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  • Prologue and Part 1, Chapters 1-6
  • Part 2, Chapters 7-13
  • Part 3, Chapters 14-20
  • Part 4, Chapters 21-28
  • Character Analysis
  • Symbols & Motifs
  • Important Quotes
  • Essay Topics

Summary and Study Guide

Violeta (2022) is a novel by Isabel Allende. Written as an epistolary exploration by the eponymous protagonist , the novel recounts the various historical and personal events of her life, which spans a century, in an unnamed Latin American country. The book explores themes of feminism, the intersection of the personal and political, and learning from life.

Allende is one of the world’s bestselling Spanish-language authors. Her debut novel, The House of the Spirits , won her profound literary acclaim, and she went on to write more than 25 bestselling and critically acclaimed books. Her works have been translated into more than 42 languages and have won numerous awards, including Chile’s National Literature Prize in 2010. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2015.

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This guide is based on the Bloomsbury Publishing Kindle Edition.

Content Warning : The source material features references to and descriptions of suicide, sexual assault, domestic abuse, anti-LGBTQ+ biases and slurs, and substance use and addiction.

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Plot Summary

The book begins with an untitled prologue, a letter from Violeta to her grandson Camilo in which she explains why she is recounting her life story. The book is divided into four parts, corresponding with specific periods of Violeta’s life and arranged in chronological order. The first part, titled “Exile,” covers the first two decades of her life, from 1920 to 1940.

Violeta is born into the aristocratic Del Valle family the year the influenza pandemic arrives in her country. She describes the different members of her household—her parents; unmarried maternal aunts; oldest brother, José Antonio; Apolonio “Torito” Toro, an adolescent orphan adopted by the family; and Violeta’s Irish governess (a term describing a woman employed to educate children), Josephine Taylor. The family resides in the capital of the country, and Violeta’s father, Arsenio Del Valle, is not very prudent with his investments, despite José Antonio’s warnings. Following the Wall Street Crash of 1929, Arsenio loses everything, and distraught, dies by suicide. The family is forced to sell most of their belongings and move to the countryside. They are taken in by Josephine’s lover Teresa Rivas’s parents, who have a farm, Santa Clara , in the southern province of Nahuel. The years Violeta spends there are extremely educational and enriching for her.

The second part, titled “Passion,” covers the next two decades of Violeta’s life. She describes her marriage to Fabian Schmidt-Engler, a German immigrant and veterinarian, which abruptly ends when Violeta begins an affair with a pilot named Julián Bravo . She moves to the fictional Sacramento, where she helps José Antonio with his business of building prefabricated homes. Violeta eventually has two children with Julián, a boy named Juan Martin and a daughter named Nieves; despite this, Fabian continues to refuse her an annulment. However, Violeta and Julián begin to live together as a couple, and their relationship is eventually accepted in society.

Julián begins to fly private flights in Argentina, Cuba, and Miami, the first for secret government plots, and the latter two alternatively for members of the mafia and for Castro-led rebels who plan to overthrow the Cuban government. Once Fulgencio Batista’s Cuban dictatorship falls and the Cuban flights are no longer profitable, Julián moves his base to Miami. Violeta stays in Sacramento with the business and the children. Julián visits them often, but his relationship with Violeta is volatile and abusive.

The Valdivian earthquake of 1960 damages the house in Santa Clara, and Teresa passes away in the aftermath. A grieving Josephine eventually marries José Antonio, who has loved her since she first came to live with the Del Valles. Fabian, in need of money to finance a new research lab, finally sells Violeta the annulment. At the same time, strange rumors begin emerging about an agricultural community of German immigrants in the country, called Colonia Esperanza.

The third part, titled “Absence,” details Violeta’s life from 1960 to 1983. She sees a psychiatrist, with whose help she finally breaks off her relationship with Julián. Julián, in turn, appoints another one of his lovers, Zoraida Abreu, to take care of his illegal businesses in Miami. As Julián and Violeta’s children grow up, Julián grows more distant from their son while developing an unhealthy, almost obsessive relationship with their daughter. Nieves eventually runs away from home and falls into a life of substance addiction and sex work. Julián hires a private detective named Roy Cooper to keep track of Nieves, occasionally forcibly admitting her to rehab centers. However, she continually runs away from rehab.

