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review 2020-02-23 03:49
Romance and Unrest follows the Dalmau's
A Long Petal of the Sea - Isabel Allende

A Long Petal of the Sea, Isabel Allende, author; Edoardo Ballerini, narrator

This is a well researched, beautifully written novel which begins in the 1930’s and takes us forward for six plus decades of turmoil in the lives of Victor and Roser Dalmau as they seek a homeland. It is sometimes about history and sometimes it is about romance. It is about migrants, exiles, asylum seekers, secrets, idealism, loyalty, devotion, politics, war and corruption in the church, but always there is hope in the end. It begins with the story of those who fled Franco’s Spain when the Nationalists who were Fascists defeated the Republicans who were Marxists and Socialists. Franco’s government was a military dictatorship which was ruled with an iron fist.

The reader is taken through the Spanish Civil War as innocent and guilty alike are caught in the web of intrigue and terror. The Civil War tore the country apart. At the same time as the Spanish were struggling to survive the change in government and loyalties, World War II broke out. Those who hadn’t supported Franco were in mortal danger as they were captured, tortured and murdered. Those that could, eventually fled. Not all countries would accept refugees, but Chile welcomed them.

Victor Dalmau was from Barcelona, Spain. His mother had been preparing to become a nun when she met his father, a prominent music teacher, and fell in love. She left the convent and to avoid having their children labeled as bastards, the couple married. Children born out of wedlock becomes a recurrent theme in the novel.

Victor studied medicine in Spain. He was not a fan of Franco, and when the Civil War broke out, he worked in a hospital to treat those who were injured fighting against him. When Victor was injured, he returned home to Barcelona and his parents, until he recovered. In the house with them was Roser Bruguera, his father’s best, young music student. His parents had taken her into their home when her family fell onto hard times. She was like family to Victor. Victor’s brother, Guillem, however, had a romantic relationship with her that she took more seriously than he did.

After he got well, Victor returned to the hospital to help the injured. Then one day, he received a call from his mother. His father was ill and near death. He had to locate his brother, and both of them needed to return home if they hoped to see their father alive once again. Victor had difficulty locating his brother because Guillem, was on the front, fighting.

Time passed and the war raged on. The hygiene conditions were terrible and Guillem became gravely ill with Typhus. He was sent home to die or recover. With the care from Roser and his mother, he recovered and was able to return to the battlefield. However, during his recuperation, Roser was so devoted to him that he fell in love with her. They pledged to marry, but Guillem did not return home. He never knew that Roser was pregnant with his child.

In order to flee Spain, when Franco set up his regime,Victor and Roser pose as a married couple, and with his mother, they leave on the ship, the SS Winnipeg, that Pablo Neruda had chartered. They went to the long petal of the sea which is how the poet, Neruda, refers to Chile. He calls it “the long petal of sea and wine and snow”. When Roser learns of Guillem’s death, Victor swears to raise their child as his own, and he and Roser marry for appearance’s sake, although they live like brother and sister.

In Chile, Victor has his own affair with a young girl, Ofelia, who was already promised to someone else. So, although Victor and Ofelia had no future, once again, there is an unexpected pregnancy. To avoid shame, Ofelia goes to a church that cares for unwed mothers. After she delivers, she is told her son was born dead. Ofelia never told Victor that she was pregnant, so like his brother, he was unaware that he was to be a father.

After time passes, Roser and Victor realize that they have grown deeply in love. The child, Marcel, was born in Chile. They feel like Chile is their home. Revolution soon followed them there, too, and they were forced to flee once again. This time they went to Venezuela. History repeated and they had to leave there, as well, but by then they were able to return to Chile. Like a revolving door, chaos followed them. When Spain opened its arms to them, they wondered if they should pick up and move again. Should they return to Spain? Where was home?

The story is complicated. There are many characters and experiences that have to be knitted together. There are many repetitive themes, war, greed, pregnancy, religious corruption, innocence, guilt, loss and shame. The novel contains many elements of history and bits and pieces of fiction and non-fiction that are woven together skillfully to make it an interesting read. Although there is sex, it is not gratuitous.

The audio narrator is very good, keeping a safe personal distance from the story, but portraying the story well.

To sum it up, revolution follows revolution which is followed by torture and arrest, exile follows exile, from one country to the next, love affair follows love affair, illegitimate children multiply until the story goes full circle, and there is the right of return to a homeland.

The story feels more authentic because, coincidentally, the author’s life parallel’s several moments in the book.

