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.
Many years ago, like countless others, I fell deeply in love with Isabel Allende’s House of Spirits. While I have enjoyed many of her books since, A Long Petal of the Sea is the first novel to truly capture me in the same way. While it has none of the magical realism I loved so much, it is Allende at her best… a sprawling family saga, spanning generations and continents.
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 mountains to the French border. Among them is Roser, a pregnant young 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 closer than they thought all along.
A Long Petal of the Sea is a mighty read that sent me down numerous other rabbit holes, researching the historical events portrayed in the book, and dusting off an old copy of The Essential Neruda. I knew very little about the Spanish Civil War and feel like I’ve come out of this read knowing quite a bit. Her research and historical detail is meticulous. I was deeply involved in Allende’s characters and their experiences in the war, fleeing to France, the refugee camp there and their journey to Chile.
Allende has always been a masterful weaver of countless characters and their stories, and many are threaded into the rich tapestry of this often brutal story. Some are real-life historical figures, including her Uncle Salvador Allende, while other characters are based on people. But at the core of this epic tale are Roser and Victor, who married for convenience but whom over time grew to love each other deeply. Themes of refugees, poverty, internment, displacement and exile, with the question of what home means.
In A Long Petal of the Sea, Isabel Allende once again delivers an unputdownable historical tale about the power of love and the indomitable human spirit.