I think you’ll see that my life story is worthy of a novel, because of my sins more than my virtue.
This has become my favorite novel by Isabel Allende. Violeta was the perfect tale to read during our own pandemic, an interesting parallel as within these pages the Spanish Flu is terrorizing people with the specter of death. Yet, that is not what the story is about, just one of many obstacles fate deals Violetta and her family in their time. If you want to read a book full of characters and rich stories, this is a must read in 2022. Catastrophes, love, sin, political corruption, family loyalty and betrayal, drugs, poverty, wealth, births, deaths, war, the great depression… this is just to name a few. Violeta sees the rise and ruin of her family in waves, chaos within her own country. Your geography is enough to alter your life, your wealthy family can lose everything for being on the wrong side of politics or making one mistake in business. Nothing is guaranteed, nothing.
South America: Violeta is born in 1920 on a stormy day, a surprise for a family of five sons. It is the year of the scourge. She is a force as powerful as any of her male siblings, as her parents come to learn with her willful nature. Violeta’s family home is like a ‘little universe’ spinning safely, while many others collapse. Her father, a business tycoon, has the foresight about the forthcoming panic caused by the pandemic, hence has prepared to maintain their existence. While still venturing out for work, the measures he takes keeps them free from illness. As Violeta grows up in the bosom of her large and extended family (her aunts help her parents raise her) she becomes spoiled. Enter the scene an English governess, Miss Josephine Taylor, of course this much too young woman isn’t what her father hoped for. Her origins, too, come into question. He longs for his daughter to not be corrupted by ‘harmful ideas’ or taken by disease, which has ravaged so much of the population. As fate likes to challenge us all it is no different for her father, for Violeta is a theatrical child from the start, born to challenge and surprise him. Miss Taylor improves upon the girl, despite Violeta’s rebellious, strong will. She will be important to the family for years. Allende has not written ghosts of characters here, for they all come to feel like friends, kin.
A family of conservatives, the changing times will test them all. Violeta’s brother and her father’s second- in-command, José Antoino, is ‘old before his time’ but not too ancient for the bite of love. What will become of him, having worked so hard for his father? Some characters have their position forced upon them early on. Others make different decisions, which doesn’t always necessarily mean they are happier. If the measure of one’s life is happiness, you aren’t long for life. Violeta’s father isn’t alone in wishing his will be followed, Violeta’s own future children face love and rejection with their own father, with different consequences. There are acts of bravery and cowardice, each coming from surprising places. Torito is a fascinating character, his beautiful, protective nature such an admirable quality despite that ugliness he has faced in his days due to disability. Particularly when Violeta’s sheltered bubble bursts, with unfolding events but the ‘realities of life’ are often the greatest character forming moments. This book engaged me to the very end but it also broke my heart. People come and go, some leave a greater impact than others. Violeta’s own mother’s illness lends itself to the strength Violeta finds in her own life. Through a native, female healer named Yaima, her aunts learn of herbs and healing but she will guide Violetta through a spiritual experience of her own. Every person that comes into Violeta’s timeline has shaped her, whether she aims to emulate or reject who they are. Headstrong in youth, she refuses to live only in the past as others in her family have. Her views are far more progressive than her father likely would ever have imagined. It is the future she longs for and what an adventure it will be.
Love comes along early, a husband who will steady her but is it passionate enough? Is it the life she wants, particularly when independence is so important? With a man whose community is German, and she an outsider, how will she fit? Can she go along with his plans? Is she up to the challenge of molding herself into being a submissive wife with her fiery nature? She will be, of course, a fool for love that comes falling from the sky and it will be as unstoppable a force as a hurricane. A love that keeps coming around again and again, as if there is a lesson to learn. She isn’t without flaws, failing as a mother to protect her children and yet moving heaven and earth in her attempts to make things right. Violeta felt like a real person, through and through.
This is a novel in four parts, a life remembered as Violeta pens letters to her grandson who may one day want to remember her, and the devil would blush. It truly is a journal of self discovery deeply rooted in family tradition. There is sexual liberation and the burns of blind innocence but Violeta is a smart woman, one whose mistakes and sins afford her the freedom in business and her personal life, with a lot of heartache. This is one of the best books I have read in years.
Publication Date: January 25, 2022