VIOLET. By Isabelle Allende. Random house. 336 pages. $28.
Chilean writer Isabel Allende’s latest novel is “Violeta,” an epic tale that transports readers through a century of South American history, through economic collapse, dictatorship, and natural disasters like an earthquake. earth and a hurricane.
From the aftermath of World War I to the present day, narrator Violeta del Valle tells the story of her life in an unnamed South American country with a long letter to her grandson Camilo.
Violeta recounts living through the Spanish flu pandemic as the youngest child and only daughter in a family of five sons. After his father loses everything in the Great Depression, the family must give up their comforts in an old mansion in the nation’s capital and adopt a more modest life in the rural south of the country.
“Violeta” recalls Allende’s best-known and successful novel, “The Spirit House,” which weaves together the personal and the political in a saga that spans decades.
“Violeta” also details the horrors of the 1970s dictatorships in South America, which saw tens of thousands of suspected political opponents kidnapped, tortured and killed, often as part of Operation Condor, an alliance backed by the United States between right-wing military governments in the region.
“The government was committing atrocities, but you could walk down the street and sleep soundly at night without worrying about common criminals,” Violeta writes of those repressive times.
Violeta’s son is a journalist seeking exile, first to Argentina, then to Norway after learning he was blacklisted by the dictatorship.
Violeta suspects her son’s father of being involved in the repression through his work as a pilot. Much of the book concerns Violeta’s long, passionate, but troubled relationship with her son’s father following a short and unfulfilling marriage. Ultimately, she achieves contentment late in life with a retired diplomat and naturalist.
Considered the most widely read Spanish-language author in the world, Allende is known for her many novels, including “Eva Luna”, “Of Love and Shadows” and “A Long Petal of the Sea”, as well as books by no -fiction such as “Paula,” a 1994 memoir.
Allende left Chile for exile two years after Salvador Allende, her father’s first cousin, was overthrown in a coup in 1973. Isabel Allende lived in Venezuela for years before settling in the USA.