A Long Petal of the Sea: Book Review

It was with little hope that I applied to NetGalley to read a pre-release copy of Isabel Allende’s latest book “A Long Petal of the Sea”.

Isabel Allende

As a huge fan of her work, I coveted the book but I doubted my chances. Ideally, NetGalley want 80% of books delivered to be reviewed —let’s say my stats are nowhere near this figure. In the early days as a member, I happily clicked on new books, then failed to find the time to either read or review.

Against all expectations, I was accepted to review “A Long Petal of the Sea”. I was overjoyed and that same evening started the book. Wow! I had no idea the emotional and intellectual journey ahead in this most remarkable of books.

Normally, I do not include the blurbs of books, however, considering the wide scope of “A Long Petal of the Sea” it makes sense to first introduce its premise. Surprisingly, there is a very different blurb for the Amazon in America. Here is the UK book description:

“That September 2, 1939, the day of the Spanish exiles’ splendid arrival in Chile, the Second World War broke out in Europe.

Victor Dalmau is a young doctor when he is caught up in the Spanish Civil War, a tragedy that leaves his life – and the fate of his country – forever changed. Together with his sister-in-law, the pianist Roser Bruguera, he is forced out of his beloved Barcelona and into exile.

When opportunity to seek refuge in Chile arises, they take it, boarding a ship chartered by the poet Pablo Neruda to the promised ‘long petal of sea and wine and snow’ over the seas. There, they find themselves enmeshed in a rich web of characters who come together in love and tragedy over the course of four generations, destined to witness the battle between freedom and repression as it plays out across the world.”

M/S Winnipeg

Spoiler Alert: In order to write a comprehensive review I have included some elements from the book that could be considered as ‘spoilers’. I feel my review here barely begins to hint at its magnificence and any details will in no way affect any later rewarding read.

My Review

“A Long Petal of the Sea” is an incredible literary novel. It is effectively divided into three parts, each one representative of a different country and time era in which Victor and Roser find themselves.

The story starts dramatically in the midst of the Spanish Civil War as Victor finds himself holding the heart of a fallen soldier, which he massages back to life. His vision of working within cardiology is set from this moment.

The first part of the book is captivating, heartbreaking, emotional. It’s epic, yet often tender and personal as the reader is introduced to the various characters, especially, Roser, Victor and his brother Guillem.

At times in this first section the story is interspersed with succinct history ‘lessons’ about the Spanish Civil War which are equally fascinating and horrifying. As Roser and Victor’s mother are forced to join the half million refugees walking to France from Spain I felt deep shock. How had I never heard of this mass exodus – The Retreat. A retreat which killed thousands, both en route and later in appalling conditions in camps in France.

Pablo Neruda

Once in France Victor and Roser are among the lucky two thousand accepted onboard the rescue ship M/S Winnipeg chartered by the famous Chilean Nobel-prize winning poet and politician Pablo Neruda. Throughout the book, Pablo Neruda’s poems are quoted at the beginning of chapters, his words reflecting his belief in humanity, his love for his country.

Once in Chile the writing style is transformed. From the stark description of the terror in Spain, which at times left the main protagonists feeling remote from the reader, the attention moves alongside Victor and Roser as they build a new life in their adopted country.

Here they find warmth, comfort and opportunity. Whilst Victor works in a bar to fund his medical training, Roser continues piano playing, increasingly at a higher level. Their lives become interlinked with a Chilean family whose son Felipe was a young diplomat and welcomed them to Chile on their arrival. Felipe’s sister, Ofelia de Solar immediately catches Victor’s eye.

One of my concerns as I read about the book was that it would skip from one generation to next with just a brief time in each. Rather Isabel Allende has skilfully woven generations of history through the eyes of the two main characters and their friends. This is inspired and as they live through each new trauma or coup, it’s as if we experience it ourselves.

The sweeping story of the book is captivating and I found myself transported across the globe to a country about which I knew nothing. As Victor and Roser both become successful in their chosen careers, as their son Marcel happily grows up as a Chilean, the threat from Pinochet is increasing.

After the coup, Victor blithely and naively feels invulnerable. Until the day he is denounced by a neighbour whom he had helped many times. Once more, nearly forty years after leaving Spain, he finds himself being tortured in cells, taken to a work camp and almost starved to death. It is with Roser’s determination, courage and perseverance to find him over eleven months coupled with the fortuitous near-death of the camp commander that saves Victor’s life.

