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A Long Petal of the Sea Reader Reviews

A Long Petal of the Sea

christine woolfenden

An intense read about an awful time in Europe's history, bringing to life the suffering of many people.

A sweeping saga that spans 7 decades beginning in 1936 in Spain during the Spanish Civil War, just as Franco was coming into power. The story centres around Victor Dalmau, a young man who, with his family, has to flee from Spain to France along with many thousands of others to escape the brutality of Franco's reign.

The conditions are horrific both on the road and in France and many die along the way. Eventually, Victor escapes to Chile on the Winnepeg, a ship sent out to rescue some of the refugees. The story then follows Victor as he makes a new life in Chile where he finds hardship and love.

This is a period of history that I knew virtually nothing about and found it thoroughly engrossing. It is well written with excellent characterisation. Allende brings to life the awfulness of the situation and it is quite shocking to read at times. The story flows along in a fairly simplified way, not too much unnecessary soul-searching and description which can often slow a story down. I did find that halfway through the book the pace flagged, but I thought the ending was quite poignant and didn't disappoint. A very enjoyable and informative read.

Alison Burns

A Long Petal of the Sea is part family saga, part history lesson. It adds a deep level of humanity to its representation of historical events.

I have read several of Isabelle Allende’s books and am always struck by her writing style. It is succinct, no flowery language, and it leaves you to use your own imagination.

A Long Petal of the Sea is part family saga, part history lesson. It ranges from the 1930s during the Spanish civil war, through to Chile in 1984, during Pinochet’s repressions and beyond. I had only basic knowledge of these periods of 20th-century history and it initially took a bit of time to understand the different sides and battles of the Spanish Civil War. Once I had grasped that, I became engrossed in the lives and challenges of Victor, Roser and the assorted characters whose paths they cross. I was particularly moved by the flight of the refugees over the border from Spain into France and the fate that awaited them there. Having visited Angeles-Sur-Mer and knowing it only as a lovely place to spend a holiday, my eyes were opened to its horrific place in the lives of the Spanish refugees.

Around 2000 Spanish refugees secured passage from France to Chile on a specially chartered ship. Their voyage was a leap of faith and hope for the future and Victor and Roser were amongst them. As refugees, they had a challenging start in their new country where not everyone welcomed them, and they had to strive to make a good life there. As their contribution to their adopted home peaks, they are devastated by the events of the military coup and Pinochet regime of the 1970s.

This is an engrossing story, it adds a deep level of humanity to its representation of historical events. It doesn’t shy away from the horrors experienced during these periods, and it leaves you with a deeper understanding of the power of individuals to rise above the worst things they are forced to endure. Ultimately an uplifting story, never maudlin, and never glossing over the imperfections of its characters.

Jo Corrado

Follow the fates of Roser and Victor as they flee the brutalities of the Spanish civil war to find a better life in Chile. This couple who are forced together out of necessity face adversity again and again.

A Long Petal of the Sea is an epic tale spanning the course of over 40 years as we follow a couple Roser and Victor as they experience the Spanish civil war and then their journey to Chile as refugees to start a new life. The couple is forced together by necessity and not love as Roser is pregnant by Victor's brother. But when the Spanish civil war takes casualties from each family including Roser's love, Victor takes her on as his wife in order to ensure safe passage to Chile.

The book then follows their life in South America as they come to realise that the political situation there is not as peaceful as they had always believed.

This is a fascinating book which is a brilliant character study. The reader becomes heavily invested in Roser and Victor as they find their way in new lands again and again in their relentless struggle against adversity. Both are fascinating characters who break the mould for what is expected of them at that time. Allende is as ever very skilled in giving light to historical events which are often not well publicised such as the Chilean coup.

I came to love this couple and also felt better educated on Spanish and South American history as a result


Epic story of the less familiar (to me at least) Spanish immigrant experience in Chile.

An epic saga spanning several decades, I was drawn to the book by its themes of exile and return. Set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War and the rise and fall of Pinochet, the story traces the life of Victor Dalmau.

The story provides an insight into how Spanish immigrants were treated in Chile. I particularly enjoyed the interweaving of excerpts of Neruda’s poetry at the beginning of each chapter.

The book was perhaps lengthier than necessary and there were certain sections that were predictable and so I did lose interest. However, it did redeem itself so I was glad I persevered to the end.

Heather Byrne

An engaging novel. A family saga and history lesson, based around A Long Petal Of The Sea.

A Long Petal Of The Sea follows the twists and turns of the lives of Victor Dalmau and his forever love Roser. Fleeing from the Spanish Civil War, Victor and Roser are lucky enough to gain passage on the Winnipeg, a cargo ship commissioned by the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda to take Spanish civilians to Chile. Whilst based on the real events (the novel spans from 1938 – 1994) the characters are fictional although based on friends and acquaintances of the author, and so we learn of the uprisings in both countries and the effects that had on the natives and exiles through the eyes of Allende.

Lengthy in some parts, Allende’s writing comes alive through Victor and Roser. It is well-written, informative and intricately researched and details a part of history I knew little about.

Kathryn Eastman

Isabel Allende’s A Long Petal of the Sea is about people, exiled not once but twice, who are determined to survive and even thrive in their adopted countries, and what home signifies.

Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, commissioned the SS Winnipeg to bring 2,000 exiles from the Spanish Civil War to new lives in South America shortly before the Second World War.

Allende remembers hearing the story as a child but it was only years later when she met one of its passengers, Victor, that she felt compelled to tell their story. Both he and Allende were political refugees and it’s perhaps this, the fact that she’s no stranger to exile and displacement herself, which makes the resulting novel a far more intimate and compassionate story than its sweeping scope suggests.

Victor Dalmau’s namesake provided the inspiration and background but these characters are very much Allende’s own creation; complex creatures who come alive on the page with all their resilience, flaws and redeeming qualities.

Their journeys show what a wrench it is to leave everything behind, not knowing if they will ever see their homeland or friends and family again, the conditions they endure along the way and how little they have to establish themselves within their adopted countries, where their status will always be ‘other’.

It’s such an involving narrative, I felt as if Allende were confiding in me. She drew me into these people’s lives and relationships; I watched, even championed them on each time they rebuilt and redefined home.

Barbara Gaskell

History and human resilience combined. An epic journey of exile, adversity, bravery, hope and a search for home.

My journey with Isabel Allende started when I fell in love with the House of Spirits covering four generations of women within the evocative flavour of Latin America. I have always liked the fact her books reflect her personal experience and focus on women. Within a context of excitement and expectation, I started to read her new book A Long Petal of the Sea.

This is an epic novel that starts with the 1930s Spanish Civil War as its historic backdrop and takes two unlikely partners on a journey of exile, adversity, bravery, hope and a search for a home. Allende’s writing has the art of transporting you to another time and place. While I enjoyed the historical prose, the book was at its best when Roser, the young widow and Victor, an army doctor were relating and I could immerse myself in their experiences and feelings.

While not my favourite book from Allende I would still recommend it to fans of hers and to those who are first-time readers of Allende. Rated 4/5.