/* Starred Review */ Isabel Allende joins an illustrious group of novelists who have found a deep wellspring for fiction in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), beginning with Ernest Hemingway’s eye-witness-inspired For Whom the Bell Tolls, which was published just a year after those who were fighting to save an elected government were defeated by fascist forces under General Francisco Franco, who was allied with Hitler and Mussolini. Hemingway covered the war, along with his third-wife-to-be Martha Gellhorn, and both appear in Beautiful Exiles (2018) by Meg Waite Clayton and Love and Ruin (2018) by Paula McLain. Distinguished Spanish writer Manuel Rivas’ The Carpenter’s Pencil (2001) is a deeply inquisitive and moving novel about the war, as are Alan Furst’s Midnight in Europe (2014), The Time in Between (2011) by Maria Duenas (translated by Daniel Hahn), and Mary Gordon’s There Your Heart Lies (2017). Now Helen Janeczek, in The Girl with the Leica (2019), and Allende explore the seismic impact on individual lives of Spain’s devastating civil war in novels strikingly divergent in style and focus.Poet Pablo Neruda plays a small but key role in Janeczek’s novel when he rescues two thousand Spanish war refugees and brings them to Chile. This actual voyage of mercy is the catalyst for Isabel Allende’s A Long Petal of the Sea. Internationally revered as a virtuoso of lucidly well-told, utterly enrapturing fiction, Allende encapsulates the complicated horrors of the Spanish Civil War within the epic struggles of Victor Dalmau, the son of a music professor and an activist, and Roser Bruguera, a gifted student of Victor’s father who falls in love with Victor’s brother, a soldier, and is left bereft and pregnant when he’s killed. Roser and Victor, destined to become a doctor after a stunning battlefield encounter, join the desperate exodus to France, where Spanish refugees are maligned as filthy criminals and detained in unconscionably wretched circumstances. When events deliver them to Neruda as he’s selecting passengers for his sanctuary ship, they expediently marry to ensure their inclusion. Allende follows the course of their tumultuous, socially conscious lives, forever shadowed by the war’s traumas, over the ensuing decades, contrasting their successful professional and unusual private lives with the hard slam to the right of Chilean politics as a U.S.-backed military coup takes down President Salvador Allende (a cousin of the author) and installs the dictator Augusto Pinochet. Once again, Victor is subjected to brutality in a concentration camp; once again he and Roser must flee their home. Allende deftly addresses war, displacement, violence, and loss in a novel of survival and love under siege, a tale that is seductively intimate and strategically charming with valor, perseverance, transcendent romance, and wondrous reunions providing narrative sweeteners to lure readers into contemplation of past atrocities and, covertly, of the disturbingly similar outrages of the present, in which refugees and immigrants are treated with appalling cruelty and fascist threats escalate around the warming world. -- Donna Seaman (Reviewed 10/1/2019) (Booklist, vol 116, number 3, p24).
Two refugees from the Spanish Civil War cross the Atlantic Ocean to Chile and a half-century of political and personal upheavals.We meet Victor Dalmau and Roser Bruguera in 1938 as it is becoming increasingly clear that the Republican cause they support is doomed. When they reunite in France as penniless refugees, Roser has survived a harrowing flight across the Pyrenees while heavily pregnant and given birth to the son of Victor's brother Guillem, killed at the Battle of the Ebro. Victor, evacuated with the wounded he was tending in a makeshift hospital, learns of a ship outfitted by poet Pablo Neruda to take exiles to a new life in Chile, but he and Roser must marry in order to gain a berth. Allende (In the Midst of Winter, 2017, etc.) expertly sets up this forced intimacy between two very different people: Resolute, realistic Roser never looks back and doggedly pursues a musical career in Chile while Victor, despite being fast-tracked into medical school by socialist politician Salvador Allende (a relative of the author's), remains melancholy and nostalgic for his homeland. Their platonic affection deepens into physical love and lasting commitment in an episodic narrative that reaches a catastrophic climax with the 1973 coup overthrowing Chile's democratically elected government. For Victor and Roser, this is a painful reminder of their losses in Spain and the start of new suffering. The wealthy, conservative del Solar family provides a counterpoint to the idealistic Dalmaus; snobbish, right-wing patriarch Isidro and his hysterically religious wife, Laura, verge on caricature, but Allende paints more nuanced portraits of eldest son Felipe, who smooths the refugees' early days in Chile, and daughter Ofelia, whose brief affair with Victor has lasting consequences. Allende tends to describe emotions and events rather than delve into them, and she paints the historical backdrop in very broad strokes, but she is an engaging storyteller. A touching close in 1994 brings one more surprise and unexpected hope for the future to 80-year-old Victor.A trifle facile, but this decades-spanning drama is readable and engrossing throughout. (Reviewed 09/02/2019)
On September 3, 1939, the S.S. Winnipeg arrived in Valparaiso, Chile, with 2,200 refugees fleeing the fascist regime of Francisco Franco. Allende (The House of the Spirits) befriended one of these refugees, Victor Pey Casado, when she herself was living in exile in Venezuela, and places their struggles at the heart of this masterful historical saga. The novel begins with Victor Dalmau serving as a medic on the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War. After Franco prevails, Victor flees with Roser Bruguera, the pregnant girlfriend of his brother, who died in battle, and marries her "in name only" so they can get prized spots on the Winnipeg; the Winnipeg evacuation was organized by Pablo Neruda, whose description of Chile--long petal of sea and wine and snow--Allende borrows for her title. After arriving in Chile, Victor and Roser together raise Roser's son, Marcel. However, when the Chilean military overthrows the government led by Victor's friend, President Salvador Allende (real-life cousin of the author's father), the family must go on the move again. VERDICT Narrator Edoardo Ballerini renders the cast of well-drawn, colorful characters Technicolor vivid, and his nuanced reading of Allende's lyrical prose and her seamless blend of the historical and the fictional add to the pleasure of this inspiring story. For all literary collections.--Beth Farrell, Cleveland State Univ. Law Lib.
/* Starred Review */ Spanning from 1938 to 1994, this majestic novel from Allende (In the Midst of Winter) focuses on Victor Dalmau, a 23-year-old medical student fighting in the Spanish Civil War on the Republican side when the novel opens. After Nationalist forces prevail, Victor and thousands of other Republican sympathizers flee Spain to avoid brutal reprisals. In France, he searches the packed refugee camps for Roser Bruguera, who is pregnant with his brother Guillem’s child. Once he finds Roser, he breaks the news that Guillem has died in battle and that he has won a place on the Winnipeg, a ship that the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda has organized to transport Spanish refugees from Europe, where WWII is breaking out, to safety in Chile. Allowed to bring only family with him, Victor persuades Roser to marry him in name only. Though Victor has a brief, secret affair with well-off Ofelia del Solar, he begins to fall in love with Roser; they raise Roser’s son, Marcel, together and build stable lives, he as a cardiologist and she as a widely respected musician. But when the Pinochet dictatorship unseats Chile’s Marxist president in 1973, they find themselves once more endangered by their political views. Allende’s assured prose vividly evokes her fictional characters, historical figures like Neruda, and decades of complex international history; her imagery makes the suffering of war and displacement palpable yet also does justice to human strength, hope and rebirth. Seamlessly juxtaposing exile with homecoming, otherness with belonging, and tyranny with freedom, the novel feels both timeless and perfectly timed for today. (Jan.) --Staff (Reviewed 10/07/2019) (Publishers Weekly, vol 266, issue 40, p).