Once he is freed, the couple flee to Venezuela who is welcoming all refugees from Chile.

Throughout the book, the themes of hope, exile and belonging are thoroughly explored … topics that personally touch the author and reflect her life. As a young Chilean her grandfather fled Spain during the civil war, and years later she too found refuge in Venezuela.

Once again in exile, Roser’s inner and positive spirit helps them to rebuild their lives. The melancholy that often overcomes Victor fails to do so on this occasion and their relationship enters a new level. The epic nature of the book has never felt more intimate and close, the political events of the countries are sweeping, the horrors perpetrated in Chile unimaginable yet there is love and life in their new adopted country.

Victor’s and Roser’s years of exile in Venezuela is brought to an end when a list of those free to return to Chile is published. Victor’s name is on the list and on the advice of their son, they return to a country that has and is still suffering terribly under the regime of Pinochet. Against the odds, they forge a new life, one which flourishes as Pinochet dies and the country slowly reverts to democracy.

As the book headed towards a heartfelt and compelling conclusion I found myself reading slower, not wanting to leave the book, its story, characters.

This is a stunning historical literary novel and one I cannot recommend highly enough. It is a book I will never forget and one I feel that changed me.

I received a free copy of this book from the publishers via Netgalley in exchange for an honest and impartial review.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing

Publication date: 21st January 2020

Genre: Historical fiction, literary fiction

To purchase: Amazon UK Amazon US or at any bookshops.

94 thoughts on “A Long Petal of the Sea: Book Review

  1. hilarymb says:

    Hi Annika – I have got here and now have read your incredible review … and I will definitely read the book – probably via the library … but I do really want to read it – and may end up buying it. I love these sorts of historical literary novels – one learns so much …

    Really excellent review – and thanks for writing it up so well … cheers and a very happy 2020 to you – Hilary

    • Annika Perry says:

      Hilary, I’m so glad you’re taken with my review and it is an astonishing book – an instant classic. I know what you mean about the library – sometimes I order books and wait for months and actually forget I’ve placed an order for a book! It is wonderful and although I read it on Kindle from NetGalley I imagine the paperback will be fantastic! As for learning from historical novels, that is always a huge bonus – I felt I never stopped learning with this one and was rather shame-faced at the gap of my knowledge about certain events, as I mention in the post.

      Thank you so much for your lovely comment and wishing you a fabulous 2020! xx

    • Annika Perry says:

      Alison, it was an incredibly emotional, dramatic, thought-provoking book and one that will stay me! Thank you so much for reading and it’s lovely to see you here! I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and wish you a magical 2020 filled with love, light and laughter! 😀❤️

  2. restlessjo says:

    Much joy to you and the family, throughout the festive season and well beyond, Annika. I know you will carry joy with you to the Moors. Give them my love. I don’t have time to on this visit. 🙂 🙂

    • Annika Perry says:

      Thank you so much, Jo and hope you have a wonderful time back in the U.K. with your family … Have a magical time altogether!

      Enjoy the book when you come to read it and totally understand you skimming through the review … I was aware it said more than my usual reviews, but still only touched its surface!

      Wishing you a fabulous start to the New Year, a new decade of adventures! Hugs xx

  3. michnavs says:

    What a comprehensive review Anika…i love some bits and pieces of spoilers you gave there..lol..but this wont stop me from reading/buying the book as love period dramas/novel.

  4. Sue Dreamwalker says:

    Wonderful book review Annika and sounds a really interesting read…
    Your review I think invites the reader to explore more so I do not think you have given any spoilers away..

    Sending love and hugs your way, have a Magical Christmas all of you..
    Much love ❤ Sue

  5. literaryeyes says:

    Wow, this sounds like a classic. I’ve been looking for one of her books to read and this is it. I’m a fan of Neruda, his actions spoke as loudly as his poetry. Thanks, Annika!

    • Annika Perry says:

      Mary, so glad this post came at just the right time for you! I have a feeling all her books are classic … and this one definitely so. It must be a new definitive one about the Spanish civil war, Chile under Pinochet, emigration and belonging. It is amazing how so many themes are interwoven in the narrative. I must admit I’ve only read a little about Neruda and realise he was an incredible man and politician … your comment has me yearning to learn more about him!

