A Long Petal of the Sea is a book of historical fiction set in Spain, France and Chile from 1938 onwards. It is a story of exile, hope, love and a need to belong and is very relevant in today’s world.
The author, Isabel Allende, was born in Peru and raised in Chile. She is a brilliant storyteller and has authored twenty-six bestselling books and sold more than seventy-four million copies. I have read some of her previous books and always enjoyed her style. This book was no exception and I would put it as one of my favourites.
The story centres around Victor Dalmau, 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, he is forced out of his beloved Barcelona and into exile in Chile. 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.
I was captivated from the first page. As with any story about the war there are no winners and there is so much sorrow and violence. Half a million refugees escaped Franco by walking from Spain to France where they were held in concentration camps by French authorities. Chilen poet, Pablo Neruda commissioned an old cargo ship – the Winnipeg – and transported two thousand people to Chile where it docked on the day war broke out in Europe.
However, as with all wars, this is a story of hope as friends and families manage to find each other. They were resilient in spirit and strong in body as they overcame their past and only looked forward.
Isabel Allende’s grandfather was one of those that welcomed the immigrants to Chile so she heard the story as she grew up. However, she then met one of the passengers in Venezuela, called Victor, who lived in Chile for thirty-four years until he became a political refugee as did Isabel Allende, after Chile’s military coup in 1973.
It was this Victor that helped Isabel with the novel by telling her his story and so she combines these historical facts within her own novel. Sadly Victor died aged 103, 6 days before she sent him the finished manuscript.
The title of the book, , A Long Petal of the Sea, is a line from one of Neruda’s poems.
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