Mixed Feelings About Violeta

Violeta by Isabel Allende, a nominee for the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Historical Fiction in 2022, is a bit of a mixed bag for me. It’s the life story of Violeta del Valle, a woman whose 100 years span the most tumultuous events of the twentieth century, told through letters to her grandson. This setup promises a lot—emotional depth, historical insights, and the personal touch that comes with such a narrative form. And while Allende is no slouch in the storytelling department, this journey felt uneven.

Starting off in the stormy year of 1920, during the Spanish flu pandemic, Violeta’s life is undeniably epic. I could almost see the grim reality of the flu’s toll—worse than the war itself—as Allende paints with her words. Her mother is often ill, and she is largely raised by her Irish governess. When the stock market crashes, her family loses everything and retreats to a remote farming town.

But then, her mention of COVID-19 pulled me out of the past and into what feels like a tired conversation. It’s like being stuck at a family dinner where you’re just done talking about that one big event everyone can’t stop bringing up.

Violeta herself felt a little hollow to me. I wanted more fire, more spark. I wanted her to leap off the page and pull me into her world, her struggles, and her triumphs. Instead, she sort of meandered through history. It needed more oomph, more feeling, instead of just giving a play-by-play of her life. The supporting cast will stick with me, though. They had the color and vibrance I was looking for, making me wish they had a bit more of the spotlight.

Even with its shortcomings, the novel is educational. It cleared up the whole “Spanish flu” misnomer for me—poor Spain, the neutral truth-teller of WWI, getting all the flack. And Operation Condor? That was a dark chapter of history I knew nothing about. Thanks to Allende, I’m wiser now.

Allende’s choice to go first-person was spot on. It made the storytelling feel personal. I’ll give Violeta a solid four stars because even if it didn’t set my world on fire, it shone a light on some corners I hadn’t explored.

** Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a comp of this title. The opinions are my own.

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