NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • This sweeping novel from the author of A Long Petal of the Sea tells the epic story of Violeta Del Valle, a woman whose life spans one hundred years and bears witness to the greatest upheavals of the twentieth century.
“An immersive saga about a passion-filled life.”—People
ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: PopSugar, Real Simple, Reader’s Digest
Violeta comes into the world on a stormy day in 1920, the first girl in a family with five boisterous sons. From the start, her life is marked by extraordinary events, for the ripples of the Great War are still being felt, even as the Spanish flu arrives on the shores of her South American homeland almost at the moment of her birth.
Through her father’s prescience, the family will come through that crisis unscathed, only to face a new one as the Great Depression transforms the genteel city life she has known. Her family loses everything and is forced to retreat to a wild and beautiful but remote part of the country. There, she will come of age, and her first suitor will come calling.
She tells her story in the form of a letter to someone she loves above all others, recounting times of devastating heartbreak and passionate affairs, poverty and wealth, terrible loss and immense joy. Her life is shaped by some of the most important events of history: the fight for women’s rights, the rise and fall of tyrants, and ultimately not one, but two pandemics.
Through the eyes of a woman whose unforgettable passion, determination, and sense of humor carry her through a lifetime of upheaval, Isabel Allende once more brings us an epic that is both fiercely inspiring and deeply emotional.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Isabel Allende’s captivating historical novel tells the story of the entire 20th century through the eyes of one extraordinary woman. During the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, 100-year-old Violeta Del Valle writes to her grandson to share the details of her life. Born in Chile during the outbreak of the Spanish flu, young Violeta is approaching adolescence when her wealthy family loses everything, moving from the sophisticated capital to a farm in the country. As global events, including World War II and Chile’s 1970s military coup, buffet her family, Violeta encounters struggle and joy, passionate love and shocking loss, horror and delight. Allende is masterful at writing this kind of beautiful, multifaceted character—there’s a depth to Violeta that makes it feel like we’re reading a memoir. This is a sweeping historical epic about a woman living life on her own terms.
Chilean writer Allende (A Petal of the Sea) chronicles the lives of an upper-class South American family across various historical events of the 20th century. Violeta del Valle, 100, recounts the story of her life to her grandson, Camilo, beginning with her birth during the Spanish Flu pandemic. The del Valles patriarch Arsenio and his invalid wife, five sons, and the youngest, daughter Violeta survive by quarantining in their mansion in the capital city of their unnamed country, but the Great Depression soon shatters the family's economic stability. Nine-year-old Violeta finds her father's body with a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and they move to a farm. In whirlwind fashion, Allende conveys Violeta's life: her lackluster first marriage, an adventure-filled affair with British RAF pilot Julian Bravo, Bravo's underhanded dealings flying CIA operatives to South America, and the tragic story of her drug-addled daughter who dies while giving birth to Camilo. Allende frames Violeta's life story with two global pandemics, and while Violeta's reflections on Covid-19 feel a little forced, Allende seamlessly ties the rise and fall of Cold War era military dictatorships throughout Latin America to Violeta's autobiography. It's a mixed bag, but Allende succeeds once again at making the historical feel personal.
Violeta recalls the memories of events in her life, not necessarily in chronological order, but as they appear in her mind. Unapologetic, she writes of her experiences, her exploits, her desires, and her regrets in a loosely formatted letter. Violeta’s story is not so much one of inner growth or epiphany as it is a matter-of-fact account of what was and what is.
I gave this novel a four star rating because, while I liked Violeta, I can’t say she endeared herself to me. Then again, I doubt that she’d care, and I’m quite sure that wasn’t the point.
Great book. Got a little slow in places, but engaging read.
I loved this book. Didn't want it to end. So beautifully written.