- File Size: 4212 KB
- Print Length: 336 pages
- Publisher: Ballantine Books (January 21, 2020)
- Publication Date: January 21, 2020
- Sold by: Random House LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B07R9WKFRF
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Not Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #571 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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“A tale that is seductively intimate and strategically charming . . . a virtuoso of lucidly well-told, utterly enrapturing fiction . . . Allende deftly addresses war, displacement, violence, and loss in a novel of survival and love under siege.”—Booklist (starred review)
“A Long Petal of the Sea is a rich and transportive novel, epic in scope, about finding love and finding home.”—PopSugar
“An absorbing story.”—AARP
“An immersive read about love and survival.”—Real Simple
“Isabel Allende has time and again proven herself a master of magical realism. Her latest novel . . . serves as a paean to human love and endurance.”—Elle
“Allende fans have been waiting with bated breath for her latest novel, and A Long Petal of the Sea doesn’t disappoint.”—Marie Claire
“The wondrous Isabel Allende is back, doing what she does best.”—Read It Forward
“In addition to being well-researched historical fiction, it also parallels current issues.”—Book Riot
“Powerfully told, this is a soaring, inspirational tale.”—The Orange County Register
“Allende . . . has deftly woven fact and fiction, history and memory, to create one of the most richly imagined portrayals of the Spanish Civil War to date, and one of the strongest and most affecting works in her long career.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Allende’s latest . . . marks a return to the time and setting of the book that jump-started her literary career, The House of the Spirits, but with far less supernatural elements and a more expansive engagement of revolution, exile and the determination of the human spirit. . . . A page-turning story rich with history and surprising subplots that keep the novel unpredictable to the end.” —Los Angeles Times
“Isabel Allende’s A Long Petal of the Sea gets to the heart of immigrant struggle. . . . [It] begins, as it ends, with the heart. . . . Victor and Roser’s story is compelling. . . . Allende’s prose is both commanding and comforting. The author writes eloquently on the struggle of letting go of one culture to embrace a new one and shows that one’s origin story is not the whole story. . . . While debate and policy surround the issues of refugees and immigration, Allende reminds us that these issues, at their core, are made up of individuals and their love stories.” —USA Today
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
He went out every day, in the fierce August sun and the icy January winds, walking for hours with his pilgrim’s staff, battered leather hat, and hunting dog. His wife was lost in the labyrinths of dementia, and spent her days being cared for inside the house, creating monsters with paper and paint. In the village she was known as the Gentle Lunatic, and that’s what she was: she didn’t cause any problems, apart from her tendency to get lost as she set off toward the horizon, and to paint the walls with her own excrement.
Roser was about seven years old when on one of his walks Don Santiago saw her looking after a few skinny goats. It was enough for him to exchange a few words with her to realize that she possessed a lively and inquiring mind. The professor and the little goatherd established a strange friendship based on the lessons in culture he gave her, and her desire to learn. One winter’s day, when he came upon her crouched shivering in a ditch with her three goats, soaked from the rain and flushed with fever, Don Santiago tied up the goats and slung her over his shoulder like a sack, thankful she was so small and weighed so little. Even so, the effort almost killed him, and after a few steps he gave up. Leaving her where she was, he hurried on and called to one of his laborers, who carried her to the house. Don Santiago told his cook to give her something to eat, instructed his housemaids to prepare a bath and bed for her, and the stable boy to go first to Santa Fe and find the doctor, and then to look for the goats before someone stole them.
The doctor said the girl had influenza and was malnourished. She also had scabies and lice. Since nobody came to the Guzman house asking after her either on that day or any of the following ones, they assumed she was an orphan, until in the end they asked her directly and she explained that her family lived on the other side of the mountain. In spite of being as frail as a partridge, the young girl recovered rapidly, because she turned out to be stronger than she looked. She allowed them to shave her head to get rid of the lice, and didn’t resist the sulfur treatment they used for the scabies. She ate voraciously and showed signs of having a placid temperament that was at odds with her sad situation.
