A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende

When I asked my followers on twitter to pick my next read, the praise for Allende was incredible. Her stories seem to have captured the minds and hearts of many, so it was time for her to cast her spell on me also.

A Long Petal of the Sea is a fascinating story weaved into historical events that I knew nothing about, so not only was I gripped by the sheer wonder of Allende’s writing style, I’ve expanded my knowledge on the Spanish Civil War, Chile’s part in the aftermath and the political turbulence within Chile in the 1970s to early 80s.

Victor’s father; on his deathbed, asked Victor to take their family to France. It was his only wish. As Victor is a doctor, it’s not easy to get away as more injured soldiers and pedestrians enter the hospital but as the violence continues and more of each city is commandeered, it’s time to get the women of his family out of Spain even if he can’t go yet.

Aitor; an acquaintance of Victor, is tasked with getting Victor’s mother and Roser into France, where Victor will meet them eventually. The journey is not easy and the sense of despair from all the Spaniards leaving their homes and country is devastatingly sad to read. Roser is pregnant with Guillem’s child and you would think the journey would be hardest for her but crikey this woman is strong. Little does she know that Guillem will not be meeting her in France, Victor had not had the courage to inform her of his brother’s fate. Again, my heart was crippled from the sadness surrounding not only this family but all the Spanish families who were heading to the unknown, to be refugees in France and with no news from their loved ones.

When they finally arrive in France, the Spanish are greeted coldly and thrown into hastily built camps in harsh environments by the sea. The lucky ones escape and begin to make a new life in France, others are not so lucky.

Meanwhile, in Chile, Pablo Neruda; a rather famous Chilean poet, has set in motion a rescue of some sorts. He plans to bring two thousand Spanish refugees to Chile to let them build a prosperous new life in his country. Having heard of the plans, Victor ensures both himself and Roser; who he has finally found, are among these lucky passengers.

And, this is only the first part of the book that I’ve summarised, I could write another thousand words and not cover all that Allende has packed into these pages. At only 314 pages, it is truly outstanding the depth of detail within this story, can you tell that even a few weeks later I’m still in shock?!

This is a story that is both immense and intense. Allende has given a voice to the many Spanish refugees that emigrated to Chile and brought warmth to her readers’ hearts by a love story that is beautiful and unexpected.

A Long Petal of the Sea is out now in hardback and eBook versions from Bloomsbury Publishing.

Until next time, stay safe, Chloé x

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