My dear husband gave me books as presents for my birthday this spring. One was Isabel Allende’s Largo pétalo de mar (2019) Long Petal of the Sea. I enjoyed the story Allende weaves of a Catalan family from northern Spain who flee their country when Franco’s forces win the Spanish Civil War. They are stranded for a time in the concentration camps in France, but gain passage on a ship arranged by Pablo Neruda to immigrate to Chile.
The love story between the main character and his brother’s widow is an interesting one. They marry in order to escape France together with his brother’s infant son. I admire how the marriage is based on mutual respect and compassion. Their platonic love becomes the basis for a very close relationship.
One favorite section for me is when the family is on the Winnipeg, the ship of Spanish refugees to Chile. I liked how all the immigrants worked together to take care of the children, the boat and the meal production.
Long Petal of the Sea has ties to the first novel I read by Isabel Allende, The House of the Spirits. The main couple from her debut novel is mentioned as traveling on an upper class vacation ship midway through Long Petal of the Sea. The presidency of Salvador Allende and the subsequent coup by Pinochet also figures in both books. This recent story is a good way to learn the historic ties of Spain and Chile in the mid 1900s. Unfortunately, the main character ends up in a concentration camp in Chile, although he is freed after he helps the man in charge survive a heart attack.
Largo pétalo de mar is not my favorite book by Allende. In one section the story hurriedly passes through 10 years right before Salvador Allende was elected, leaving out important details about the family that were rushed through later. The third person point of view and limited emotional landscape of several characters keeps us at an arm’s length. I found it confusing that two characters had no long term romantic relationships and the underlying psychology for that was never brought to light. The best part about reading the book was I learned a lot about the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. Nearly half a million Spaniards fled across the border into France in 1939! I had no idea the number was so large, or that they were held in internment camps until they could get a sponsor.
The last chapter of the book is very well done as the protagonist thinks over his 90 years of life and begins new relationships that will support him into his future now that he is a widower. The wisdom of age from Isabel Allende’s own life reflects in the ending. She is 79 this year.
I appreciate that my husband bought me the book in Spanish, because I like to practice my reading skills whenever I can. I camped out with my María Moliner dictionary at hand for the words I didn’t know. I added several descriptive words to my vocabulary, which is fun.
I’d recommend the book to avid historians.
Gracias, amigos. ¡Olé! –Rebecca