A LONG PETAL OF THE SEA by Isabel Allende

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From the publisher:

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • From the author of The House of the Spirits, this epic novel spanning decades and crossing continents follows two young people as they flee the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War in search of a place to call home.

“One of the most richly imagined portrayals of the Spanish Civil War to date, and one of the strongest and most affecting works in [Isabel Allende’s] long career.”—The New York Times Book Review

In the late 1930s, civil war grips 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 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 desires.

Together with two thousand other refugees, they embark on the SS Winnipeg, a ship chartered by the poet Pablo Neruda, to Chile: “the long petal of sea and wine and snow.” As unlikely partners, they embrace exile as the rest of Europe erupts in world war. Starting over on a new continent, their trials are just beginning, and over the course of their lives, they will face trial after trial. But they will also find joy as they patiently await the day when they will be exiles no more. Through it all, their hope of returning to Spain keeps them going. Destined to witness the battle between freedom and repression as it plays out across the world, Roser and Victor will find that home might have been closer than they thought all along.

A masterful work of historical fiction about hope, exile, and belonging, A Long Petal of the Sea shows Isabel Allende at the height of her powers.


Isabel Allende presents her readers with what may very well be her masterpiece; an epic story of people caught up in world events and living through tumultuous times. Moving through the Spanish civil war and then events in Chile as they occur in the twentieth century the author takes hold of her readers and does not ease up until the book ends.

Roser, a young lady coming of age, and Victor Dalmau, who is an army doctor and the brother of Roser’s sweetheart, are the central protagonists of the story. Events occurring during the civil war breaking out in Spain in 1936 first throw the two together. Francisco Franco and his fascists lead Spain away from its government with a revolution establishing the long term rule of a dictatorship. The author captures the essence of what the uprising was with descriptions of the horrors and excesses of war and the depravity of Franco as he assumes total power in the country. It then becomes necessary for thousands to flee Spain if they are not to be killed. Roser, who is pregnant with her lover’s baby, and Victor travel away from Europe together with their destination the Latin American country of Chile. En route, they learn that Chilean immigrant visas are most likely to be given to families and decide to marry to ensure their entrance to Chile. They do so vowing to divorce as soon as feasible and of course when Victor’s brother, Roser’s lover arrives from Spain.

The second part of the book deals with changes in Chile during most of the twentieth century starting with the second world war taking place in Europe and Africa and then the country’s development going forward. Roser and Victor’s characters are very well fleshed out as are many of the other people taking part in the story. The rule by Salvador Allende is outlined and due to the fact that Isabel’s father was a first cousin to him his treatment is favorable. His overthrow and assassination are not blamed on his dictatorial conduct but on other malevolent factors. This is the author’s opinion and does nothing to harm the overall story.

The growth and development of Roser and Victor and their personal changes during this period are brilliantly described by Allende. The reader will easily follow and understand the reasoning behind their actions and capture the shifts as time and events go forward. Totally a five-star book and a milestone for Isabel Allende.

2/2020 Paul Lane

A LONG PETAL OF THE SEA by Isabel Allende. Ballantine Books (January 21, 2020). ISBN 978-1984820150. 336p.

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