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. It numbs horrifying moments, such as the long march of refugees from Spain to France, or the atrocities of the concentration camps, and it deadens joyful moments, too. It also leads Allende into saccharine generalisations of a kind that would never have made it into a tighter story without irony. Starting over on a new continent, their trials are just beginning, and over the course of their lives, they will face trial after trial. I have been an admirer of this master storyteller from the time I took a chance on her debut novel, The House of the Spirits, yet didn't find some of the books that immediately followed quite as alluring. Starting over on a new continent, their trials are just beginning, and over the course of their lives, they will face trial after trial. Nor is any hint of narratorial judgment passed on the commander who oversees the concentration camp where Victor is incarcerated during the Pinochet years. 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. Isabel Allende’s 23rd book begins in the furnace of the Spanish civil war, where trainee doctor Victor Dalmau is holding a human heart between his hands, and ends more than 50 years later in …
A Long Petal of the Sea is the latest historical literary work from bestselling, critically-acclaimed author Isabel Allende. 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. Victor starts an affair with 21-year-old Ofelia and gets her pregnant, fully aware of her conservative family and the inevitable outburst of violence that will ensue from her father, but there’s no authorial comment in sight. Through it all, their hope of returning to Spain keeps them going. There’s a powerful sense that Allende considers bitterness and misery to be anathema, like the endlessly pragmatic Roser, who points out that “there will always be pain, but suffering is optional”.
But they will also find joy as they patiently await the day when they will be exiles no more. Characters are a lot like gym weights; it’s much easier to hug them close than it is to hold them further away. This kind of narration is extraordinarily difficult. The narratorial circumspection – the refusal to go fully into any character’s voice and give vent to raw feeling – sometimes flattens the story more than it enriches it. Allende’s style is impressively Olympian and the payoff is remarkable: a huge overview of generations, decades and countries.Even in the hands of a titan like Allende, this approach isn’t always successful. 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. 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.
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.
Given that Allende has set herself the task of covering half a century in a relatively short book, it isn’t surprising that dialogue is minimal. But they will also find joy … An omniscient narrator sees into the minds not only of Victor and Roser, but of many people who brush past along the way, sometimes revisiting them, sometimes leaving them behind in the political riptides. In the late 1930s, civil war grips Spain. “Isabel Allende’s A Long Petal of the Sea gets to the heart of immigrant struggle.... [It] begins, as it ends, with the heart.... Victor and Roser’s story is compelling.... Allende’s prose is … 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. This story takes place at a time of great conflict and anxiety across the … Most of the story is told in episodic narration, or even summary. In the last section, there is a concentration of lines such as: “It led to widespread indignation and strengthened the traditional respect for the laws that most Chileans had.”As we might expect of Allende, that omniscient voice is kind to all the characters, even when they do stupid or horrible things.