    • Annika Perry says:

      Jacquie, exactly! 😀 I love learning about history and through novels is my favourite way! A truly emotional read, from the horrific to the sheer beauty and wonder of life and love!

  6. Jina Bazzar says:

    Great review, Annika. I hadn’t known about The retreat either, but then again, I slept through most of my history classes 😉 And from Europe to Chili, that’s as far as they could get and stay on the same planet.

    • Annika Perry says:

      Haha! 😀 Jina, although I loved history and studied it for A-level at school, two hours of the subject on a Friday afternoon had me falling asleep too! Historical fiction is the way to learn history … although it is truly graphic and horrific at times, reflecting the war and the Retreat! Yep, it was a far way to Chile but they did not feel quite safe and secure until through the Panama Canal… until then they we fearful the ship would turn back for some reason. Wishing you a lovely Christmas and a wonderful New Year! Xx

  7. Khaya Ronkainen says:

    Your reviews are so brilliant, and the books you review hard to resist. In the past, I used to (as you) add to my TBR or buy more books than I have time to read. I’m still catching up.😀 But I’m really intrigued by the premise of this story and Pablo Neruda’s role in it. This book certainly sounds like a must-read.

    Thank you for a year of wonderful reviews. All the books you recommended, I’ve managed to read, didn’t disappoint. Yours has become a go-to blog for book reviews, for me. Thank you, Annika!🙏🏽📚

    • Annika Perry says:

      Khaya, thank you so much for your wonderful comment and it means so much that you enjoy my book reviews! 😀 Wow! I love being your go-to blog for reviews! I better keep writing them! I’m very happy if I can point you to a new book or two! As for this book, it is incredible and the poetry introductions were inspired. Have you read any of Neruda’s poetry?

      Happy Reading, my friend! See the growing TBR list as a positive one … all those amazing books yet to read!

      Wishing you a magical Christmas and hope the snow soon returns for you! Hugs xx

      • Khaya Ronkainen says:

        You are so welcome, Annika. And you better keep writing those reviews because you write them so well. 🙂 I keep thinking of joining NetGalley mainly to review poetry books but besides not being a professional reader, I simply don’t have enough time to spare. My days, of late, are spent on academic writing.

        Have I read any of Neruda’s poetry? He has been recommended by poet friends a number of times, and I’ve read single poems here and there but not a full volume. I guess it’s about time I read him thoroughly.

        Thank you my friend! ❤

  8. Mike says:

    Great review Annika (as always). The story this book tells seems like an epic with a very human touch. It made me aware of a period in history I hadn’t known about other than the Spanish Civil War and Franco. Its amazing what some people go through and survive enough to come out the other side. We just don’t know how lucky we are.

    One for my “to read” list I think.

    Mike

    • Annika Perry says:

      Mike, you’ve captured the essence of the book exactly … epic with a personal touch! It was incredible and I felt unhumbled by the courage of so many people through this war. I feel myelf informed but this was still a revelation, horrifying and horrific. Luckily the two in this story survived but one knows thousands died. Yes, we are indeed so lucky … and a reminder for us all!

      Hope you have a chance to read it sometime.

      Wishing you a wonderful, Christmas, Mike! 😀🌲

  9. D. Wallace Peach says:

    I really love Allende’s writing and the sweeping scope of this appeals to me. It’s going to be at the top of my list for next year, Annika. You write the best reviews and make it an easy decision to dive in and snatch up a book. I’m looking forward to this one when it comes out. Happy Reading!

    • Annika Perry says:

      Diana, it’s hard not to become swept up by her writing, and the book is a totally immersive experience. At times not an easy read, particularly regarding the horrors in Spain and Chile … in fiction books you can brush it aside a bit. Not here … this happened and then you realise it is still happening in places around the world.

      Thank you so much for your kind words about my reviews. This was the hardest one yet and I had a few ‘false’ starts before going for the straight forward approach! Enjoy the book when it comes out, Diana – it will stay with you.