In the weeks she spent in the mansion, everyone, from the delirious mistress to all the servants, became deeply attached to her. They had never had a little girl in that stone house haunted by semi-feral cats and ghosts from past ages. The most infatuated was the professor, who was vividly reminded of the privilege of teaching an avid mind, but even he realized that her stay with them could not go on forever. He waited for her to recover completely and to put some flesh on her bones, then decided to visit the far side of the mountain and tell her negligent parents a few hard truths. Ignoring his wife’s pleas, he installed her, well wrapped up in his carriage, and took her off.
They came to a low muddy shack at the edge of the village, one of many wretched places in the area. The peasants lived on starvation wages, working on the land as serfs for big landowners or the Church. The professor called out, and several frightened children came to the door, followed by a witch dressed in black. She was not, as Don Santiago first thought, the girl’s great-grandmother, but was in fact Roser’s mother. These villagers had never received the visit of a carriage with gleaming horses before, and were dumbstruck when they saw Roser climbing out of it with such a distinguished-looking gentleman. ‘I’ve come to talk to you about this child,’ Don Santiago began in the authoritarian tone that had once struck fear into his university students. Before he could continue, the woman grabbed Roser by the hair and started shouting and slapping her, accusing her of the loss of their goats. The professor immediately understood there was no point reproaching this exhausted woman for anything, and on the spot came up with a plan that would drastically alter the girl’s destiny.
Roser spent the rest of her childhood in the Guzman mansion, officially adopted and taken in as the mistress’s personal servant, but also as the professor’s pupil. In exchange for helping the maids and bringing the Gentle Lunatic solace, she was given board and an education. The historian shared a good part of his library with her, taught her more than she would have learned in any school, and let her practice on the grand piano once played by his wife, who now could no longer recall what on earth this huge black monster was for. Roser, who during the first seven years of her life had heard no music at all apart from the drunkards’ accordions on Saint John’s Eve, turned out to have an extraordinary good ear. There was an old cylinder phonograph in the house, but as soon as Don Santiago realized his protégée could play tunes on the piano after listening to them only once, he ordered a modern gramophone from Madrid, together with a collection of records. Within a short time Roser Brugera, whose feet still didn’t reach the pedals, could play the music from the records with her eyes closed. Delighted, he found her a music teacher in Santa Fe, sent her there three times a week, and personally supervised her practice sessions. Roser, who was able to play anything from memory, didn’t see much point in learning to read music or to practice the same scales for hours, but did so out of respect for her mentor.
By the time she was fourteen, Roser was far more accomplished than her teacher, and at fifteen Don Santiago installed her in a guest house for young Catholic ladies in Barcelona so that she could continue her music studies. He would have liked to keep her by his side, but his duty as an educator won out over his paternal instinct. He decided that the girl had received a special talent from God, and his role in this world was to help her develop it. It was around this time that the Gentle Lunatic began to fade away, and in the end died without any fuss. Alone in his mansion, Santiago Guzman began increasingly to feel the weight of his years. He had to give up his walks with his pilgrim’s staff and the time spent reading by the hearth. His hunting dog also died, and he was loath to replace it because he didn’t want to die first and leave the animal without a master.
The arrival of Spain’s Second Republic in 1931 embittered the old man. As soon as the election results favoring the Left became known, King Alfonso XIII left for exile in France, and Don Santiago, monarchist, staunch conservative and Catholic that he was, saw his world collapsing around him. He could never tolerate the Reds, still less adapt to their vulgar ways: those ruthless people were lackeys of the Soviets who went around burning churches and executing priests. The idea that everyone was equal was fine as a theoretical slogan, he said, but in practice it was an aberration. We are not equal in the eyes of God, because He was the one who created social classes and other distinctions among mankind. The agrarian reform stripped Don Santiago of his land, which was not worth a great deal but had belonged to his family forever.
