A Long Petal of the Sea
Anyone remember The House of the Spirits? That was my first Isabel Allende book, and I became an instant fan. I can’t say I’ve read everything she’s written since, but I do remember adoring The Japanese Lover as well.
A Long Petal of the Sea is Ms. Allende’s latest book, and it’s different. To say that it’s a novel is only part right. To say that it is historical fiction, with the emphasis on the history part, is more accurate. Indeed, Ms. Allende’s knowledge of history, from that of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) in the early pages of this book to that of Chile through the ensuing decades, is remarkable. But then, as the second cousin to Salvador Allende, who was the president of Chile from 1970-1973, she had a front-row view of Chilean events.
The story centers around two young people, Roser and Victor, who, after being forced to flee Spain, find themselves on a boat bound for Chile. Roser is pregnant with the child of Victor’s brother, who has died in the war. To protect the baby and each other, the two marry. The author’s story of this marriage of convenience, as it grows and morphs and deepens, is interwoven with historical events through which the two live.
Content-wise, Ms. Allende is brilliant in her description of war, of locations, of political figures and the trying years of Chile’s evolution from dictatorship to democracy. That said, there were many times when I felt the prose was stilted and wondered if something had been lost in translation. I missed the magical realism that is in her earlier books. I also missed the musicality of her prose. Was this too a problem in translation? Perhaps.
Whatever, if you love history and love reading about people mired in it, this is a good book to buy.