"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"--
Pablo Neruda also plays a key role in the narrative. The title of the book is his descriptor for Chile.
Victor and Roser enter into a marriage of necessity as they flee retribution at the end of the Spanish Civil War. Roser is pregnant to Victor's brother who was killed in the war and the only way they can gain passage on the refugee ship to Chile is for them to be married. Victor vows to raise his brother's son as his own and he and Roser begin their marriage living as brother and sister.
One of the most gratifying parts of reading this book is seeing how the relationship between them deepens and grows.
I found the story to be fascinating and at times heart breaking. I listened to this as an audiobook narrated by Edoardo Ballerini
This is the story of Victor and Roser who get together under tragic circumstances. It is also a story of war, refugees, displacement and making a new country one's home. The Spanish Civil War, Franco and his terror, which sends many fleeing to France where they are not welcomed. Pablo Neruda, and his ship the Winnipeg. Neruda sponsored and chose a group of refugees that would settle in Chile. Roser and Victor are among this group and will result in a lifelong friendship.
In Chile Victor plays chess with Allende, a duly elected President, though not for long. Replaced by the Generals in a coup that will result in Pinchocets dictatorship. The historical facts are true, as are the people. A book that shows love can grow, even under the worst possible circumstances.
Victor and Roser are wonderful, fully realized characters. The prose is terrific, and resulted in a very readable, well flowing story. The status and non welcoming of refugees is current today, where many are fleeing danger in their own countries, trying to find safety, a new life. The refugee camps, also still present today, are found I many countries , detention centers in my own. As always when reading historicals I am disturbed to find how much my own country is involved in the fate of others. Wish it wasn't so, but it is what it is. We can't change history but one would think we could learn from it and do better. Wishful thinking.
I must admit, I know very little about Spanish history, especially the Spanish Civil War that occurred during the late 1930’s. I was surprised to read that Spanish citizens had to flee the country for safety.
Two of these citizens who fled were Roser and Victor. Roser, who was pregnant with Victor’s brother’s child, fled with help from Victor and one of his friends. She stays for a time in France and soon she and Victor are re-united. After learning that Victor’s brother has died, the two make a decision to marry in order for them to be able to emigrate to Chile.
Unfortunately for the couple, in later years they will face more strife in Chile due to political upheaval. On a more positive note, what began as a marriage of convenience, ends up being the love of a lifetime for Victor and Roser. I found this to be a very engrossing story, although there was a bit more politics than I was expecting.
Many thanks to NetGalley and Ballantine Books for allowing to read an advance copy and give an honest review
This is a well researched, beautifully written novel which begins in the 1930’s and takes us forward for six plus decades of turmoil in the lives of Victor and Roser Dalmau as they seek a homeland. It is sometimes about history and sometimes it is about romance. It is about migrants, exiles, asylum seekers, secrets, idealism, loyalty, devotion, politics, war and corruption in the church, but always there is hope in the end. It begins with the story of those who fled Franco’s Spain when the Nationalists who were Fascists defeated the Republicans who were Marxists and Socialists. Franco’s government was a military dictatorship which was ruled with an iron fist.
The reader is taken through the Spanish Civil War as innocent and guilty alike are caught in the web of intrigue and terror. The Civil War tore the country apart. At the same time as the Spanish were struggling to survive the change in government and loyalties, World War II broke out. Those who hadn’t supported Franco were in mortal danger as they were captured, tortured and murdered. Those that could, eventually fled. Not all countries would accept refugees, but Chile welcomed them.
Victor Dalmau was from Barcelona, Spain. His mother had been preparing to become a nun when she met his father, a prominent music teacher, and fell in love. She left the convent and to avoid having their children labeled as bastards, the couple married. Children born out of wedlock becomes a recurrent theme in the novel.
Victor studied medicine in Spain. He was not a fan of Franco, and when the Civil War broke out, he worked in a hospital to treat those who were injured fighting against him. When Victor was injured, he returned home to Barcelona and his parents, until he recovered. In the house with them was Roser Bruguera, his father’s best, young music student. His parents had taken her into their home when her family fell onto hard times. She was like family to Victor. Victor’s brother, Guillem, however, had a romantic relationship with her that she took more seriously than he did.
After he got well, Victor returned to the hospital to help the injured. Then one day, he received a call from his mother. His father was ill and near death. He had to locate his brother, and both of them needed to return home if they hoped to see their father alive once again. Victor had difficulty locating his brother because Guillem, was on the front, fighting.
Time passed and the war raged on. The hygiene conditions were terrible and Guillem became gravely ill with Typhus. He was sent home to die or recover. With the care from Roser and his mother, he recovered and was able to return to the battlefield. However, during his recuperation, Roser was so devoted to him that he fell in love with her. They pledged to marry, but Guillem did not return home. He never knew that Roser was pregnant with his child.
In order to flee Spain, when Franco set up his regime,Victor and Roser pose as a married couple, and with his mother, they leave on the ship, the SS Winnipeg, that Pablo Neruda had chartered. They went to the long petal of the sea which is how the poet, Neruda, refers to Chile. He calls it “the long petal of sea and wine and snow”. When Roser learns of Guillem’s death, Victor swears to raise their child as his own, and he and Roser marry for appearance’s sake, although they live like brother and sister.
In Chile, Victor has his own affair with a young girl, Ofelia, who was already promised to someone else. So, although Victor and Ofelia had no future, once again, there is an unexpected pregnancy. To avoid shame, Ofelia goes to a church that cares for unwed mothers. After she delivers, she is told her son was born dead. Ofelia never told Victor that she was pregnant, so like his brother, he was unaware that he was to be a father.
