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A Long Petal of the Sea    by Isabel Allende order for
Long Petal of the Sea
by Isabel Allende
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2019 (2019)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Isabel Allende's historical novel, A Long Petal of the Sea (translated from the Spanish by Nick Caister and Amanda Hopkinson), takes readers from events of the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s to Chile from 1939 to 1994. Two young people in Spain are thrown together by circumstance, and weather trials down the years together. I enjoyed the novel's historical focus, as I knew little of the Spanish Civil War or of Chilean history (though I visited that lovely country, 'the long petal of sea and wine and snow' a few years ago).

We meet young Victor Dalmau in 1938. Having completed three years of medical studies in Barcelona, he's been working as an auxiliary on the side of the Republicans, assisting army doctors. One day, he brings a dead soldier back to life by massaging his open heart, something he never forgets. Victor falls hard for Elisabeth Eidenbenz, a 'Swiss nurse with the face of a Renaissance virgin and the courage of a battle-hardened veteran.' They meet again over the years.

Victor's family takes in talented music student Roser Bruguera. She loves his younger brother Guillem, and becomes pregnant. On his deathbed, Victor's father tells him that he will be responsible for his mother Carme and for Roser and the child, as Guillem will die fighting. When that happens, they flee to refugee camps in France, but are separated. In 1939, after many hardships, Victor gets himself, Roser, and small Marcel on the SS Winnipeg. The ship was chartered by famed poet Pablo Neruda (whose verses are quoted throughout), to transport refugees to Chile. Victor has to marry Roser in order to get her on the ship.

In Chile, the wealthy, aristocratic del Solars join the story, in particular lovely young Ofelia and her brother Felipe. The latter helps Neruda raise funds to assist the Spanish immigrants, and takes Victor and Roser into his own home on their arrival. Victor completes his medical studies and becomes a cardiologist, while Roser teaches and performs music. Their life gets complicated when Ofelia and Victor fall in love, and questions about what follows pull readers' interest through the story.

Life goes on, but then a whirlwind of change hits Chile. Pinochet takes over in a military coup and Victor is denounced by a neighbor. He and Roser once again become refugees - in Venezuela - and also revisit Spain after Franco's death. This is a remarkable story, one that only Allende could write - highly recommended!

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