September 3, 1939, the day of the Spanish exiles’ splendid arrival in Chile, the Second World War broke out in Europe.
Victor Dalmau is a young doctor when he is caught up in the Spanish Civil War, a tragedy that leaves his life – and the fate of his country – forever changed. Together with his sister-in-law, the pianist Roser, he is forced out of his beloved Barcelona and into exile.
When opportunity to seek refuge arises, they board a ship chartered by the poet Pablo Neruda to Chile, the promised ‘long petal of sea and wine and snow’. There, they find themselves enmeshed in a rich web of characters who come together in love and tragedy over the course of four generations, destined to witness the battle between freedom and repression as it plays out across the world.
A masterful work of historical fiction that soars from the Spanish Civil War to the rise and fall of Pinochet, A Long Petal of the Sea is Isabel Allende at the height of her powers.
I read ‘The House of the Spirits’ a few years ago and have since been meaning to read more of Allende’s work. But time and a huge TBR pile mean that I’ve only just got round to this (newish) book.
And it’s as wonderful as I expected it to be – an absolutely beautiful book. Allende has a brilliant command of both the history and politics of the Spanish Civil War and of Chile and Venezuela, brought out through the compelling stories of a variety of interesting and authentic characters.
Their stories, the terrible things they endure, the happiness they find in life and in each other make this an outstanding read, and one of the best books I’ve read in ages.
It is heavy on the history, but, in my opinion, the level of detail is necessary, because you need to understand that history to understand the motivations, actions and reactions of the characters. The historical and political aspects don’t drag the narrative down in any way – in fact they add so much to the story and are told in an accessible way. And I learned so many things, particularly about the way refugees from the Spanish Civil War were treated – it really does seem that humans never learn. You could swap out the nationality for any number of alternatives, and the rhetoric, the inhumanity, the cruelty would be the same.
There are plenty of lighter moments too, and lovely, warm characters whose resilience and love are a joy to read.