ISABEL ALLENDE and A Long Petal of the Sea
By Elsa Tovar
Isabel Allende makes an emotional impact with A Long Petal of the Sea, (Largo Pétalo de Mar) an epic novel that won Chile’s National Literature Award. Isabel Allende is the fourth woman in Chilean history to receive this distinction following Marcela Paz, Marta Brunet and Gabriela Mistral. The title of this novel is inspired by a poem by poet Pablo Neruda referring to his country, Chile. Isabel Allende begins this year by celebrating the publication of her novel in English with title A Long Petal of the Sea.
A Long Petal of the Sea takes place between the 1930s and early 1990s. It is a story of love, immigration, survival and the struggle to belong to and remake life in another country that is not your own. The background of the novel revolves around historical facts regarding the ship Winnipeg in Chile, with details that Isabel Allende remembers from when she was a child and that several people from her family lived through too. A Long Petal of the Sea describes the changes in the country in the form of a novel while also being very entertaining.
The novel begins subtly but gradually grips the reader and does not let go until the conclusion. Specially when the principal character Víctor Dalmau and Roser Bruguera, are forced to leave Barcelona, go into exile and cross the Pyrenees to France.
“Roser always looks ahead, always makes the best of every situation, and when you don’t have roots, you have to find them within yourself…”
Victor and Roser join forces to go into exile together with two thousand other refugees with a single hope, to board the ship Winnipeg. They were obliged to marry for convenience, as it was the best way to obtain a passage ticket to a pregnant woman and an unmarried man, and so they set sail to their final destination: Valparaíso, Chile in 1939.
2019 marked the 80th anniversary of the arrival of the Winnipeg to Chile, the voyage organized by the Nobel Prize winner, Pablo Neruda. And with that historical fact Isabel Allende begins to weave her story through the fictional characters who are interesting due to their professions: Roser Bruguera is a pianist and Victor Maldau, a doctor, and both Spaniards. Their arrival in Chile forces them to remain together as mutual support in exile. As the reader will expect, many more surprises await them…
Isabel Allende was inspired by the stories she listened when she was a child, because “some of those Spaniards were family friends. I often listened to them,” Isabel Allende says in an interview. Later, when she worked in the Office of the United Nations, she also heard similar stories. One of the characters in the novel is also a real life relative of her’s.
“…so everything, all of it was a gift, because the story was already created, I just reassembled the elements of this story that has been with me my whole life.”
Beyond the romance, history, and the theme of exile, this book makes you think. The main characters learn to live in the present and go forward without looking back at the past, and to remake their life in a new country, Chile. At the conclusion of the novel, Isabel Allende prepares a very subtle surprise for them. The rest of the details, dear reader, you’ll have to read the novel to discover!
Isabel Allende was born in 1942, in Perú, to Chilean parents. She has written more than 20 books that have been translated into more than 35 languages and has sold more than 65 million copies worldwide. Her very first novel, The House of the Spirits, won international acclaim in 1982, and later became a successful film. Allende has lectured internationally about women’s rights and empowerment for more than 20 years. She lives in California.