"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Review and quotes: A LONG PETAL OF THE SEA

 A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende

Book Beginnings quote:

The young soldier was part of the "Baby Bottle Conscription," the boys called up when there were no more men, young or old, to fight the war.

Friday56 quote:

They came to a halt, sizing one another up. On a hunch, Aitor called out in Catalan and Basque: bona nit! kaixo! gabon! After a pause that to him seemed an eternity, the one who appeared to be their leader welcomed him with a brief ongi etorri burkide! Aitor realized they were fellow comrades, no doubt deserters.

At the age of eighty Victor Dalmau, the book's protagonist, looks back on his life. “My life has been a series of journeys. I’ve traveled from one side of the world to the other. I’ve been a foreigner without realizing I had deep roots,” he says. So, from a vantage point of looking back, we can see that The Long Petal of the Sea is a story of displacement and exile. It is also a story of love and one about craving for our home and belonging where we are.

A Long Petal of the Sea traces the exile of the Dalmau family in 1939 from Barcelona just as Franco's forces are nearing the city and their fight for the republic in the Spanish Civil War has ended in defeat. The tattered remnant of the family escape to France where they are inhumanely detained in camps with little food and less shelter. Victor marries his younger brother's pregnant girlfriend, Roser, out of necessity to save their lives and so they can get a berth on board the SS Winnipeg. The famous Latin American poet and hero, Pablo Neruda, organized an evacuation of 2,200 Spaniards out of France heading toward Chile just weeks ahead of the beginning of WWII. These immigrants settled into Chile, many bringing the seeds of revolution with them from Europe. Victor and Roser among these immigrants, though they were less interested in politics and more interested in how to make a life for themselves in this new land. 

After many years of struggling to get by both Victor and Roser find themselves thriving in their new country, Victor as a doctor, Roser as a musician. But in the early 1970s Salvadore Allende (who happened to be Isabel Allende's godfather) is the first freely elected Marxist head of state. Immediately the country is thrown into turmoil. Three years later Salvadore Allende is dead and a CIA-backed coup installs General Augusto Pinochet, as the new leader. Suddenly Allende's friends, like Victor, are rounded up and either "disappear" or barely survive in concentration camps. Due to a lucky break, Victor is released after a year of detainment, forcing he and Roser to escape to Venezuela. Once again the couple must learn to live in exile.

The title, The Long Petal of the Sea, comes from a Pablo Neruda poem that depicts Chile as a “long petal of sea and wine and snow […] with a belt of black and white foam.” Neruda plays an important role in the book, as does his poetry, excerpts are included between chapters. 

Isabel Allende was born in Peru in 1942. She too lived a displaced life, moving to Chile when she was two, later to Venezuela after she was targeted by Pinochet for her work against his repressive regime. She now lives in California. I haven't read many of her books, though she has published over twenty, but I understand that displacement and belonging are often themes of her books. In A Long Petal to the Sea, Allende also shines a light on the role love plays in making torturous events in life bearable, as we see through the slowly evolving love story between Roser and Victor.

I found this book to be not only beautifully written but also phenomenally profound. After listening to the audiobook together, my husband and I had a long discussion about extreme politics on both the left and right sides. It also does a remarkably good job of educating the reader of actual historical events by placing those events against the stories of average people. I highly recommend it and know it will generate a good book discussion next week at book club.

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from current book.The Friday56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56 to share. Visit these two websites to participate. Click on links to read quotes from books other people are reading. It is a great way to make blog friends and to get suggestions for new reading material. 


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