Ad Spot

May 8, 2021

Allende tells stories of conflict with fascinating characters

“A Long Petal of the Sea,” by Isabel Allende, translated by Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson. Ballentine Books. 2020. 336 pp.

By Deirdre Parker Smith

deirdre.smith@salisburypost.com

Isabel Allende’s historical fiction, “A Long Petal of the Sea” is the kind of novel that makes historical fiction successful and respectable. It’s fascinating, heartwarming and direct.

She writes from her own history and extensive research, telling the story of the divisive Spanish Civil War and the later junta in Chile.

And she makes you understand just what a junta is — a group of people acting as a government after a revolutionary seizure of power.

Her characters must endure this in their homeland of Spain and then in their new home of Chile. That they do survive and find not just rescue but meaningful lives is the crux of the book. Not all victims of political upheaval die or fail, though many do. Some people keep fighting, keep believing in truth and justice and each other and make a new life.

The author is the goddaughter of Salvador Allende, who was the first democratically elected socialist president in 1973 Chile.

So this book includes Augusto Pinochet’s junta — a violent time of repression of rights, kidnappings, torture of political prisoners and disappearances. The reader will come to understand more about those disappearances, which have prompted lifelong searches for some.

The Spanish Civil War will become something more than a memorized line from a textbook.

Allende creates a small family, not the poorest of the poor, but continually struggling, and a young woman with a great talent who is saved from a life as an uneducated shepherd.

Guillem, Victor and Carmé Dalmau are the small, struggling family. Guillem must fight in the war. Victor has medical talents and becomes, through harrowing experience, a skillful medic who dreams of becoming a doctor.

Roser Bruguera falls in love with Guillem and becomes pregnant.

So begins the harrowing tale of their escape across the Pyrenees Rose is heavily pregnant. Victor is nearly starved from his service as a medic. He’s reluctant to tell her what has happened to Guillem. Carmé is old — at least by her standards — and wanders off in the snow to spare the rest of the group taking care of her. Victor enlists help from his friend, a brave, somewhat reckless ambulance driver Aitor ??? who knows how to survive.

France doesn’t want the refugees at all, so when Victor learns that poet Pablo Neruda is organizing a ship to take refugees to Chile, he decides to apply, but the rules say he must be married, so he marries Roser to protect his brother’s child and they are chosen to sail aboard the S.S. Winnipeg to Chile.

The poet’s efforts are fact; he is credited with saving thousands, and in this book, he and Victor become friends. Life starts again in Chile, as they work themselves up from the life of refugees. Roser is an extraordinary pianist, and has connections around the world because of her music. Victor completes the training he so wanted in Spain to become a cardiologist. Rose has a son, and Chile becomes their home.

Their marriage starts as a platonic one that benefits the child and Roser, but Allende develops it beautifully over years of successes, hardships, political trauma and regular upheaval.

Politics goes on in the background, until, again, a civil war seems certain. Victor’s friendship with Salvadore Allende — they play chess — endangers him to the point of a terrifying consequence.

But author Allende will not give up on these people. Vitor realizes, as the reader will, that Roser is not afraid of anything. Whatever the crises, she sets her mind and works her way through. Victor, who has already survived one death camp, is not one to let go of any bit of life.

Along with Neruda and Salvadore Allende, the author writes about Francisco Franco, bringing the Spanish crisis to life in a way that makes the timing of the book remarkable.

As America continues to suffer painful divisions, the lessons offered in “A Long Petal of the Sea” will strike close to home.

Isabel Allende is a fabulous storyteller who loads this novel full of facts. The characters she creates breathe life into history, and following them over the years is less a saga and more a family story about people who, above all, have a joy in life, have love and purpose and investment in the future.

Comments

Business

Weak jobs report spurs questions about big fed spending

News

Judge limits footage that family can see of deputy shooting in Elizabeth City

Sports

Woodland, two others share lead; Mickelson plays much worse but will still be around for weekend at Quail Hollow

Business

Former NHL player to open mobster themed bar in Raleigh

Nation/World

California population declines for first time

News

GOP leaders differ on bottom line for state spending

News

Police: Man killed in shootout with officers in Winston-Salem

Crime

Man charged after thieves rob would-be gun buyers of wallets, shoes

Crime

Blotter: Four added to sheriff’s most wanted list

High School

High school football: Some anxious moments, but Hornets win state title

Local

Photos: Salisbury High Hornets win big in 2AA championship game

Local

County manager outlines projections for the upcoming fiscal year budget, suggests uses for stimulus money

Business

Miami-based Browns Athletic Apparel opens second screen printing location in Salisbury

News

At funeral, fallen Watauga deputies remembered as ‘heroes’

Coronavirus

COVID-19 cluster identified at Granite Quarry Elementary

Coronavirus

More than half of North Carolinians have now taken at least one vaccine shot

Local

City hopes to cover expenses in 2021-22 budget with surplus revenue generated this year

Local

Fallen tree proves to be a blessing for local nonprofit Happy Roots

Local

Quotes of the week

Coronavirus

Health department drops quarantine time from 14 to 10 days

Crime

Blotter: More than $100,000 in property reported stolen from Old Beatty Ford Road site

Local

City fights invasive beetles by injecting trees with insecticide

Local

City names downtown recipients for federal Parks Service grant

China Grove

China Grove Town Council weighs 2021-22 budget priorities, supports buying body cameras