Publication Date: 21 January 2020
From the New York Times bestselling author of The House of the Spirits comes an epic novel spanning decades and crossing continents, following two young people as they flee the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War in search of a new place to call home.
In the late 1930s, civil war gripped Spain. When General Franco and his Fascists succeed in overthrowing the government, hundreds of thousands are forced to flee in a treacherous journey over the mounts to the French border. Among them is Roser, a pregnant widow, who finds her life irreversibly intertwined with that of Victor Dalmau, an army doctor and the brother of her deceased love. In order to survive, the two must unite in a marriage neither of them wants, and together are sponsored by poet Pablo Neruda to embark on the SS Winnipeg along with 2,200 other refugees in search of a new life. As unlikely partners, they embrace exile and emigrate to Chile as the rest of Europe erupts in World War.
Starting over on a new continent, their trials are just beginning. Over the course of their lives, they will face test after test. But they will also find joy as they wait patiently for a day when they are exiles no more, and will find friends in the most unlikely of places. Through it all, it is that hope of being reunited with their home that keeps them going. And, in the end, they will find that home might have been closed than they thought all along.
(Synopsis from Goodreads)
A Long Petal of the Sea truly is an epic story; it spans from 1936 and 1994. The story follows Victor Dalmau and Roser Bruguera as they flee Spain after the Spanish Civil War. Victor and a pregnant Roser arrive in Chile, where they build a new life for themselves, until their new country is also affected by political struggles. They are forced to emigrate again, this time to Venezuela. Throughout this journey, Victor and Roser come to learn the true meaning of what makes a home, and what it means to love each other.
A Long Petal of the Sea is an especially important story to read in today’s world, with the political and social tensions in many countries around the world. This book truly shows how immigrants can positively add to a society. The 2,000 refugees on the SS Winnipeg to Chile made an undoubtedly positive impression on Chilean society and history, as A Long Petal of the Sea shows. With world leaders today turning towards anti-immigration policies, it is even more crucial for books to showcase the positive impacts of accepting people from other countries, and the negative impacts of oppression and closed-door policies.
The first two-thirds of A Long Petal of the Sea are fantastic. I learned so much about the Spanish Civil War, Chilean history, and Pablo Neruda while reading this book. The book is based on true events, and the main characters are also loosely based on real individuals. The entire story feels so realistic that it actually becomes difficult to distinguish between what’s real and what’s fictional; you would be forgiven for thinking that A Long Petal of the Sea is a non-fiction book. The last third of the book was a bit slow for me, but I still enjoyed it. It did not have the same power as the first two-thirds though.
The line between fact and fiction in A Long Petal of the Sea is even more blurred by Allende’s writing style, which could be described as clinical at times. A Long Petal of the Sea is an emotionally-intense novel, and yet Allende’s writing doesn’t really convey the weightiness of some of the issues portrayed in the story. This is the only criticism I have of A Long Petal of the Sea. Allende is a talented writer, but I could not feel the emotion behind her words.
I would like to thank NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing for providing me with an advance copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.
Isabel Allende was born in Peru, and raised in Chile. She first became known worldwide for her book The House of Sprits, which was published in 1982. She has now sold more than 74 million books, and her books have been published into more than forty two languages.
A Long Petal of the Sea is a fascinating novel. I think it will be especially enjoyed by fans of historical fiction who are interested in the Spanish Civil War and Chilean history.
My Rating: ★★★★☆
Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below!
Waterstones (UK): here
Amazon (US): here