A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende review – a sweeping historical saga
Allende’s novel spans generations and countries as it follows a real-life doctor from the Spanish civil war to the fall of Pinochet
Isabel Allende’s 23rd book begins in the furnace of the Spanish civil war, where trainee doctor Victor Dalmau is holding a human heart between his hands, and ends more than 50 years later in a Chile recovering from the fall of Pinochet. Through that huge span, we follow Victor and his wife, Roser, as they flee across continents and witness the decades-long fallout from Franco’s rise to power.
Given that Allende has set herself the task of covering half a century in a relatively short book, it isn’t surprising that dialogue is minimal. Most of the story is told in episodic narration, or even summary. An omniscient narrator sees into the minds not only of Victor and Roser, but of many people who brush past along the way, sometimes revisiting them, sometimes leaving them behind in the political riptides. This kind of narration is extraordinarily difficult. Characters are a lot like gym weights; it’s much easier to hug them close than it is to hold them further away. Allende’s style is impressively Olympian and the payoff is remarkable: a huge overview of generations, decades and countries. Continue reading...
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