Violeta by Isabel Allende, translated by Frances Riddle
Opening Line: I came into the world one stormy Friday in 1920, the year of the scourge.
Violeta herself is the only constant in this story that spans 100 years. Beginning with her birth in 1920, two years after the outbreak of the Spanish Influenza, and giving a comprehensive look at the woman herself, Violeta is more than just a person. She is a spectator to a transformative 100 years of history, and gives us insight to a part of the world in the second half of the 20th century that sometimes goes overlooked.
I have always enjoyed Isabel Allende’s writing, and mostly for this reason. Her books are not written in English. They are translated after the fact. There are many great authors who write in English and do not write about English speaking countries. But, there is something lost when the native language of the characters is not the same as the author. Isabel Allende does not have an outsiders point of view when it comes to her own culture. She does not have the barrier that authors who write in English do when it comes to these topics. Unlike many English speaking writers, her books do not feel the need to justify their existence outside the English speaking world. That freedom to simply write without apology is refreshing and always draws me to her work. But enough about Isabel Allende and her magnificent prose.
The book itself is a remarkable look at a woman who witnessed history but was not necessarily a part of it. Much like the rest of us, she reacted to things beyond her control, fought for her family above all else, and continued to push forward even when things seemed dire. Violeta is a fierce narrator. The story is told to as letters to her grandson, and she leaves nothing out. She takes him on the journey through her entire life. Starting with her birth in the storm, and through her marriages. She tells him of her children, of her struggles for survival, and more.
I enjoyed this book in many ways. Violeta was compelling, her story was interesting, and her observations of the world throughout the decades was very enjoyable. I don’t want to give very much away, but considering this was mentioned in the Goodreads Blurb, I will. This was the first work of fiction I have read that mentions COVID-19. I have read a lot of books that have come out since 2019, and some of them were definitely written within the last year or so. But this is the first one that actually talks about it and doesn’t simply write it out of history as though it doesn’t exist.
What was strangest, was that I was surprised that Allende actually did mention it. I’m used to books that take place in 2020 and 2021 glossing over or pretending it doesn’t exist. But not this book. Allende paints a picture of the last century without pulling punches or telling half truths.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Review by Catherine Nevin
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Cover photo taken from goodreads.com