Nieves eventually becomes pregnant and reaches out to Roy for help. He sets her up in a friend’s home in Los Angeles, California, and, having begun a romantic relationship with Violeta, informs her about the situation. Violeta stays with Nieves throughout her pregnancy, repairing her relationship with her daughter. Nieves dies in childbirth, and Violeta brings Nieves’s son, Camilo, back to the fictional Sacramento (in Latin America).

The political situation in Violeta’s country worsens. A Socialist president is democratically elected, but there is constant disagreement within the coalition parties, and propaganda and pushback from the right-wing parties backed by the United States. Juan Martin, who campaigned for the Socialist president, is ban-listed when a military coup topples the government. Violeta attempts to have him transported across national borders by smuggling him into Santa Clara from Sacramento and having Torito accompany him from there on foot. Weeks later, she learns that Torito, who hasn’t returned, was taken away by military officers, and she has no news of him or Juan Martin for years. She doesn’t believe Julián when he claims to have no information either.

Violeta eventually discovers that Juan Martin is working as a journalist in Argentina. He is forced to flee to Norway when a military coup arrives in Argentina but adapts well to life in his new home. Simultaneously, Violeta meets Harald Fiske, a Norwegian diplomat and birdwatching enthusiast who visits Violeta’s country every year for the latter. He brings her news of Juan Martin from Norway. Following a long struggle with a weakened heart and dementia, José Antonio passes away; Josephine, who battled cancer for a long time, follows him a year later.

The fourth part, titled “Rebirth,” recounts the last decades of Violeta’s life, from 1983 to 2020. When human bones are discovered in a sealed up cave near Nahuel, Violeta finally learns that Torito was among a group of tenant farmers shot dead by military officers. She also discovers that Julián knew about both Torito and Juan Martin; this, in addition to his continued secret work with Colonia Esperanza, leaves Violeta desiring revenge. With Zoraida’s help, Violeta sees Julián arrested for illegal work, including fraud and drug trafficking, in the United States. Following his time in prison, Julián moves to a ranch in Patagonia, Chile.

News of Torito’s death changes the course of Violeta’s life. She begins a new phase of activism and social work, getting involved with women’s groups and their work and starting a foundation in Nieves’s name dedicated to working for women’s issues. Roy passes away of cancer, but just a year later, Harald re-enters her life and eventually becomes her loving husband. As Camilo grows up, the once rebellious and mischievous boy decides to enter the seminary. Violeta continues her work well into her nineties with vigor and enthusiasm; when Harald, 13 years younger than her, passes away on her 95th birthday, however, she comes to terms with her mortality. A few years later, she falls, and her physical health deteriorates, but she is left with time and space to write her life story. The final chapter sees Violeta writing in the last days of her life, isolated at Santa Clara owing to the coronavirus pandemic and bedridden by a hemorrhage. As the book closes, Violeta sees her daughter, Nieves, come to greet her as she dies.

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Violeta by Isabel Allende

Violeta Summary & Study Guide

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Violeta Summary & Study Guide Description

The following version of this book was used to create this guide: Allende, Isabel. Violeta . Ballantine Books, 2022.

Isabel Allende’s novel Violeta is an epistolary work in which the titular character recounts her life to her grandson. It is written primarily from the first-person perspective. While Violeta periodically addresses her grandson using the present tense, the majority of the novel is written in the past tense.

The first section of the novel, “Exile,” covers the period between 1920 and 1940. Violeta Del Valle is born in an unnamed South American country during the influenza pandemic. She lives in a large house with her well-off family, which includes her parents, aunts, brothers, and various domestic helpers. Worried that Violeta is spoiled, her parents hire a British governess, Josephine Taylor, to look after her. Violeta and Josephine quickly become close. Violeta’s brother, José Antonio, confesses his love for the governess. After a battle with cancer, Josephine falls in love with a local feminist, Teresa Rivas. During the Great Depression, Violeta’s father’s business collapses and he eventually commits suicide. The Del Valles move to the south, where Teresa Rivas’ family owns a farm called Santa Clara. The Rivas welcome the Del Valles, and Violeta accompanies Teresa’s parents on journeys to educate rural children. She spends much of her adolescence at Santa Clara. José Antonio, meanwhile, attempts to begin a new business. When Violeta is a young woman, a worker attempts to rape her. Torito, who works for the Del Valles yet is considered a family member, rescues Violeta and possibly murders the man.

