Violeta by Isabel Allende: A review

 

The 100 years of Violeta Del Valle's life stretch from the Spanish flu pandemic to the current coronavirus pandemic. The country where she was born and lives is never named but one has to say that it sounds very much like Isabel Allende's native Chile. There are repressive forces at work here coming both from the state and from the day-to-day pressures of family life.

During her childhood, Violeta's mother is in poor health and unable to be much of a force in her life. She is mostly raised by an Irish governess who is warm and loving. Violeta is very fortunate to have her. We know about this because we are reading the 100-year-old Violeta's missives to her grandson which recall the events of a very tumultuous life.

We learn that in her early life, because of the pandemic, she was quarantined with her rich family in the capital city of her country. Then the Great Depression comes along and wipes out the family fortune. In despair, her father kills himself and Violeta is the one who discovers his body.

The family lives in virtual isolation in the country, but there Violeta meets a German veterinarian. She marries him but the veterinarian seems to have little time for her. He is obsessed with finding a way to preserve the semen of pure-bred bulls to be used in artificial insemination. He is something of an authoritarian and Violeta is expected to be submissive and sublimate her wishes and desires to his. This is not a role the high-spirited woman is suited for. She finds her marriage stifling.

She meets a dashing Air Force pilot who is a gun-runner for the Mafia and is also involved in some shady missions for the CIA. He sweeps the bored Violeta off her feet and she goes with him even though she remains legally married to the veterinarian. Their relationship soon turns abusive and he has affairs with other women but Violeta has a son and a daughter with him. The son grows into a sensitive young man who is not what his father wants in a son. The daughter eventually becomes a hopeless drug addict. 

Meanwhile, Violeta resents the double standards that brand her as an adulteress while allowing the pilot to skate free of responsibility. She goes on to experience success as a home builder, but most of the drama of all these events occurs offstage. All are revealed through her letters to the grandson and she simply states them as facts without dwelling on any of them. Well, one hundred years is a long time, after all, and there are a lot of events to get through.

Allende's narrative seems to hover above it all and view Violeta and her dramas from a distance. The reader never feels engaged in her life. Her son says to her at one point, "You live in a bubble, mom," and we never really get inside that bubble. Violeta does come to an epiphany of sorts that seems to recognize that she has been the beneficiary of a repressive regime that bled her country dry. As penance, she starts a foundation to support survivors of domestic violence. Somehow it all seems too little and too late.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Comments

  1. It seems your rating is pretty high but you say the reader doesn't feel engaged in her life or get inside her bubble. Did you still like it? I'm not sure this one is calling out to me. I think I might pass ... but the premise is interesting.

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    1. I wavered between giving it three or four stars but ultimately decided to be generous.

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  2. I will give this a try. Everything by Allende has pleased me so far.

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    1. She is a talented and creative writer.

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    2. I guess this is a maybe for me. I'm not at all sure about the episodes in Violeta's life, but the flu pandemic intrigues me as does the Depression.

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    3. She had a long life and a lot of "episodes." I still feel a bit ambivalent about her telling of them. If you decide to read it, I hope you enjoy it.

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  3. 100 years is a long life to try and cover in one book. I'm not sure I'd like this one. I don't usually enjoy books where you feel distanced from the character.

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    1. I do hesitate to recommend it. I did not find it an especially engaging story.

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  4. I have to admit that any book by Allende that I've read has left me cold, so I've come to the conclusion that she's just not the writer for me.

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    1. That happens and it's best not to waste time with a writer who leaves you cold.

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