Violeta by Isabel Allende – Book

From a Google Image Search – Houston Chronicle

Isabel Allende set some of her books in California, showing glimpses of the lives of Americans who migrated from Central and South America. Violeta, the main character in Allende’s eponymous book, lives in an unnamed country in South America, in a city that is named Sacramento, echoing her California stories. (The internet tells me there are 31 cities named Sacramento.) Violeta lived for one hundred years and is able to portray the instability of the government in her country against her own ability to stay successful in business. She never fell afoul of the various governments or regimes that ruled her country, especially the authoritarian or military governments, which often expressed their power by executing key figures and their supporters from the previous government. Violeta Del Valle and her family knew how to be invaluable to government while staying out of politics.

Violeta was also lucky with the people who surrounded her, her extended family. Violeta tends to turn those who are close to her into family members. Her governess from Scotland, Josephine Taylor and Josephine’s lover Teresa Rivas, a bohemian social activist, are loyal to Violeta. Teresa has family in Patagonia, Chili with a farm. When the country’s democratic government is overturned, Violeta escapes danger by going to the Rivas farm. Teresa’s family becomes Violeta’s second family.

Miss Violeta has a series of husbands and lovers. Her first husband is a German immigrant from a wealthy family who is so engrossed with the science of artificial insemination of farm animals that the relationship with his wife just kind of fizzles out without offspring. Although, when Violeta wants a divorce, it doesn’t prove easy to make that happen.

Julián Bravo, a swashbuckler, takes up quite a few of Violeta’s 100 years. If her last romance fizzled, this romance sizzles. It turns into more of an addiction than a love story. Julián lives at the edge of adventure, crime, and political disaster. He doesn’t want children and is irate when Violeta is pregnant with his son. Their relationship is tempestuous and toxic, but Violeta can’t give him up. They also have a daughter, Nieves. They never marry. After Violeta’s daughter moves to America with her father, Nieves falls into the traps many modern children have fallen into. Throughout the tragic moments of Nieves’ life, there is a man who steadfastly keeps Violeta informed about her daughter. Ray Cooper is an ex-convict; he is now a detective. He comforts Violeta and they enter into a calm long distance relationship that satisfies both of them.

Violeta is not a novel full of literary techniques and esoteric symbolism. Allende give us a woman who is simply telling the story of her 100 years to her grandson, Camilo, in a letter, a really long letter. Violeta’s story does not need literary poetics. She is a businesswoman. We get to live her life through her as she experiences a century of worldly events that are not so much history as events that touch her life and the lives of the people she loves. She is a strong woman, and she understands how to earn and keep money. At the end of her life, she meets another man, this time from Norway, who should be boring but isn’t. I always like where Isabel Allende takes me. This time she takes to a remarkable life of a remarkable woman. Does it have elements of autobiography? Hard to say unless you know Allende very well. 

Surrender by Bono – Book

From a Google image Search –

Bill Gates recommends books in his Gates Notes which you can subscribe to. He posts them on Linkedin. One of the books he read last year was Surrender by Bono of U2 fame. I have been reading the writings of well-known rockers on occasion. I read Flea’s book (Red Hot Chili Peppers) Acid for the Children, hoping all the while that the title was symbolic. It was and it wasn’t. I also read The Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith. Patti Smith’s book covers a melancholy time when friends were dying and is both nostalgic and surreal. She’s such a good writer. So that’s why I decided to follow Gates’ lead and dip into Surrender

Bono was born in Dublin and grew up at 10 Cedarwood Road with his “da” Bob Hewson, his mom Iris Hewson, née Rankin who died when he was fourteen of a brain aneurysm and his brother Norman. He was born during the “Troubles,” but his parents were not involved in the war. Bono’s dad was Catholic, and his mom was Protestant and that seemed to temper their animosities. There exists a level of spirituality throughout Bono’s life. He meets his bandmates when he is a teen. They remain an active band throughout their lives with ups and downs as individual lives are lived out over decades. Read the book. 

Each chapter begins with the lyrics to a song and a bad drawing although the drawings improve as the book progresses. Bono takes us with him to 10 Cedarwood Road so we can know his roots and then he takes us around the world. The book is long and detailed and well-written so take your time with it. It’s a remarkable story of a man who played no instrument and had to develop as a singer but who had the luck to have great band members, Larry, Adam, and Edge, stable, honest management, and a knack for meeting the right person at the right time.

Bono moved from punk rock to activism as he became richer and more famous. He married Ali and they had a family. Although he was often gone, he was lucky in his marriage too. Ali was a solid partner, and she also had her own life to live. He had enough security in his life to allow him to tune into world events. These were the days of the AIDS epidemic. At the time there were drugs, but they were very expensive. The disease took a terrible toll, offering up a tortuous death from various pneumonias and cancers, causing disfigurement and starvation. So many talented people were lost to this disease, which arrived seemingly from nowhere. Rock musicians raised money for AIDS research and treatment at massive concerts like LIVE AID and Bono and U2 were there through all of this, although the band was not all about activism.

How does a rock star who throws himself into crowds with abandon, stay a rock star but also become an activist? How does the band stay together and the marriage? Bono makes it clear that he was lucky to have great people around him in his band and in his private life. Rock bands travel all over the world. They see things that we only hear about in the news. Ali and Bono went to Africa and saw what was needed. It didn’t just take one rock concert, regardless of how many artists performed, to raise enough money to take AIDS treatments to Africa. Bono made contacts in the American government. He made deals. America was reluctant to budget the kinds of funding needed to wipe out AIDS in Africa. Bono won. 

It’s a great story of how a boy from Dublin ended up meeting political power brokers in Washington DC and in the Oval Office. You also get the bonus of lyrics for 40 U2 songs. Rock stars lead interesting lives. Read the book.