In the novel’s second section, “Passion,” Violeta meets a German immigrant named Fabian Schmidt-Engler. Although Fabian is quite boring, Violeta begins a romantic relationship with him. José Antonio begins manufacturing prefabricated homes, and Violeta soon joins the business. She moves to Sacramento, a nearby city, but returns for the death of her mother. In 1945, she marries Fabian. Working with her brother, Violeta becomes financially independent. She is unhappy in her marriage, and she later meets an attractive, adventurous pilot named Julián Bravo, with whom she begins an affair. Although Violeta leaves Fabian, he refuses to annul the marriage. Violeta and Julián later have a son, Juan Martín. Julián proves to be abusive and adulterous; he later becomes involved with organized crime and is often away from his family. He and Violeta have a second child, a daughter named Nieves. As the children grow older, Juan Martín becomes a sensitive and intelligent young boy while Nieves emulates her father’s recklessness. At the end of “Passion,” Teresa dies and Fabian finally agrees to annul his marriage with Violeta.

“Absence” covers Violeta’s life between 1960 and 1983. Violeta and Julián’s relationship splinters, as Violeta pursues her businesses in South America and Julián spends time working for both the Mafia and the CIA in the United States. Their children’s lives also diverge; Juan Martín volunteers for leftist organizations in his home country, while Nieves parties and uses drugs in the U.S. Roy Cooper, a private detective, monitors her from a distance. Several years later, Violeta and Julián check Nieves into a rehab clinic from which she eventually escapes. During this time, Violeta and Roy begin a romantic relationship. Later, Roy finds Nieves and sends her to live with his friend, Rita, in Los Angeles. Nieves is pregnant and dies during childbirth. Violeta commits to raising Nieves’ son (Camilo, the recipient of the overall narrative). A military coup overthrows the government in Violeta’s home country. With some assistance from his father, Juan Martín flees to Argentina. Torito accompanies him on the journey, but news eventually arrives that government soldiers had captured Torito. Violeta again moves to Sacramento with Camilo and a close friend, Etelvina. Violeta later learns that Juan Martín safely arrived in Argentina, but eventually fled to Norway with the help of a man named Harald Fiske. At the end of “Absence,” José Antonio and Josephine both pass away.

In the final section, “Rebirth,” a priest discovers a cave full of corpses (all casualties of the brutal military regime). Torito’s body is among the dead. Violeta suspects that Julián tipped off government officials as to Torito’s whereabouts; she collaborates with one of Julián’s girlfriends to expose his involvement with drug trafficking and tax fraud. Violeta and Roy often take vacations together, but Roy eventually dies of cancer. Violeta grows close with the other women who found remains of their loved ones in the cave. She uses her considerable financial resources to support women’s rights in her country, particularly after the collapse of the military regime. Violeta marries Harald Fiske and they visit Norway together. Camilo, meanwhile, proves to be a troublesome and rebellious young man, but later decides to become a priest. On Violeta’s ninety-fifth birthday, Harald dies of a heart attack. In the final chapter, Violeta returns to Santa Clara. The coronavirus pandemic begins. She says goodbye to Camilo and prepares to die after one hundred years of life.

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In Isabel Allende’s New Novel, One Hundred Years of Attitude

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“Violeta” is Isabel Allende’s 21st novel.

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By Gabriela Garcia

  • Published Jan. 31, 2022 Updated Feb. 2, 2022

VIOLETA By Isabel Allende Translated by Frances Riddle

“In this country there are always calamities, and it’s not hard to connect them to some life event,” the 100-year-old Violeta writes to a shadowy figure in Isabel Allende’s new novel. Violeta could as easily be describing the epistolary epic that frames her own life, which is also rife with calamity: the dissolution of a family fortune, a tempestuous marriage interspersed with love affairs, the machinations of family and friends over a century, all set against political upheaval in her homeland, an unnamed Latin American country.

