What I’m reading: Another epic romance from Isabel Allende



Spain 1938. Victor Dalmau, a trainee doctor, flees the civil war that is tearing his country apart. He escapes over the mountains with Roser, a gifted pianist pregnant by his brother who is one of the thousands of victims of Franco’s remorseless tyranny.

From France the pair are evacuated to a new life in Chile. A deep platonic love – and Roser’s son – binds them, although they both have intense affairs with other people. Chile, like Spain, goes through turbulent times. The Marxist Salvador Allende (a cousin of the author) wins the presidency of Chile for only a few years before a military coup installs the brutal Fascist Pinochet regime, forcing Victor and Roser to seek exile again, this time in Venezuela.

In middle age their love for each other finds a new passion and a new depth. They return to Chile to live out their lives, despite the rigours of life under Pinochet. Better years lie ahead for Chile.


Isabel Allende writes beautifully, although in this book I felt her new translators did not quite serve her as majestically as their predecessors. A Long Petal of the Sea (the title is taken from a poem by Palbo Neruda, who appears as a character in the novel) is one of her greatest stories, up there with House of the Spirits and Daughter of Fortune (my two favourites): an epic story of love and loss played out against the changing tides of history. At her best – and she is at her best here – Allende is one of the greatest living writers. This is a romance both ‘of its time’ and timeless.


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