You know those authors you hear so much about but haven’t read before? That was me and Isabel Allende. So when my book club wanted to read a Latinx book for January, I suggested Allende’s most recent release. A Long Petal of the Sea was not what I was expecting at all. And my feelings for it were a roller coaster throughout the book. Keep reading this book review to find out what I thought.
In the late 1930s, civil war gripped Spain. 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. Among them is Roser, a pregnant young widow, who finds her life irreversibly intertwined with that of Victor Dalmau, an army doctor and the brother of her deceased love. In order to survive, the two must unite in a marriage neither of them wants, and together are sponsored by poet Pablo Neruda to embark on the SS Winnipeg along with 2,200 other refugees in search of a new life. As unlikely partners, they embrace exile and emigrate to Chile as the rest of Europe erupts in World War.
Starting over on a new continent, their trials are just beginning. Over the course of their lives, they will face test after test. But they will also find joy as they wait patiently for a day when they are exiles no more, and will find friends in the most unlikely of places. Through it all, it is that hope of being reunited with their home that keeps them going. And in the end, they will find that home might have been closer than they thought all along.
At the beginning I was not a fan of A Long Petal of the Sea. I wasn’t sure how the characters intersected and the action felt very much like, “this happens” and then “this happens” without space in between. But as I began to sink into A Long Petal of the Sea, I began to appreciate Allende’s story telling. What ended up striking me the most were the themes of home and identity that Allende explores. A Long Petal of the Sea is about the lives of Roser and Victor. The people they encounter, fragments of their stories, which combine to shift and impact our own.
A Long Petal of the Sea is a story full of political upheaval balanced with the struggles of our daily lives. It examines the ways in which the human spirits, our ideas of home, and family persevere. Unfolding the context and history Allende weaves a story of intersecting lives. Of the pressures of borders, political allegiances, and rebellion. How does our idea of home change as we become exiles? A Long Petal of the Sea sheds light on those who are punished in the precariousness of politics.
A Long Petal of the Sea showcases all the phases of turmoil and unrest in their lives. The amount of rebellions they have witnessed as countries are torn apart. The people in our lives who come back to us on the threads of fate. It’s about chronicling their lives, the ups and downs, and the in-betweens. About the things in life that are outside our control, that we do choose, and the ones we don’t.