Picks and Pans Review: Eva Luna

updated 10/24/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/24/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Isabel Allende

Take a bit of the Book of Genesis and a little Scheherazade. Toss in a dash of John Irving's Garp. Add a tablespoon of sly self-parody, and you have this romantic confection of a novel. Its heroine, Eva, is conceived when her mother, a housekeeper in a Latin-American village, offers herself to a dying gardener who has been bitten by a poisonous snake. He dies anyway, but the mother, Consuelo, gets pregnant and becomes the first of the strong-minded women who guide Eva's life. "Men are arrogant, always telling you what to do," another counselor will tell her. "It's better to say yes to everything and then do whatever you please." Another woman warns "that men have a monster as ugly as a yucca root between their legs, and tiny babies come out of it and get into women's bellies and grow there." As Eva matures and comes to love a Turkish merchant, a guerrilla fighter and a German immigrant, Allende takes incidental swipes at authoritarian governments and religion. Eva notes, for instance, that her godmother was eclectically Christian: "Before a small altar in her room she had aligned holy water, voodoo fetishes, a photograph of her dead father, and a bust she thought was St. Christopher but was, I later discovered, Beethoven." There are serious moments—Eva is arrested and threatened with torture, for instance—but Allende seems much more relaxed telling an epic tale than she did in her first two novels, The House of the Spirits and Of Love and Shadows. This work is basically a yarn, reflecting a shrewd kind of self-awareness. As she heads toward a climactic scene involving a prison break, Eva becomes a writer herself and near the end tells a despotic general, "Reality is a jumble we can't always measure or decipher, because everything is happening at the same time. While you and I are speaking here, behind your back Christopher Columbus is inventing America, and the same Indians that welcome him in the stained-glass window are still naked in a jungle a few hours from this office, and will be there a hundred years from now. I try to open a path through that maze, to put a little order in that chaos, to make life more bearable."(Knopf, $18.95)

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