cover image Violeta


Isabel Allende, trans. from the Spanish by Frances Riddle. Ballantine, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-49620-6

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. (Jan.)