“I was born in 1920, during the influenza pandemic, and I’m going to die in 2020, during the outbreak of coronavirus…I’ve lived a century and I have a good memory…I’ve witnessed many events. I’ve amassed a lot of experience, but either because I was too distracted or too busy, I haven’t acquired much wisdom. If reincarnation is real, I’ll have to return to earth to make up for what I’m lacking. It’s a terrifying prospect.”
“Violeta” is the story of the life of Violeta Del Valle during a century of great change. Violeta is telling the story in the form of a letter to Camilo, whom she “loves more than anyone in the world.”
Violeta is born into a family of wealth and prestige in a country in South America. Her father, Arsenio, amassed many business enterprises, unfortunately built on a foundation of debt and tax evasion. Violeta has five brothers, although four of them are not a part of the family story. Violeta’s oldest brother, Jose Antonio, 17 years older than Violeta, worked with their father in the family business.
Violeta, pampered and spoiled as a child, rapidly becomes uncontrollable. As a result, her father decides to hire an English Governess. Enter Josephine Taylor, referred to as Miss Taylor throughout the book. Miss Taylor is not at all what the family expected. She is young, thin, attractive and perhaps not exactly British. Violeta and the family come to adore her and she has a very positive impact on Violeta’s disposition and education. Jose Antonio falls in love with her and there follows numerous rejected proposals. Miss Taylor meets Teresa Rives, an outspoken feminist, who changes the lives of Miss Taylor and the Del Valle family in indelible ways.
The country goes into a deep depression along with the rest of the world and Arsenio’s house of cards begins to crumble. At the age of 11, Violeta finds her father in his office with a self-inflicted bullet to the head. The family is financially ruined and find themselves with nowhere to turn. Teresa Rives arranges for them to move to the country and live with her parents, Lucinda and Abel, retired teachers. The Del Valle family (mother, two aunts, brother and Torito) refer to this as “exile”, but learn to love the life and the Rives family. Lucinda and Abel travel across the area and provide teaching to children living in poverty with no access to education. When Violeta gets older, they take her with them to help.
Close to the Rives farm (called Santa Clara) is a community of German immigrants. Fabian Schmidt-Engler is the youngest son in a family of German immigrants. His father owns dairy farms and his mother and sisters run a hotel on the lake in an area popular with tourists. Fabian immediately falls for Violeta and after putting him off for many years she agrees to marry him. Fabian is a veterinarian and is kind but dull. Violeta immediately tires of him and then meets a man named Julian Bravo, a pilot as well as a man of many talents. They begin a passionate love affair, but Fabian refuses to annul their marriage. Violeta and Fabian have two children together, Juan Martin and Nieves. Juan Martin is a bookish unathletic child, a perpetual disappointment to his macho father. Nieves is a beautiful rebellious young girl and is spoiled rotten by her father.
Juan Martin goes on to study journalism and becomes the student body president and an outspoken critic of the opposition party. Nieves becomes a drug addicted disaster.
Julian Bravo moves in with Violeta but continues to have many women. He travels broadly, moving people and weapons on his various airplanes. Violeta goes into business with her brother building prefabricated homes and she becomes very wealthy. A lot happens in the book. The country goes through a violent coup and Juan Martin has to escape. Julian moves to Miami where he is working variously for the CIA, the mafia and other unsavory organizations. Violeta has many romances and changes in many ways throughout her 100 year existence. Through the unfolding of her story we learn the identity of Camilo and Camilo’s role in her life.
The story is wonderful, told with Isabel Allende’s usual sense of humor and insight. I highly recommend this novel. You can reserve it at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.