Sunday, 19 January 2020

A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende

A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende
First published by Plaza And Janes in Spanish as Largo pétalo de mar in May 2019. English language translation by Isabel Allende to be published in America by Ballantine on the 21st January 2020.

A for my 2020 Alphabet Soup Challenge

How I got this book:
Received a copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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.

A Long Petal Of The Sea is the second of two pretty epic emigration novels I have read this month. Encompassing a greater scope in time and distance travelled, Allende's novel is certainly the more ambitious but I didn't find I connected as well with the main character as I did reading Farewell, Mama Odessa by Emil Draitser. That said, I was still fascinated by Victor and Roser's lives and I learned so much about the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. That war seems so often to be overlooked in favour of Second World War stories, but its complexities and human narratives are just as compelling. I've previously listened to Homage To Catalonia by George Orwell and felt that A Long Petal Of The Sea often shared the same feel of being a memoir rather than fiction. Allende has obviously researched her subject in great detail and the effort shows across the authenticity of her descriptions and her characters' actions.

Where I struggled somewhat with A Long Petal Of The Sea was with believing in the central relationship between Victor and Roser. I appreciate that theirs wasn't a romantic relationship in the conventional sense, but there was still meant to be a strong bond and I couldn't really feel that. Their other philanderings had sensuality and a sense of excitement, even while conducted away from the reader. Allende puts across a genuine sense of the restrictiveness of upper class Chilean society, especially in its contrast with the desperation of the Spanish exiles. Through the years of this novel we really do see all extremes of human existence as well as the lengths to which societies will go to protect their preferred ideologies. For Victor and Roser this means appearing to be on a wheel of recurring nightmare scenarios and I can't begin to imagine how devastating that must have been for the real people who inspired this story.

A Long Petal Of The Sea is only the third Isabel Allende book I have read, but after each of the previous two I promised myself to make a bigger effort to search out more of her work. I love her writing style and the way she convincingly portrays characters across a range of social classes and philosophical beliefs. It's difficult enough to get readers to understand sympathetic characters, let alone ones who who espouse opposing views. A Long Petal Of The Sea does just that whilst also depicting the changing Spanish and Chilean political landscapes over several decades. This isn't the easiest of reads, but I felt it was absolutely worth my time.

Etsy Find!
by Madalinartz in
Padua, Italy

Click pic to visit Etsy Shop

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Isabel Allende / Historical fiction / Books from Chile


  1. Not my kind of book but I'm glad you enjoyed it for the most part.

    1. It wasn't quite as amazing as I had hoped, but still a very enjoyable read and I learned a lot about Chile at that time

  2. It seems like the epic emigration stories are really working out for you lately. I do want to read through Allende's backlist at some point so I should come across this one. A shame about the relationship bond not being strong enough for you though, as it seems like the only thing that brought this down a bit.

    Olivia-S @ Olivia's Catastrophe

    1. It seems like the emigration genre is really strong at the moment which is great for me!

  3. Your Alphabet Soup seems to be going along nicely!

    1. It was! I've now run into a glut of Ns and Thes so slowing down already, grrrr!