Monday, March 2, 2020

A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende

As always I was captivated by Isabel Allende's writing - her style really appeals to me.  And while it took a couple of chapters to get into this book, once I did it was hard to put down.

This book covers the lives of a family from the time of the Spanish Civil War to the end of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile.  The narrative begins with Victor Dalmau, a medical student in Barcelona whose studies are interrupted by the Civil War.  He takes a position as a medic for the Republicans and is best known for massaging a young soldier's heart on the battlefield and bringing him back to life.

Victor's musician father and activist mother have taken in a young musical protege, Roser, who falls in love with Victor's soldier brother.  Roser is pregnant with his child when he is killed in the war.  As Franco's forces advance on Barcelona, Victor, Roser and Victor's mother are forced to flee to France with the assistance of an upbeat but rather corrupt ambulance driver that Victor had befriended on the front.

Along the way and upon arrival in France the four are separated and Victor and Roser find themselves in separate concentration camps.  But when reunited (and I'm not giving this away, it is on the book jacket), they are given the opportunity to leave France on the SS Winnipeg - a rescue ship organized by the poet Pablo Neruda and destined for Chile.  In order to ensure their passage, Victor and Roser marry and Victor agrees to look after Roser's son as if he were his own, at least until the boy is an adult.

Ensuing chapters deal with the life Victor, Roser and their son make for themselves in Chile.  They develop successful careers and make powerful friends, including Salvador Allende (who is the author's cousin).  However, when Allende is assassinated and Pinochet takes over Victor and Roser find themselves fleeing a fascist dictatorship yet again.

As the years progress, Victor and Roser come to realize theirs is more than a marriage of convenience and they end up together into old age.

I don't want to give too much more away, but there are a lot of interesting twists as Victor and Roser lose and then rediscover people along the way.  I highly recommend this book, particularly to fans of Allende's other works.

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