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.