A long petal of the sea by Isobel Allende
Bloomsbury, 2020. ISBN: 9781526615909.
(Age: Senior secondary/adult) Highly recommended. In the late 1930's, Civil War rages in Spain, Franco's forces push the remnants of the opposition back to Catalonia, and Victor Dalmau, a Republican army doctor marries his brother's lover, Roser, so that they can both leave Spain for Chile. A ship, SS Winnipeg has been organised by Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, for 2200 refugees to leave the detention camps hastily assembled by the French to accommodate the Spanish refugees, and Victor, knowing his brother is dead and wanting to save the life of his almost sister in law and her unborn child, marries her to board the ship. War is about to be declared as Franco and Hitler work together in defeating the spent Republican army.
Against the background of war, of stinking hospitals and dead and dying young men, Allende builds her story of a family surviving through the carnage, detention camps, life on board the Winnipeg then settling in Chile with its own problems, leading to the overthrow of President Allende in 1974. Victor has links to the poet, who organised the Winnipeg and these links continue after arriving in Chile, and through his life we see the problems of the country laid before us. He is friendly with a large group of people, some supporting Allende, a popularly elected president, with whom Victor plays chess, as well as businessmen and financiers supporting the wealthy who do not want a socialist government. The political intriguing behind the scenes is explained through the family, making it so much more accessible without the formality of a textbook.
Allende's introduction shows why she wrote the story, meeting Victor as an older man in Venezuela, the place he goes to after getting out of a concentration camp in Chile, sent there after the military coup because of his links to Allende.
Isobel Allende's father was a cousin to President Allende, killed after a right wing coup in 1973, officially by his own hand, and so she and her family had to flee Chile, relocating to Venezuela. Her story of Victor is a heady mixture of fact and fiction, resulting in an entertaining, informative and highly readable historical novel, one which will have readers heading to the internet to satisfy their curiosities.
Despite the pragmatic beginning to their marriage, love between Victor and Roser develops, and their relationship gathers strength after the coup placing Pinochet as president. A family saga covering three generations and set against the Spanish Civil War, World War Two, the flight to Chile by Spanish refugees, then the eight wing coup, the story leads us to the present day as the pair grapples with old age as their country starts anew.
Theme: Civil war, Spain, Chile, Franco, Allende, Pinochet, Detention camps, Concentration camps, Refugees, SS Winnipeg.