[(essay date 1993) In the essay below, Hart examines what she terms "feminocentric magic realism" in The Stories of Eva Luna, focusing on Allende's handling of such issues as prostitution and rape.]
Magic used to show the reader what equality between the sexes should be is a key technique employed by Isabel Allende in The Stories of Eva Luna. In the long tradition of magic realism in Latin American letters, the point has never been to hold up an exact mirror to reality, but rather to reflect deeper truths about human nature, sociopolitical conditions, and mortality through what on the surface often appear flamboyant, contradictory, or impossible events. That is exactly what Allende does in this book with such major feminist concerns as prostitution, child abuse, and rape. Reality is transformed to force us to recognize truths about these subjects we may previously have ignored.
A lot of critics of Isabel Allende's first book, The House of the Spirits, seized on her blending of magic, hyperbole, and realism to insist that the book was a shallow rip-off of Colombian Gabriel García Márquez , not perceiving her vast fundamental differences from the Nobel laureate, or that most of the superficial similarities to One Hundred Years of Solitude were ironic, even parodic. Such an evaluation reveals ignorance of the broad tradition of magic realism in Latin American fiction, assuming that García Márquez invented and patented the family saga or the mingling of the real, the hyperbolic, and the impossible. It also ignores the monolithic machismo that the tradition supposes. For example, any beginning student of Latin American literature knows that Alejo Carpentier 's 1953 work, The Lost Steps, was a landmark mixture of the marvelous and the real, and reveres it as a hauntingly written masterpiece about the search for cultural identity by the male inhabitants of a continent. But most readers in the nineties also realize that its plot, in which the protagonist finds and loses a paradise largely defined by the fact that the women are unliberated short-order cooks, riverbank laundresses, and sex slaves, is also a sexist crock. We loved Vargas Llosa's The Green House and laughed out loud at Pantaleón and the Visitors, but we knew at the same time that this frivolity had little to do with the real-life miseries of prostitution. We venerate García Márquez's Autumn of the Patriarch and One Hundred Years of Solitude, but before Love in the Time of Cholera we sometimes find his women incomprehensible monuments of masochism, inscrutable aliens from another planet. What better solution can there be to all of this than to make room on the shelf alongside the masters of the Latin American "Boom" for the works of Isabel Allende, a writer who, as T. S. Eliot might have observed, is often at her most original when her individual talents are at work in the business of bending tradition to fit herself!
The central purpose of my 1989 book, Narrative Magic in the Fiction of Isabel Allende, was...