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The Fall of Sheherezade

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I love discovering how the authors of books look. (As a matter of fact, I’ve accepted and rejected reads in the past based solely on their creator’s countenance.) Most of my favourite writers share common traits: the inevitable twinkle in their eye (think Douglas Adams or Helen Fielding), the innate goofiness and slight discomfort (such as that of Roald Dahl or Evelyn Waugh), the dreamy aloofness (like Virginia Woolf’s or Kate Chopin’s). There’s something hugely exciting about studying the faces of these weavers of tales and attempting to uncover – layer by layer – the mysteries of their fascinating minds.

When I first saw Isabel Allende’s portrait on her book of stories, I was instantly intrigued. Staring back at me with eyes like flames from under the title Cuentos de Eva Luna (R.B.A. Editores, 1994), arms akimbo, crow-black hair in a messy chop, was a confident, liberated, passionate woman. This one wasn’t going to shun uncomfortable subjects or take any nonsense for granted. I found her wildly enchanting.

The depiction was frank. The very foreword made my jaw drop and glued me to my chair, tingling with awe and curiosity. What brazenness! I confess that I’ve never read a better one: one more personal yet more detached, more meaningful or more magical, more memorable or more ephemeral. And the stories! Each one wholly unexpected, each one clearly unique, yet building on the previous one and adding to it like a pearl to a necklace.

In the epigraph, Isabel Allende alludes to Scheherazade – a legendary Persian beauty who told a thousand and one tales for a thousand and one nights to a tyrannous Persian king in order to avoid being beheaded at dawn – and I can’t think of a woman who would deserve the title more than her. But the comparison goes deeper. It not only hints at Isabel Allende’s extraordinary story-telling talent, but sums up the one characteristic common to all of her heroines (for this book is about womankind): while all of them are independent-minded and strong-willed women, invincible in the face of circumstances, they are all, to the last one, ultimately conquered by love. Just like our Scheherazade, who ended up marrying the king. Just like Isabel Allende, who obviously projects her own personality into her characters. Just like me, because I’m a woman, and quite possibly just like you, whoever you may be.

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