  10. Carol Balawyder says:

    When I clicked on your post I was pleased to see that your book review was on Isabel Allende and that she had written another book. In writing my posts on female nobel prize winners for literature, I came to understand that one of the marks of a great writer is not only their literary ability to tell a story but that through their collection of writing they contribute to peace and speak candidly about the horrors of our world. Your excellent and vivid review made clear that Allende’s writing is in the category of one of our great contemporary writers. I look forward to reading her book, for she has always had the capacity to write with intelligence and a sense of oral consciousness. Fantastic review, Annika. xxx

    • Annika Perry says:

      Carol, thank you so much for your erudite, deeply informative and far-reaching comment. I just read some of your older posts on female Nobel prize winners for literature and they are superb. How true that Allende, with her books, fulfils all the criteria of ‘literary ability to tell a story but that through their collection of writing they contribute to peace and speak candidly about the horrors of our world.’ And how she writes about those horrors, images created in my mind that I will not forget, so vivid I think my review reflects this. Yet, there is humanity, compassion and love! She’s an inspirational writer … but she and her family have suffered so.

      As I started the book I became daunted, wondering how I could possibly review this epic sweeping novel that encompassed so many themes, such a huge story. It means a lot that you liked my review and that it reflects Allende’s work.

      Wishing you a wonderful weekend, Carol … may it be filled with joy and peace!

      • Carol Balawyder says:

        Allende is indeed an inspirational writer and in some way it is perhaps her great suffering that brought her to the height of her talent as a writer and human being.
        You always express yourself so beautifully, Annika, even when writing a comment. Your review is worthy of Allende’s work. You did a superb job. ❤ I am certain that she will be proud of it and wish for you that she quotes you in the near future. ❤
        Happy weekend to you. May you fully enjoy all of it.

  11. Book Club Mom says:

    Thanks for sharing this thoughtful review, Annika. I’m afraid to go on my NetGalley account because I haven’t read or reviewed many of the books I requested. Eeek. I’m glad you were able to get this one. It sounds wonderful!

    • Annika Perry says:

      Barbara, that’s just what I was doing … avoiding NetGalley altogether! 😀 They seem quite forgiving, thankfully! This was just one book I couldn’t resist … truly stunning and I haven’t read anything quite like it for a long time!

  12. dgkaye says:

    Thanks for this great and enticing review Annika. I still have House of Spirits to get to, but now adding this one to my TBR. I’ve shared around on social media and my Literary group on FB. I always tag you there, but I don’t believe you’re on FB? 🙂 xx

    • Annika Perry says:

      Debby, two great books by her yet to read … what a treat for you! 😀They are wonderfully unique.

      Thank you so much for sharing my review and you’re right, I’m not on FB! I can barely keep up with the social media sites I am on! Have a great weekend … I can’t believe Christmas is less than two weeks! 😀

  13. roughwighting says:

    What a generous and gorgeous review, Annika. Because of it, I will put the book on my TBR list. I’ve read several of Isabel’s books and been challenged by them, not finding them necessarily “easy” reads in content or style. I read here memoir “Paula” but couldn’t get to the end not because of the writing (it was beautiful) but because Isabel took me directly into her pain of losing her daughter and it was too difficult for me to take it all in. That’s the sign of an excellent writer.
    Lastly, when I lived in the SF bay area I lived in the town next to AI’s and saw her around from time to time. I wanted to follow her and take in some of her writing vibes! Less than a year ago I was eating at a small intimate restaurant with a friend who whispered “don’t look around, but that’s Isabel Allende in the corner table.” I wanted to race over and say hi, but I was too shy (plus I didn’t want to be a pest). To me, AUTHORS are the true celebrities of the world.

    • Annika Perry says:

      Pam, wow! Thank you for your wonderful comment / discussion and it’s one I’ve read a few times, taking it all in. Oh true, Allende’s books are never easy and I hope this came across in the review … at times the events were truly horrific but I persevered and so glad I am. The story of their relationship, how they coped with all the trauma and particularly Roser reached straight into my heart and stayed there. Allende’s writing style varies throughout the book, from near reportage style to the lyrical, sublime! Reading up about Paula I am not surprised you could not finish the book – her style is so raw in this book, I cannot imagine what it is like when she writes about losing her daughter.

      Yeah! I love how you write that all authors are the true celebrities and that you have seen Isabel Allende many times and then only recently in the same restaurant! How amazing! I too would not have approached .. for the reasons you mention. I’m sure her writerly vibe rubbed off on you just being in her vicinity – inspirational!😀

  14. Mary Smith says:

    I have loved Allende’s work since reading her debut, The House of the Spirits many years ago. The only one I haven’t read is Paula, though it is one my shelf. From your excellent review I am sure I will love A Long Petal of the Sea.

