rolf’s same dedication to and compassion for the girl, calling on the city’s influential figures to expedite the delivery of a pump. Though reporters, television crews, and movie teams come to the site and broadcast Azucena’s face to millions, Rolf and the narrator’s requests for a pump go ignored. As Rolf keeps the girl company, her situation reminds him of his tragic childhood during World War II, when Russian forces deployed him to a concentration camp to bury captives who had starved to death. The narrator finally contacts a general who says he will send a pump the next morning on a military cargo plane, but it is too late; Azucena has forfeited her will to live. Rolf hugs her as they say their final goodbyes, and Azucena sinks into the mud. The experience forever changes Rolf, and he becomes pensive. Nevertheless, the narrator is confident that Rolf will eventually recover from this deeply traumatic ordeal.
By Isabel Allende