Bookended by pandemics — the Spanish flu and the Covid crisis — “Violeta” chronicles a feminist awakening amid twin repressive forces, the state and the domestic sphere, in passages whose sheer breadth is punctuated by sometimes stilted, explanatory dialogue. When Violeta drops a subtle callback to “The House of the Spirits,” revealing that she is related to its protagonist, one might crave the inventive details that made Allende’s debut novel an icon of post-Boom Latin American literature: “Grandmother Nívea … had been decapitated in a terrifying automobile accident and her head was lost in a field; there was an aunt who communed with spirits and a family dog that grew and grew until it was the size of a camel.” This novel forgoes such chimeras in favor of headline realism in a stylistically straightforward translation; there are no more camel-dogs, only Violeta’s compellingly unsentimental gaze as she recounts the brutality of a fascist coup, her angst over the disappearance of her son, a political exile, and her fraught relationship with his father — who, she later discovers, may have had a hand in both (later she discovers he operated “death flights” of political prisoners to torture centers).

This middle section, the novel’s strongest, chronicles the events leading to dictatorship in a country much like Chile, with a dictator much like Pinochet, in unflinching, breezy prose that narrows its focus to the class and gender tensions playing out in daily life. Violeta offers humorous reprieves and no-nonsense ruminations — she doesn’t like children (“the only good thing about kids is that they grow fast”), resents men whose “success can be attributed” to her (“while he researched, experimented, wrote … I took care of the domestic expenses and saved”), finds marriage stifling (“as uneventful as life in a nunnery”) and deplores the double standards that brand her “the adulteress, the concubine, the wayward lover.”

When Violeta finally considers her own passive collusion with the regime, having amassed wealth and led a comfortable life while a country bled around her, I wished for some of the same perspicacity. “You live in a bubble, mom,” Violeta’s rebellious son says to her at one point, and a hundred years of reflection does not fully pierce it; Violeta’s political growth does not extend to thorny racial and economic considerations. Violeta’s naïve, sometimes colonialist lens results in a reckless romanticism: “The mix of races is very attractive,” she writes earnestly about one mestiza acquaintance. She praises her grandson’s missionary work in Congo “in a community that was no more than a trash heap before you got there,” and while admitting her ignorance (“I didn’t know anything about Africa … I was incapable of distinguishing one country from another”) fails to recognize the saviorism and essentialism behind her praise. Violeta’s reckoning leads to the development of a foundation to support survivors of domestic violence — but a conclusion that “if you truly want to help others, you’re going to need money” is circular logic that feels like a watery offering on a blood-soaked altar, a quiet tiptoe off the page after a careful rendering of the political graveyards that haunt Latin America’s psyche.

Gabriela Garcia is the author of the award-winning novel “Of Women and Salt.”

VIOLETA By Isabel Allende Translated by Frances Riddle 322 pp. Ballantine Books. $28.

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‘Violeta’ Review: An Average Novel from an Above Average Author

The cover of Isabel Allende's "Violeta."

With 25 best-selling novels and a Presidential Medal of Freedom, it is no secret that Isabel Allende is a literary tour de force. Her latest work, “Violeta,” gives her fans many of the hallmarks they have come to expect from the author: heart-wrenching but honest depictions of the Pinochet regime and complex, interwoven, endlessly interesting family dynamics. But that’s just the problem. Allende’s prolific abilities become repetitive in “Violeta,” ultimately producing a book that loses itself in monotonous historical scenes and rotating characters, and which fails to stand out in any specific way.

“Violeta” is a bildungsroman that follows the life of its eponymous character from birth until near-death, a period of 100 years. Violeta lives a thoroughly whirlwind life. She marries three different men, experiences the rise and fall of Chilean President Salvador Allende (Isabel Allende’s own godfather), the subsequent military Junta and its aftermath, and raises two children to adulthood. She also starts a housing materials empire, and lives a life of adventure and intrigue until she predicts she will die in 2020.

The challenge with a story that tracks one character through so many years is that the plot is necessarily as meandering as a life. There is no climax nor much rhythmic flow to the story, merely milestones in a long series of episodes. On top of that, the story is written as an account that Violeta is telling Camilo, her grandson and adopted son. The compounded plot-as-life and the feedback loop created by the main-character-as-narrator structure gives the story a didactic mood. Violeta appears to edit herself, inserting pithy aphorisms and bits of advice rather than lush description. This style, heavy with “telling” and light on the “showing” becomes exhausting as the reader endures literally one hundred years of Violeta’s thoughts.