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review 2019-11-29 11:15
Fantastic. Unforgettable.
A Long Petal of the Sea - Isabel Allende

Thanks to NetGalley and to Bloomsbury Publishing for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I have long been a fan of Isabel Allende’s novels, although I haven’t read any of her recent books, despite my best intentions. I read many of her early novels, in Spanish, and I enjoyed her take on Magic Realism, which I found inspiring. When I saw this novel, which combined Allende’s writing with a historical subject close to my heart (I’m from Barcelona, like the protagonist of the novel, and some of my relatives lived experiences quite similar to those Victor goes through), I had to read it. And although it is a very different reading experience from that of The House of the Spirits, I enjoyed it enormously.

This novel is the story of Victor Dalmau, whom we meet at a very difficult moment, during the Spanish Civil War. He was studying Medicine and helps look after the wounded in battle, while his younger brother, Guillem, fights for the Republic. Told in the third person, mostly from Victor’s point of view (there is a fragment where the novel deviates from that, but there is a good reason for it), the book follows his life pretty closely and in chronological order, although not all periods of his life are shared in the same detail. We learn about his family, his parents, Roser (his brother’s girlfriend and one of the students of Victor’s father, a musician), and hear first-hand of his experiences during the war, the retreat (“la retirada”), and the problems a huge number of Spaniards who escaped to France had to face once there.

Pablo Neruda, the Chilean poet, is fundamental to the story, not only because he chartered the SS Winnipeg that took many Spaniards (around two thousand) to Chile, escaping from Franco’s regime and the French camps, but also because he personally appears in the novel and each chapter is introduced by one of his poems. In fact, the title of the book also comes from one of his poems, and it is a descriptive metaphor of the country, Chile, that welcomed the refugees with open arms. The story also follows Victor’s later adventures, his studies and work as a cardiologist, Roser’s works as a musician and her creation of an orchestra, and the historical and political upheavals they have to confront, with further displacements and persecution. What is to be an emigrant, how different people adapt to different realities and countries (Victor and Roser are pretty different in this respect), and also the invaluable contribution those very same immigrants make to the very fabric of the country that takes them in, are threads that run through the whole novel.

This is my first experience of reading Allende’s work in English, and I thought the translation was excellent. The language is both functional and beautiful, capturing the emotions of the characters, and vividly portraying their experiences, at times harrowing and at others uplifting. I was very touched by the narrative, and although that might be in part due to my personal connection to the material (not only the historical aspect, but also the experience of life in a different country) , the effect was not limited to the parts of the story I was familiar with. The adventures of Victor and Roser in Chile, Allende’s government (of course, Salvador Allende was Isabel’s uncle), and the military coup, further tested their endurance and made them start again in Venezuela. Added to the larger historical events, we have a story of love, family, and displacement, which will resonate with many readers, even if they are not familiar with the particular historical and geographical setting. Circumstances might change, but the problems are universal.

The author talks about the genesis of the book in a note at the beginning of the book and explains it in more detail in the acknowledgements at the end. Although this is a novel, it is based on real accounts, and its main character was inspired by another Victor, Victor Pey, who lived to be 103, and who experienced many of the trials and tribulations we read about. Allende creates a catalogue of varied characters, complex and credible, and mixes historical figures with fictional ones seamlessly. Victor is a quiet man, hard-working, who prefers action to idle talk, and whose mission in life seems to be to help others. He is a survivor who can be naïve about the consequences of his actions and about the motivations of others, but he always expects the best of others and hopes against hope. Roser, his wife, is a fabulous character, a strong woman who keeps going no matter what, and their relationship evolves through the book, never getting old and with plenty of surprises. There are plenty of memorable characters in the book, some that play a larger part than others, and some that keep popping up at regular intervals as time passes. I was intrigued by the Solan family, fascinated by Juana, their lifelong servant, and also appreciated the small details that add a human touch to the historical figures, Pablo Neruda in particular.

I loved the writing style, poetic and lyrical at times, despite dealing in some very harsh topics. The flow varies, and some historical periods are described in more detail than others, as happens in memoirs. I’ve read comments of readers who say there is too much telling in this novel. There is a fair amount of telling, that is true, by the very nature of the story, but it suits the personality of the protagonist, and to be honest, I cried with the story as it is. I’m not sure I would have managed to read it if it were even more emotional. (I smiled as well, and it is a hopeful story overall, but it did touch me deeply).

I have highlighted many passages, and it’s difficult to choose one or two, but I decided to give it a try.

Here Victor Dalmau observes the work of the female volunteers looking after injured soldiers in the Spanish Civil War:

Volunteer women would moisten their lips, whisper to them, and comfort them as if they were their own children, in the knowledge that somewhere else, another woman might be cradling their own son or brother.

If you are very sensitive, you might want to look away now:

This was to be his most stubborn, persistent memory of the war: that fifteen- or sixteen-year-old boy, still smooth-cheeked, filthy with the dirt of battle and dried blood, laid out on a stretcher with his heart exposed to the air.

