Friday, January 21, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: Violeta by Isabel Allende

 I received this book for free from Netgalley. That did not influence this review.

Isabel Allende is one of those authors I keep meaning to read, but never seem to get around to. So I was very glad to be approved for her new novel, Violeta, from Netgalley. Now I was sure to read one of her books!

Set in South America (Chile?) Violeta is the story of Violeta del Valle as told by herself in a long letter to her beloved grandson. It’s a memoir of sorts, of a very full fictional life.

Violeta was born in 1920, in the midst of the Spanish flu pandemic, to a wealthy, conservative, and very traditional South American family. They were not much affected by the pandemic because of her father’s wealth and influence. However, the next shattering event, the Great Depression, hit them hard. It seems her father was a crook and his wealth was largely an illusion. So Violeta spends her formative years in what her mother and aunts referred to as “exile,” out in the country, in poverty. But here, all the previously “sheltered” del Valle women have more independence and seem much more content.

The novel follows Violeta through her return to the city, her first marriage, her budding businesswoman career, her affair with a dynamic but evil and abusive man (another wealthy, powerful crook), her difficult relationships with her children by this man, and how she finally moves beyond this. She lives out the rest of her life in healthy relationships, finding causes she can believe in. During this time, democracy in her country fails and a right-wing military coup occurs. The country descends into a brutal, violent dictatorship. The people in her life are either complicit with the new regime or are protesting and fighting against it. (The right wing coup is sponsored by the U.S. because it’s the Cold War.) The novel draws to a close in 2020, when Violeta, at the age of one hundred, is dying during another pandemic (though she does not die of covid.)

There is A LOT happening in this book. Many fully-rounded peripheral characters populate Violeta’s life and seem so real that I was swept along in the story. That said, I wasn’t all that emotionally involved. Violeta’s life was interesting, she lived through fascinating times, but there was a disconnect. Maybe it was because her wealth and privilege isolated her (though not friends and family) from the worst of the violence. Or maybe it was the distance created by the format of looking back over a life and recounting it. It’s a compelling story, but I didn’t find it a particularly moving one.

1 comment:

  1. I read an Isabel Allende book years ago and loved it, but haven't read anyore since then.