Violeta by Isabel Allende
Isabel Allende has written more than 20 books since she was first published in the 1980s. Five of these: The House of the Spirits (1982), Daughter of Fortune (1998), Inés of my Soul (2006), Island Beneath the Sea (2009) and A Long Petal of the Sea (2019), are historical novels, sweeping epics with historical events deftly woven into the plotlines and introducing us to unforgettable characters. With Violeta, which is out this month, she adds a sixth epic to her repertoire and even though she has written a book like this before, it still reads delightfully fresh.
The novel is framed as a letter from Violeta, the title character, to her grandson, as she narrates the story of her life, starting with her birth in 1920 during the Spanish flu epidemic, up until her death in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic. When you live for a century, you have a story to tell of triumphs and defeats, loves won and loves lost, and the turbulence and trials that accompany the vicissitudes of life. This is a tale that contains all the drama of a life well-lived. We meet Violeta as she is born, the pampered, only daughter of a wealthy Chilean family who lose their fortunes during the Wall Street crash, after which they move to Nahuel, “…a forgotten corner of the world that would turn out to be more interesting than they had expected.” We accompany Violeta on her journey through life replete with wide-ranging adventures and there is never a dull moment. From the fight for gender equality to passionate love affairs and fractured parental relationships, there are heavy themes to contend with in this book, but one comes away with an abundance of admiration for Violeta, a woman with indefatigable passion and a fierce determination to overcome the odds that life throws her way.
Ms. Allende is a skilled narrator who does not sugarcoat the foibles of her characters, reminding us that no one is without their faults, and it is our fallibility that bonds us as human beings. This is what draws me, and I suspect millions of other people, to her books.
One interesting thing about Ms. Allende’s books is that they are all written in Spanish. She has said that “I can only write fiction in Spanish, because it is for me a very organic process that I can only do in my native language. Fortunately, I have excellent translators all over the world.”
I have often thought that translators are the unsung heroes of fiction because of the way they provide a way for readers to transcend the language barrier and enter into the world of magic and beauty that writers have created. Previous translators of Ms. Allende’s books to English are Margaret Sayers Peden and Anne McLean. Frances Riddle was the translator for Violeta. We have much to thank them for.
Special thanks to NetGalley, Random House Publishing Group and Ballantine Books for giving me an advance reader e-copy in exchange for an honest review.