A lot of buzz surrounding this book was due to the fact that it is one of the first books written during the coronavirus pandemic to include it as a historical event. This advance is somewhat misleading, as Covid-19 only appears at the very end of the story as a neat bookend for Violeta’s childhood in the aftermath of the Spanish Flu outbreak of the early 1920s. Over the course of her lifetime, Violeta lives through many important political and historical events, including pandemics, wars, and natural disasters. Ultimately, however, the mix of historical evidence and personal anecdotes are crudely blended, causing the narrative to fundamentally lack cohesion.

In the acknowledgements section of “Violeta,” Allende references Wikipedia as an invaluable source. The issue is that “Violeta” reads, at times, like an embellished Wikipedia page, taking well-known scenes of Chilean history and inserting random personal details that could plausibly be attributed to one of the many characters in this novel. For example, Violeta hears about a neighbor being abused by her husband and creates an entire foundation to support survivors of abuse that becomes nationally recognized. The reader never knows why Violeta is so moved by this neighbor’s story, nor how she created an entire foundation, nor does her apparent life’s work take more than a sidebar role in the overall narrative. The episode appears to exist only so that Allende can conveniently comment on bureaucratic corruption in Chile post-Pinochet. Or when Violeta’s daughter, Nieves, becomes embroiled with drugs and sex trafficking in Las Vegas, it feels more like a crude attempt to situate the timeline in the 1970s than meaningful plot development.

It is hard to categorize “Violeta” because, like much of Allende’s work, the scope is staggering. To address an entire life in 319 pages is a significant undertaking. Violeta herself also eludes definition. From a petulant child to a wise grandmother, the reader watches her develop as the decades pass. Allende doesn’t shy away from life’s more difficult moments, like when Violeta experiences multiple familial tragedies, and is liberal in her depiction of more private moments. Violeta is a sexual woman well into her old age, which is refreshing and empowering, but Allende’s liberalism can be contradictory and problematic. When Violeta speaks of her sexuality, it is mostly to explain her connection to the current man of her life; she only feels beautiful if a man desires her. The story’s token queer couple, Josephine Taylor and Teresa Rivas, seem to exist to merely appeal to audiences in 2022 rather than as a worthwhile story in their own right. Make no mistake, fiction written in 2022 does not need to be “liberal” or to have certain representation or morals or anything of the sort to be valuable. But at times, “Violeta” seems too preoccupied with appealing to a certain audience than telling a cohesive story.

Overall, “Violeta” is an impressive undertaking that combines a century of history into a relatively slim novel. However, a lack of narrative flow and its rote similarity to Allende’s other, more complicated works makes this book a step below the masterful literary fiction that made her famous.

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  1. Violeta Summary and Study Guide

    Overview Violeta (2022) is a novel by Isabel Allende. Written as an epistolary exploration by the eponymous protagonist, the novel recounts the various historical and personal events of her life, which spans a century, in an unnamed Latin American country.

  2. Violeta Summary & Study Guide

    Plot Summary +Chapters Summary and Analysis Chapters 1-5 Chapters 6-10 Chapters 11-16 Chapters 17-22 Chapters 23-28 Free Quiz Characters Symbols and Symbolism Settings Themes and Motifs Styles Quotes Order our Violeta Study Guide Related Topics And of Clay Are We Created Aphrodite Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses City of the Beasts

  3. Book Review: ‘Violeta,’ by Isabel Allende

    By Isabel Allende Translated by Frances Riddle “In this country there are always calamities, and it’s not hard to connect them to some life event,” the 100-year-old Violeta writes to a shadowy...

  4. Violeta by Isabel Allende

    Violeta comes into the world on a stormy day in 1920, the first girl in a family of five boisterous sons. From the start, her life will be marked by extraordinary events, for the ripples of the Great War are still being felt, even as the Spanish flu arrives on the shores of her South American homeland almost at the moment of her birth.

  5. ‘Violeta’ Review: An Average Novel from an Above Average

    Violeta is a sexual woman well into her old age, which is refreshing and empowering, but Allende’s liberalism can be contradictory and problematic. When Violeta speaks of her sexuality, it is...