TITLE: A LONG PETAL OF THE SEA
AUTHOR: ISABEL ALLENDE
TRANSLATORS: NICK CAISTER & AMANDA HOPKINSON
PUBLICATION DATE: 21.1.20
“That September 2, 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 Bruguera, he is forced out of his beloved Barcelona and into exile.
When opportunity to seek refuge in Chile arises, they take it, boarding a ship chartered by the poet Pablo Neruda to the promised ‘long petal of sea and wine and snow’ over the seas. 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 about hope, exile and belonging, A Long Petal of the Sea is Isabel Allende at the height of her powers.”
I am aware of Isabel Allende’s success and popularity but this is the first of her books which I have read. The publisher’s blurb appealed to me as I do enjoy reading about real events from the perspective of those who are not the instigators. The story told here is a formidable tale but for me the telling was dull.
As I read A Long Petal of the Sea, I remarked to my husband that it felt like a text book or a newspaper feature. I half seriously suggested Allende must have been a journalist…Google confirmed this.
The book is full of facts, crammed with facts, overflowing with facts about the Spanish Civil war, the turmoil in Chile and the second world war. Allende’s research is vast and thorough and to me, it seemed this took precedence over the human story. It is written clearly, easy to understand but in my opinion, lacks warmth and involvement. One thing, though, it reinforces how lucky I am to live in a time and place where I have never had to suffer as the exiles and refugees did, even though “otherism” is as rife now as it ever was.
In the acknowledgements, Allende writes: “This book wrote itself, as if it has been dictated to me.” Yes, it reads as if it has been dictated! Whilst I did not enjoy the style, nor really the story, I know there are readers who will love this.
Thank you to NetGalley and Bloomsbury for the Advanced Reader Copy of the book, which I have voluntarily reviewed.