Book Review: A LONG PETAL OF THE SEA by Isabel Allende

Title in orange on yellow and turquoise a
Genre: Historical
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 2 stars
Series: standalone

Synopsis:

Book cover for A LONG PETAL OF THE SEA: title in orange on blue, yellow and green waves above a boat

In the late 1930s, civil war grips Spain. When General Franco and his Fascists succeed in overthrowing the government, hundreds of thousands are forced to flee in a treacherous journey over the mountains to the French border. Among them is Roser, a pregnant young widow, who finds her life intertwined with that of Victor Dalmau, an army doctor and the brother of her deceased love. In order to survive, the two must unite in a marriage neither of them desires.

Together with two thousand other refugees, they embark on the SS Winnipeg, a ship chartered by the poet Pablo Neruda, to Chile: “the long petal of sea and wine and snow.” As unlikely partners, they embrace exile as the rest of Europe erupts in world war. Starting over on a new continent, their trials are just beginning, and over the course of their lives, they will face trial after trial. But they will also find joy as they patiently await the day when they will be exiles no more. Through it all, their hope of returning to Spain keeps them going. Destined to witness the battle between freedom and repression as it plays out across the world, Roser and Victor will find that home might have been closer than they thought all along.

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


Review:

This was my book club’s February pick, and another book I wouldn’t have read if it weren’t for that group. It’s absolutely not my thing, and that’s fine. I can see why others would like it, but the style is so different to the SFF I usually read and it didn’t have enough to interest me.

The main thing was I just couldn’t get past the lack of goals and thus the lack of forward momentum that created. There is nothing they are reaching for (beyond the vague concept of safety.) It’s a story about domesticity interrupted by various wars, meandering around the lives entwined with Victor’s.

It’s a book about love and survival and family amid the turmoil of Spain and Chile, but there was never anything quantifiable or really actionable that he was reaching for. And for me, that took all the engagement out for me. I am a SFF reader, and there’s a very clear goal-orientation in those books, which has probably “trained me” to read with that in mind.

I have liked books without goals before, but there was always something else in there, usually humour. For example, the reason I like THE HUNDRED-YEAR-OLD MAN WHO CLIMBED OUT A WINDOW AND DISAPPEARED is the absurdist nature of it. But A LONG PETAL OF THE SEA is much more serious, without a touch of humour.

And it does meander, a lot, with a big chunk of the middle devoted to other characters (the der Solar family) who are entwined with Victor and Roser. But there’d be all these constant long scenes (the book is something like 13 chapters in all) following other characters who’d only ever be peripheral characters afterward. It wasn’t a style that engaged me, because I worked out early on not to care about them as they wouldn’t really come back, and if they did, it was for a fleeting moment.

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