Violeta

Written by Isabel Allende
Review by Janice Ottersberg

One-hundred-year-old Violeta writes her story beginning with her birth in 1920 during the Spanish flu pandemic up to her 2020 death during the current pandemic. Violeta was born into a family of wealth and lives in an unnamed South American country, assumed to be Chile. She has lived through the life and world events of a century: the fight for women’s rights, the world stock market crash and Great Depression, her country’s political upheaval and a military coup, her family’s financial demise, World War II, death of friends and family, a failed marriage, lovers, domestic abuse, and more. Her family’s wealth comes from her father’s sawmill, vineyards, and construction projects, but it is built on a foundation of fraud, tax evasion, and risky investments. When it all collapses, they are left penniless. Their father’s actions destroy him and his reputation, leaving the family shamed in their community, and prompt them to leave with their possessions to take shelter with the kind-hearted Rivas family at their farm in the cold South.

Violeta writes her story as a letter to her grandson, Camilo, to leave him “a testimony of [her] life”. Unfortunately, her telling Camilo of sexually intimate details of her relationships and describing details to him of his own life are incongruous within this narrative format. Nevertheless, getting to know the characters is a pleasure: Violeta’s childhood governess Miss Taylor and her love for Teresa Rivas, a feminist and political activist; Torito, the family’s servant whose “almost beastly appearance… and childlike innocence elicited cruelty from others”; Violeta’s brother José Antonio, who warns his father that his shady and illegal activities will be his downfall and the only one who takes responsibility for the family; and her elderly spinster aunts, Pía and Pilar. This is a satisfying story of a woman who lived a remarkable life.