After time passes, Roser and Victor realize that they have grown deeply in love. The child, Marcel, was born in Chile. They feel like Chile is their home. Revolution soon followed them there, too, and they were forced to flee once again. This time they went to Venezuela. History repeated and they had to leave there, as well, but by then they were able to return to Chile. Like a revolving door, chaos followed them. When Spain opened its arms to them, they wondered if they should pick up and move again. Should they return to Spain? Where was home?
The story is complicated. There are many characters and experiences that have to be knitted together. There are many repetitive themes, war, greed, pregnancy, religious corruption, innocence, guilt, loss and shame. The novel contains many elements of history and bits and pieces of fiction and non-fiction that are woven together skillfully to make it an interesting read. Although there is sex, it is not gratuitous.
The audio narrator is very good, keeping a safe personal distance from the story, but portraying the story well.
To sum it up, revolution follows revolution which is followed by torture and arrest, exile follows exile, from one country to the next, love affair follows love affair, illegitimate children multiply until the story goes full circle, and there is the right of return to a homeland.
The story feels more authentic because, coincidentally, the author’s life parallel’s several moments in the book.
That summary provides a useful context because the novel divides fairly evenly between its historical and imagined elements. Of the two, I found the former to be more engaging than the latter. Roughly the first third of the story is set in and around Barcelona at the time of the Spanish Civil War, where Victor and his brother Guillem serve the increasingly doomed Republican cause. The author’s depictions of the war and its aftermath are stark and gripping; it is perhaps the best fictional account of this subject since Ernest Hemingway’s legendary For Whom the Bell Tolls. The remainder of the novel then moves to South America, beginning with Victor and Roser’s emigration to Chile on a cargo ship arranged by the poet Neruda and culminating with the action leading up to and following the brutal coup d’etat that overthrew the Marxist president Salvador Allende in the mid-1970s. For me, this was the most interesting and revealing part of the book. (It is well established, of course, that the deposed president was the author’s uncle, making this a very personal account.)
On the other hand, I thought that the purely fictional tale of Victor and Roser’s lengthy relationship was somewhat less successful. There was really nothing wrong with the story itself—it was well-plotted and contained multiple twists and turns—but it did not sustain my interest until the end. Part of the problem might have been the matter-of-fact, third-person style the author adopted throughout the book, which made it difficult at times to generate a lot of empathy for the protagonists. In fact, the entire story really peaked following the Chilean coup, with much of the remaining narrative feeling like an obligatory wrap-up to the storylines of the myriad characters the author introduced earlier. In that regard, the novel suffers by comparison to the author’s own brilliant The House of the Spirits that covers some of this same ground in a more convincing way. Still, A Long Petal of the Sea is an excellent book that will satisfy Allende’s legion of fans as well as those who may be new to her work.
Will I read another Allende novel -- absolutely, but this one won't be one of my favorites.
The single best thing about this book is Allende's prose. Quickening, slowing, and stopping altogether the pace of time almost seamlessly, she constructs simple yet powerful prose. The inter-generational progression of character lines combined with constant change in setting, their sufferings and hopes - it is a simple tale about simple people. People separating and people reuniting. Distinct people with different desires and approaches to life. High emotional investment in characters was almost a given - reading the book was like growing up with the characters.
Allende also skillfuly ground her fiction in historical fact: from the Spanish Civil War, the exodus to France, the Winnipeg and Pablo Neruda, to the coup in Chile and the death of Franco - just reading the book acquaints one with political history. She manages also to get the little details right - how three volumes of philospohy books could stop a bullet, the numerous real-life historical figures, and the newspaper rhetoric against refugees (which is alarmingly similar to what we hear today). Finally, the uneasy negotiated tension between the right and the left, the depths of hatred and love between strangers and family members is relentlessly true-to-life.
inter-generational and set across multiple countries - Chile, Spain, Venezuela, Argentia, America, France, the book deftly and gently telescopes and microscopes into the hearts of people and nations.
Great narrator who distinguished the voices. A good book to listen to. From war, to love, to loss, if you're a historical fiction fan you'll enjoy this.
This book was an odd one. It covers the span of Victor and Roser's adult life with some time periods well covered and others glossed over. The time transitions were jerky and off putting. The details about their day-to-day life was just missing, which made me feel like I didn't know any of the characters. Along with this, the book had a very nostalgic feel to it. I'm not really sure how to rate this one, so I'll give it 3 out of 5 stars.
I loved this book. Allende is a brilliant storyteller. The family goes through many trials and some jubilation that in some ways mirror the history of Chile and Spain. I learned a lot about this period of history, but unlike some others who have reviewed here, I found that it was woven into the story and added dimension and depth. The title of the book comes from Neruda who called Chile "a long petal of the sea". I gave this book 5 stars. This is one of my favorite books this year.
(Review based on complimentary Advance Reader copy received as a giveaway through Goodreads.)
Life in Chile brings a total different life style and involves the de Solar family, a wealthy family with conservative values who are against the immigrants. Ofelia de Solar and Victor soon have an affair leading to many more complications.
This is a story of war both in Italy and then later in Chile as the socialists take over the country and families like the de Solars flee. This is also a love story between Victor and Ofelia and Victor and Roser who remain married for the rest of their lives.
The characters are all very well drawn and believable. The choices these people have to make are hard and reflect the history of the time.Good read.
Or at least that's what I think she meant to do. Unfortunately, the book often reads like a Wikipedia entry on Chilean history, with the characters as convenient pawns in that narrative. There's a lot of good stuff for a novel here: a multigenerational story arc involving war, romance, illegitimate children, lost loves, and lives well lived despite adversity. But the long explanations of history and the political climate snuff out any possibility of the reader’s emotional engagement.