My name is Eva, which means “life,’ according to a book of names my mother consulted. I was born in the back room of a shadowy house, and grew up amidst ancient furniture, books in Latin, and human mummies, but none of these things made me melancholy, because I came into the world with a breath of the jungle in my memory.” This is the voice that carries us through Eva Luna, the assured voice of a naturally inventive storyteller, a woman who relates to us the picaresque tale of her own life (born poor, orphaned early, she will eventually rise to a position of unique influence) and of the people—from all levels of society—that she meets along the way. They include the rich and eccentric, for whom she works as a servant; the Lebanese émigré who befriends her and takes her in; her unfortunate godmother, whose brain is addled by rum and who believes in all the Catholic saints, some of African origin, and a few of her own invention; a street urchin who grows into a petty criminal and, later, a leader in the guerrilla struggle; a celebrated transsexual entertainer who instructs her, with great tenderness and insight, in the ways of the adult world; and a young refugee whose flight from postwar Europe will prove crucial to Eva’s fate.

As Eva tells her story, Isabel Allende conjures up a whole complex South American nation—the rich, the poor, the simple, and the sophisticated—in a novel replete with character and incident, with drama and comedy and history, a novel that will delight and increase her devoted audience.