The Reader

Her parents had no money to waste on books. Electricity and water bills arrived every couple of months, food had to be bought, not to mention stuff to clean the house and clothes with. Raising a child wasn’t cheap. 

When she turned twelve, she discovered ‘pocket money’. All the other children at school seemed to have it and had had it for years. They laughed at her for not knowing what it was. So did her cousins. 

Grabbing courage with two shaking hands, the child timidly went to her mother, and asked about it. After weeks of consultations – days and days of walking on tiptoe, of ‘being good or you can forget any pocket-money’, it was decided. Father gave mother money every week to buy food. She in turn would give the child two Maltese lira a week out of the food money. If she was good. And did as she was told. And did not ‘answer back’.

That money was her life-line. All it took was three weeks. Maybe four. And with her carefully saved hoard she could finally buy a book. One book. 

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The lady at the shop saw her every week. Maybe twice or three times each week even. Peering assiduously at the shelves. Hair tucked back. Pinching shoes forgotten as glistening eyes devoured each and every corner. Reading the book titles over and over again. Touching the pages, looking at the spines and covers. And of course, the blurps at the back. She must have known the sequencing of all the books on all the shelves by heart. And by the fourth week, when the price of the chosen book had been reached, the money would be handed over, as would the much awaited paper-wrapped treasure.

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In her room, she would unwrap it slowly, marveling at its heavenly smell. That particular scent of new paper and stationery. First, she’d introduce it to the other books, then the soft toys, one by one, each one by name. And finally, with a flourish, she’d present it to the room in general, imagining ovations and applause as the new addition to the small family was placed in its particularly chosen spot.

Then she would wait.

She waited for her father to go out. For her mother to be engrossed in one of her soaps on the T.V or in some long-winded conversation on the telephone. Then, and only then, would she crack the book’s spine.

And be lost.

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Finding ‘Eva Luna’ in Utrecht

Ever since I first read Isabel Allende’s ‘House of Spirits’, as well as watching the great movie, it has been my absolute favorite when it comes to her novels. Her writing style, not to mention her rich descriptions, and the way she uses magic realism, enchants me, however, I must admit, most of her books seem to follow the same formula.

There is the main female character who is always strong and fey, facing any adversity with creativity and courage, the mysterious and dark male characters, whom she falls in love with (there are usually at least two or three of these), a couple of strong yet flawed mother-figures, an almost-always absent father-figure, as well as a major war/social upheval in the background. The male love interest is always, in some way or other, invariably linked to some kind of resistance or rebel force, and the heroine ends up trying to help him, even though she’s shocked by the harsh reality he lives by. And this is the plot-line for most, if not all (since I haven’t read all of her books) of Allende’s works.

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Although not actively seeking out her books, I tend to read IA’s novels when I come across them, even though at this point they are entirely predictable.This was the case when I purchased one of her novels which I’ve been curious about for some time now. I refer to ‘Eva Luna’ which I’ve been hearing about on and off for some years.

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While in Utrecht (Netherlands) last December, my boyfriend was off visiting the bell tower and I had some time for myself. I didn’t go up with him cause I’ve been suffering from some back problems recently and all those stairs were definitely not going to help my muscles. So, obviously, I ended up gravitating towards the local bookstore. Most of the books were in Dutch and there was only a small selection of books in English… and there it was – ‘Eva Luna’. 

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Although purchased some weeks ago now, I only started to read it, and finished it, last week. The plot was, once again, the same as usual, yet Allende’s writing style was as rich and captivating as ever, so no I’m not at all sorry I bought this book. I’m not gonna delve any more into the storyline as I guess I’ve already given enough spoilers. 

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