A Long Petal of the Sea: A Novel by Isabel Allende. Random House Publishing Group. January 2020. pb, 336 pp.; ISBN #: 9781984820150.
Roser and Victor Dalmau agree to marry in Spain after General Franco wins control of the government over the Republicans in the late 1930’s. Roser’s husband died during that conflict and his brother Victor, who learned to be a doctor during the Civil War, is determined to get them out of Spain as Franco’s government is tyrannical and devastating to millions. This novel is their story. What starts as a brother-sister relationship will develop into a phenomenal, glorious love.
Their journey will take them to France, Chile and Venezuela. Governments in those countries were also in flux. Before they get there, Victor has a brief fling with a spoiled, aristocratic Spanish woman. She has a child who is given up for adoption, a fact Victor never learns until he is much older. Victor becomes a good friend of Pablo Neruda the poet, who writes a poem about Chile, written on the ship called “Winnipeg” that gives this novel its title. Pablo is a Socialist and becomes persecuted and hunted because of his political beliefs; but it turns out he is mainly concerned with the love of people and freedom. He is responsible for two thousand refuges being allowed to emigrate from Spain to Chile. These refugees soon develop a fine reputation for being responsible families who improve conditions in Chile.
This is a family saga about those who face constant trials but do their best to work hard and avoid controversy. Their debacle in each of these countries is heartbreaking. Victor becomes a tough man as he experiences the horrors of war which he experienced as a medic and later as a doctor in Chile. Allende’s earlier novels are more about the Pinochet government in Chile but here we also get a glimmer of the military horrors creating suffering and death for far too many.
Victor earns a reputation as an intelligent, capable and kind cardiologist. Rosa is pragmatic, hard-working and loyally protective of Victor. His vanity is shattered when his love Rosa becomes terminally ill.
What is unique about this family saga is how positive these characters are even in the face of the most daunting challenges. It’s a beautiful tribute to the power of love and loyalty, faith and hope in mankind no matter what the prevailing political challenges and, like the title poem, a tribute to beautiful people and lands prevailing in victory even when caught in the prevailing tides and currents testing the mettle of those riding the formidable journey into a more hopeful existence.