    • Annika Perry says:

      Mary, thank you so much and it was a most interesting book to review and one I started a few times trying to decide which angle to take. The direct approach seemed the best in the end! I too think you will love the book, its history and dramatic, at times horrifying, events yet so personal.

      A few comments have mentioned Paula which I haven’t read but I am now sorely tempted, even if the subject matter is so tragic. I’ll see!

      Happy reading and have a lovely weekend! May it be a sunny one!😀

  15. Sharon Bonin-Pratt says:

    What a compelling review, Annika. i’ve read many of Allende’s books, always horrified or enchanted by the drama. She’s a master at writing epic historic eras into intimate stories of people trying to survive. She lures us in with lyrical descriptions and keeps us riveted with a threatening abyss from which the main characters must escape. You’ve succeeded – I’ve put this book at the top of my TBR list.

    • Annika Perry says:

      Wow! Sharon, your comment sums up her books exactly! Brilliantly capturing their epic scope and yet the very personal touch of the people. Oh my, the abysses they faced were terrifying and so horrifying the images created in my mind are still with me. And then the ending … I was totally captivated and had trouble reading another book straight away.

      I’d love to know your thoughts when you’ve read the book. Maybe you’ll write a review? You have the ability to capture the essence of a writer in just a few sentences – that’s a real gift! 😀❤️

    • Annika Perry says:

      Balroop, it was one of the more difficult reviews … initially I tried to write one without any details but realised that was impossible. So glad you felt it compelling … just like the book! It’s exploration of belonging was fascinating and the various approaches to their new lives in exile.

    • Annika Perry says:

      Mae, the whole book is incredibly emotional and the intensity was more gradual after the departure from Spain. So glad you enjoyed the review … a more complicated one to write that usual!

    • Annika Perry says:

      Ashen, if I hadn’t received the notification from NetGalley I wouldn’t have known about this book either. I reckon on its release and thereafter that it will be a big hit and more known about. It is an incredible read and enjoy when in January! I’m sure it will stay with you.

    • Annika Perry says:

      That’s great, Neil and perhaps you’ll be tempted to read this one? There are many personal elements within the book and this lends it extra power and poignancy. The writing is terrific as always!

    • Annika Perry says:

      Ahhh … thank you, Jill. NetGalley did keep me on tenterhooks for a week though so I was sure I wouldn’t hear anything from them. This is the kind of book which I could not stop talking about and many of my family and friends heard about various sections as I was reading it!

      Thank you … I’m looking forward to putting the tree up this weekend and then picking my son up from university! Hooray! Wishing you a very special weekend, my friend! xx❤️

      • Jill Weatherholt says:

        Aw…so happy to hear your son is coming home! Enjoy your time together. I put up our Christmas decorations the first week of November. 🙂 I love with the house is cozy with all of the twinkling lights. Enjoy! ❤

    • Annika Perry says:

      Bless you, for your kind comment, Darlene. That means so much to me! With a book of this scope, I knew this would not be a normal ‘shorter’ review but decided to give it the word space required! Allende is an astonishing writer and throughout I kept thinking how is she holding all this together, so seamlessly, so many events and people yet there is never any confusion for the reader. As for the writing, in places sublime! I would just pause, read again and enjoy the moment!

  16. delphini510 says:

    An absolutely brilliant review, Annika. You are a master at those. Like you I love the writing of
    Isabel Allende and will without a doubt buy this book and like you, read slowly towards the end. That Pablo Neruda’s poems are quoted is another big plus for me.

    The story the premise and your review tell is so strong and yet so full of horror and pain.
    Like life, a mixture of both dark and light. In this epic story the events and drama is over and
    above what you feel we humans can handle.
    Suffice it to say, you have captured my heart with the review and I trust the book will be
    doing the same. 💕.

    Miriam

    • Annika Perry says:

      Wow! Miriam, thank you so much for your heartwarming and insightful comment! I am sure this book with capture your heart absolutely and stay with you long afterwards! How true that the light and dark of the novel are at its very core … horrific at times and the courage of so many incredible, yet love and care shining through! The poetry introduction to each chapter is inspired and as a poet yourself I am sure you will appreciate them even more!

      I love writing these reviews and it means a lot that you enjoy them and find new books to read as a result!

      Wishing you a heavenly and peaceful Christmas! 🌲❤️

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