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Book Review: A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende’s A Long Petal of the Sea is about people, exiled not once but twice, who are determined to survive and even thrive in their adopted countries, and what home signifies.

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.

Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, commissioned the SS Winnipeg to bring 2,000 exiles from the Spanish Civil War to new lives in South America shortly before the Second World War.

Allende remembers hearing the story as a child but it was only years later, when she met one of its passengers, Victor, that she felt compelled to tell their story. Both he and Allende were political refugees and it’s perhaps this, the fact that she’s no stranger to exile and displacement herself, which makes the resulting novel a far more intimate and compassionate story than its sweeping scope suggests.

Victor Dalmau’s namesake provided the inspiration and background but these characters are very much Allende’s own creation; complex creatures who come alive on the page with all their resilience, flaws and redeeming qualities.

Their journeys show what a wrench it is to leave everything behind, not knowing if they will ever see their homeland or friends and family again, the conditions they endure along the way and how little they have to establish themselves with in their adopted countries, where their status will always be ‘other’.

It’s such an involving narrative, I felt as if Allende were confiding in me. She drew me into these people’s lives and relationships; I watched, even championed them on each time they rebuilt and redefined home.

A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende is published by Bloomsbury and is available now as an audiobook, ebook and in hardback. You can find it at Amazon UK or buy it instead from Hive where each purchase you make helps to support your local independent bookshop. For more on Isabel Allende and her writing, check out her Author Website, find her Facebook Page or follow her on Twitter

My thanks to the publisher and LoveReading for providing me with a review copy. 

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