“The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Eréndira and Her Heartless Grandmother” is a 1972 magical realist novella written by Gabriel García Márquez. At about 20 pages, it’s a short, yet dense read.
The genre of magical realism sprouted from Latin America in the early 20th century and was soon recognized as a distinct literary and artistic phenomenon. Magical realist literature can be described as a juxtaposition of the uncanny or unexplainable with the mundanity of everyday life.
The plot is centered around Eréndira, a young girl who seems to be hopelessly enslaved by her whale-like grandmother. The two live alone in a large, dilapidated mansion in the middle of a desert.
One night, however, “the wind of her misfortune begins to blow,” and Eréndira falls asleep, having forgotten to blow out the candle on her nightstand. During the night, a wind sweeps through her window and knocks over the candle, setting the mansion ablaze and burning it to the ground. The imagery of the wind follows Eréndira along her journey, usually heralding an impending life change.
Eréndira’s grandmother tells her granddaughter that she must pay off the debt for inadvertently burning the house down, which will take her nearly 10 years to do. The Grandmother — as the text regularly refers to her as — seems to have some uncanny power over Eréndira, who does not refuse.
Eréndira and The Grandmother, who carries a mysterious suitcase of their relatives’ bones, set off into the desert, where the latter hatches a wicked business plan. She forces her granddaughter to become a sex slave, setting up a tent and picking up stragglers to create a procession that travels from village to village.
The story’s folktale magic and supernatural quality serve as a way to write about a disturbing subject that might otherwise be unreadable. The continual rapes of Eréndira are shrouded under the guise of the fantastical setting and beautiful language, but they’re still ever present in the reader’s mind.
As this conflict goes on, Eréndira seems to accept her fate, which angers the reader and makes for a page-turning story. Although she appears so passive, there is a sense of power in her character that the reader yearns to see clearly.
There is no question the readers are rooting for Eréndira to break free from her grandmother’s clutches. However, we are reminded that in the real world, victims of sexual assault are often ignored or shamed.
Realistically, the men in the story remain nameless, and they never have to take any of the blame for Eréndira’s suffering.
For the remainder of the novella, the reader questions whether she will finally stand up to the evils in her life or forever be trapped in the desert, using her body to pay off the debt to her villainous grandmother.
“The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Eréndira and Her Heartless Grandmother” is an unusual and rewarding read with beautiful language and imagery, along with heavy real world significance.
I definitely suggest reading it here or at a library: You’ll never know the fate of Eréndira unless you do!
Final Grade: B+