Member Review

A Long Petal of the Sea

Pub Date:

Review by

Jemima P, Reviewer

Last updated on 17 Jan 2020

My Recommendation

We start by being thrown into the Spanish Civil War, which worries me.  First because I have had trouble in the past with Spanish Civil War books, and have not finished either of the ones I started in the last five years. Second, because it was really horrendous. Barbaric.  Horrific.

By concentrating on a few people, in fact, really, two people and their families, Isabel Allende manages to steer me through. Yes, the horror of brother against brother is there. Yes, the atrocities committed by either side are there. But at last I began to understand what it was all about. Really, both the English Civil War (1640 or so, where we killed Charles 1 and installed Cromwell for a while) and the American Civil War were squabbles over the garden fence in comparison. A snippet Allende throws in, or alleges, is that Hitler supported the Fascist (winners) of Spain's fight, using the opportunity to try out some of his new mass killing weaponry which he was preparing for World War 2.  It makes sense.

It all makes sense. Allende takes us along with the horror of fleeing one's beloved war-ravaged country, only to be thrown into abominable pens described as refugee camps on the beaches in France.

Pause for a while, western world, and think of what we are still doing to refugees from war-torn countries.

And then, an angel from the Red Cross saves our heroine, and the doctor manages to find her as a result, and they squeeze themselves onto the almost slavetrade conditions aboard the Winnipeg, which will sail them to Chile. They think these conditions are paradise compared with the refugee camps.

It's no picnic once they get to Chile, but the reader has already been introduced to Chile's exquisitely decadent and introvert high-society, it's a little more predictable. It's a timely tale, reminding us that society never changes.

In fact, having reached this point, about two-thirds through the book, the author sweeps us through the Chilean revolution and the Pinochet dictatorship with very much more telling than showing.  The difficulties lose their edge.  It was interesting, but lacked the urgency of what went before.

This book is still brilliant, though. It brings these issues squarely into the home of those lucky enough to sit and read in a warm dry house, with food in the fridge, and cooking facilities ready to turn on at a moment's notice. The trouble is, it also reminds me that these basics can be gone in an instant if the politicians fall out with each other.

It's my first read of the year, and it could be one of the best.  It's compelling. Add it to your list!

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