And I had to include one from Pablo Neruda, quoted here in chapter 2.

Nothing, not even victory,

Can wipe away the terrible hole of blood.

I love this novel, which I recommend to readers of historical fiction, particularly those interested in the Spanish Civil War and/or the history of Chile, to fans of Isabel Allende, and also to those who’ve never read her before, but are looking for a compelling story, masterfully written, with a memorable cast of characters and a story with many parallels to recent events. I attended a conference about la Retirada (the retreat of around 500000 Spaniards, both military and civilians, escaping to France from Spain at the end of the Civil War, in February 1939) on its 8oth anniversary earlier this year, and looking at the pictures, it gave us all pause, because if we just changed the background of the photographs and the clothes, we could have been watching the news. Like those images, this is a novel that will stay with me. I might be biased but that’s my prerogative and I can’t recommend it enough.

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review 2019-11-20 07:41
A family "saga" from the Spanish Civil War to post-Pinochet Chile - well-written stuff
A Long Petal of the Sea - Isabel Allende

This novel by Isabel Allende, based on a true story and true events, tells us about Victor, a medical student in Republican Spain of the 1930s, as he lives through - and survives - the Spanish Civil War, exile to Chile, the Pinochet regime, more exile and eventual return to his homeland. Along the way, we encounter members of his family, friends and political opponents as well as the poet, Pablo Neruda. His life is a life of adventure, degradation and love. Characters are interesting and well-developed and the whole story, although inevitably depressing in places, is important and engrossing. Recommended, especially to admirers of Isabel Allende. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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review 2019-11-04 23:01
L'amante giapponese - Isabel Allende,E. Liverani

L’amante giapponese: agile sorvolata su tutti i flagelli del XX e XXI secolo. Nessuno escluso.
Fra un looping e un tonneau c’è di mezzo l’amour! Innocente, proibito, tradito, vissuto, incestuoso, azzardato, rubato, segreto, acquisito, omosessuale, infantile, senile, amicale.
Epperò, quello di Alma Belasco, amore, arriva fino alla soglia delle convenzioni. Lì si ferma. Non va oltre. Per non perder le certezze. E il povero Ichimei rimane in posizione “amante”.
Ichimei (il cui nome significa “sopravvissuto”), nato prematuro e dato per spacciato, “per i primi mesi non ebbe un nome”. ‘Tanto non campa’, avranno detto i genitori (che così a lungo l’avevano desiderato), indicando gozzanamente l’infante come “il coso con due gambe”.

Irina Bazili, moldava, ventitré anni, con trauma porno-infantile da superare, sostiene un colloquio per l’assunzione presso l’istituto geriatrico Lark House, nato per accogliere anziani non abbienti, ma abitato da duecentocinquanta benestanti. Tutti bianchi. Sono “liberi pensatori, persone in cerca di un cammino spirituale, attivisti sociali ed ecologisti, nichilisti e qualcuno dei pochi hippie rimasti nell’area della Baia di San Francisco.”
Direttore della struttura certo Hans Voigt, cinquantaquattrenne che confonde il Che Guevara (stampato sulla maglietta di Irina) per Malcom X. E sì che siamo in America. California. Berkeley. Anno 2010. Van bene le favole. Anche eccessive. Però, è più verosimile il fantasma (che non manca) del direttor.

Negli intrecci esistenziali di e fra l’ottantaduenne Alma e la giovane Irina, una miriade di temi focali, spessi e pesanti, rotola come piselli sbaccellati davanti alla TV. Così, con nonchalance.

Fra una piaga e l’altra pesci fuor dell’acqua “rantolano”, cani affamati vagano in “mute”, scarafaggi “nottambuli” scorrazzano.
La voce narrante fa “barbellare” (termine dialettale lombardo) anziché tremare, “bidonare” invece che dar buca o piantar in asso. Mi chiedo perché.
E perché mi chiedo “Nathaniel TEMEVA CHE i due uomini, già in possesso del denaro, POTEVANO benissimo sparar loro…”.
Inezie, che non giovano al già fiacco procedere.

La scorrevolezza della scrittura non basta a reggere una narrazione poco consistente e ancor meno credibile; narrazione che attraversa temi di grande rilievo storico e sociale senza mai soffermarsi per approfondire. È come buttare tanti semi senza coltivarne alcuno.
Rimane un romanzo debole, non certo all’altezza di un nome tanto celebrato.

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review 2019-05-19 20:53
South American Arabian Nights
Eva Luna - Isabel Allende

Allende's Eva Luna is part look at South American history, in particular revolutionary history, and part Arabian Nights.

It is all magic.

Much is said about lyrical novels, and Allende's novel isn't so much lyrical as a rich tore with hidden passages and meanings.

It's a pleasure to read if not engrossing.

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