49 pages • 1 hour read
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First published in Spanish in 1987, Eva Luna is a novel written by celebrated Chilean writer Isabel Allende and later translated into English by Margaret Sayers Peden the following year. The story is set in an unnamed South American country believed to be an amalgamation of Chile and Venezuela. The eponymous Eva Luna narrates the epic story of her life against a backdrop inspired by the sociopolitical changes in South America from the mid-1940s to the 1980s.
Isabel Allende is an internationally bestselling Spanish-language author who has written 26 books and won, among other awards, the 2010 Chilean National Book Prize and the 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom. She is known for her use of magical realism in narratives which center on women and incorporate the geopolitical and sociopolitical history of South America. Eva Luna received the American Book Award in 1989.
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This guide uses the 2015 eBook by Washington Square Press.
Content Warning: This study guide contains mentions of abuse, including sexual abuse, pedophilia, and child abuse. It also contains descriptions of death by suicide and incest.
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The novel begins with Eva Luna telling the story of her mother’s childhood. In the jungles of an unnamed South American country, Catholic missionaries find a baby named Consuelo wandering alone. Consuelo is sent to a convent in the nation’s capital city to begin spiritual training, but Consuelo displays a penchant for daydreaming and storytelling instead. Consuelo is assigned to work as a servant in the home of Professor Jones, a foreign doctor. One day, Professor Jones’s handsome gardener is bitten by a venomous snake. Consuelo cares for the gardener, falling in love with him in the process. The two make love, and the gardener is miraculously restored to health. He leaves the next day, and shortly afterward Consuelo discovers she is pregnant.
Consuelo gives birth to a daughter, whom she names Eva Luna. She appoints the household cook as Eva’s godmother or madrina. When Eva is still a child, Consuelo dies unexpectedly, and Eva is left in the care of her madrina, who cannot support a child. Eva is put to work in a series of wealthy households, where she meets a cast of unlikely characters. One of the women she works for is the inventor of Universal Matter, a papier-mâché-like material which can convincingly imitate almost any other substance.
After a fight with one of her employers, Eva spends several days on the street, where she meets a boy named Huberto Naranjo. Eva and Naranjo strike up a fast friendship, and when Eva once again finds herself unhoused and jobless, Naranjo introduces her to La Señora, a madam who runs a brothel in the city’s red-light district. La Señora and her best friend Melesio (later known as Mimí) take Eva in. Melesio is a trans woman who is unable to medically transition because of the oppressive government.
Eva enjoys a relatively happy few years at the brothel. The local police turn a blind eye to La Señora’s business in exchange for a cut of her profits, but the appointment of a new police chief leads to a raid of the red-light district. Melesio is sent to the famously brutal Santa María penal colony, and Eva is once again turned out on the street. This time, she meets a kindly Turkish man named Riad Halabí. Riad takes Eva to the inland village of Agua Santa, where he lives with his wife Zulema. Zulema is depressed and disillusioned with her marriage, spending most days in bed. Riad arranges reading and writing lessons for Eva, and Eva strengthens her skills by telling Zulema romantic stories.
Riad’s cousin Kamal comes to stay with the family. While Riad is away, Zulema seduces Kamal. Eva witnesses the two make love, after which Kamal flees the home. Zulema dies by suicide, unable to bear the loss. Eva, now 17, continues living with Riad until their arrangement stirs up a scandal in Agua Santa. Riad arranges for Eva to be sent back to the city. The night before Eva departs, the two have an intimate encounter in which Eva loses her virginity.
As Eva comes of age, political turmoil plays out in the unnamed country. With the help of rigged elections, power changes hands several times between equally- corrupt dictators. Several rebellions take place, causing widespread bloodshed, but none succeed in disrupting the status quo. By the time Eva returns to the capital for a second time, a revolutionary guerrilla movement is brewing against the current dictator, the General. The movement is headed up by her old friend Naranjo, now going by Comandante Rogelio.
On returning to the city, Eva meets a beautiful woman named Mimí. She recognizes Mimí as her old friend Melesio. Mimi spent a year in the Santa María penal colony before La Señora secured her release. Eva moves in with Mimí, and their fortunes improve as Mimí becomes a beloved telenovela actress. One day Eva runs into Naranjo on the street. The two begin a long on-and-off affair. Naranjo is often absent, spending most of his time at a camp in the mountains.
As Eva tells her story, she also narrates a parallel narrative: the life of Rolf Carlé. Eight years before Eva’s birth, Rolf is born in a small Austrian village. Rolf’s father Lukas, a local schoolmaster, is violently abusive. The Carlé family lives in fear of its patriarch until the day Rolf’s father is killed by five of his students. Rolf’s mother sends him to South America to live with his Aunt Burgel and Uncle Rupert in the bucolic town of La Colonia. When Rolf comes of age, he leaves to pursue his dream of becoming a documentarian. He is mentored by Señor Aravena, a celebrated news reporter. Rolf makes a name for himself with daring and honest reporting. As the revolution gains momentum, he is allowed to live with the guerrillas and film the only firsthand footage of their activities.
Mimí is determined to encourage Eva’s writing talents. She charms Señor Aravena into signing a contract to produce Eva’s script for a telenovela. Eva begins writing a sweeping narrative which blurs the line between fiction and reality. She meets Rolf through Señor Aravena, and they discover the shared tragedy of their pasts.
After a massacre at an Army Operations Center, the government transfers nine guerrillas to the Santa María penal colony. Naranjo formulates a plan to rescue the prisoners in an act of subversion. Eva assists by supplying the prisoners with Universal Matter, which they use to make fake weapons for leverage. The prisoners are rescued successfully, and when the government tries to suppress the news, Eva and Rolf incorporate details of the escape and the associated footage into her telenovela, ensuring that the real story will be told.
Eva and Rolf declare their love for one another and get married. The novel concludes with Eva describing two possible endings to their love story, one happy and one sad. The reader is left to decide which is the “true” ending.
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