From one day to the next, the peasants spoke to him without doffing their caps or lowering their eyes. His inferiors’ insolence was more painful than the loss of his land, because it was a direct affront to his dignity and the position he had always held in this world. He dismissed all the servants who had lived under his roof for decades, had his library, paintings, other collections and memorabilia packed up, and closed his house under lock and key. All this filled three moving vans, but he couldn’t take the biggest pieces of furniture or the grand piano, because they wouldn’t fit into his Madrid apartment. A few months later, the Republican mayor of Santa Fe confiscated the house and turned it into an orphanage.
Among the many grave disappointments and reasons for anger Don Santiago suffered in those years was the transformation of his protégé. Under the bad influence of the troublemakers at the university, and in particular that of a certain Professor Marcel Lluis Dalmau, a communist, socialist, or anarchist—in the end, it was all the same thing—his Roser had turned into a Red. She had left the guest house for young ladies of good repute and was living with some hoydens who dressed as soldiers and practiced free love, which is what promiscuity and indecency had come to be called. He had to admit that Roser never showed him any lack of respect, but since she took it upon herself to ignore his warnings, he naturally had to withdraw his support for her. She wrote him a letter thanking him with all her soul for everything he had done for her, promising she would always follow the right path according to her own principles, and explaining she was working at night in a bakery and continuing to study music by day.
Don Santiago Guzman, installed in his luxurious Madrid apartment, where he could barely make his way through the clutter of furniture and other objects, and protected from the noise and vulgar uproar in the streets by heavy drapes the color of bull’s blood, socially isolated by his deafness and boundless pride, was blissfully unaware of how the most terrible rancor was surfacing in his country, a rancor that had been feeding on the wretchedness of some and the arrogance of others. He died alone and irate in his apartment in the Salamanca district four months before the uprising spearheaded by Franco’s troops. He was lucid to the end, and so accepting of death that he prepared his own obituary, to avoid some ignorant person publishing untruths about him.
He said farewell to no one, possibly because there was nobody close to him still alive, but he did remember Roser Bruguera, and in a noble gesture of reconciliation left her the grand piano, which was still being stored in the new orphanage at Santa Fe.
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As she says in her acknowledgements at the end of the book, Allende mined her own family stories to create the framework for this novel. It starts during the brutal Spanish Civil War in the 1930s and ends in the 1990s in Chile. While there are a number of major, well-drawn characters, the focus of the book is a couple who made a "marriage of convenience" in order to flee to Chile at the end of the Spanish Civil War. They favored the losing side, and it wasn't safe to stay.
After a dangerous flight over the French border and near starvation in refugee camps, Victor Dalmau, a medic, and Roser Bruguera, is a young pianist who was taken in by Victor's parents, are able to reach Chile. Roser is pregnant by Guillem, Victor's brother and a fighter in the Civil War. But when it comes time for Victor and Roser to escape, Guillem has not been heard from for some time and is feared dead. In order to emigrate, the couple have to marry. So they agree on a marriage of convenience, and take a boat with thousands of other refugees to Chile.
All of that takes up about the first half of the book; the rest is about their experiences over the decades in South America. There are quite a few twists of fate, due to their own restless hearts and also because of the precarious political situation that develops in the country. But through it all, the pair do their best to survive, for their own sakes and that of Guillem's son, Marcel.
Isabel Allenda is a marvelous storyteller. Her prose is spare but descriptive, and she keeps the plot moving through more than 50 years of history. This is one of my favorites of her books.
Their journey will take them to France, Chile and Venezuela. Governments in those countries were also in flux. Before they get there, Victor has a brief fling with a spoiled, aristocratic Spanish woman. She has a child who is given up for adoption, a fact Victor never learns until he is much older. Victor becomes a good friend of Pablo Neruda the poet, who writes a poem about Chile, written on the ship called “Winnipeg” that gives this novel its title. Pablo is a Socialist and becomes persecuted and hunted because of his political beliefs; but it turns out he is mainly concerned with the love of people and freedom. He is responsible for two thousand refuges being allowed to emigrate from Spain to Chile. These refugees soon develop a fine reputation for being responsible families who improve conditions in Chile.
This is a family saga about those who face constant trials but do their best to work hard and avoid controversy. Their debacle in each of these countries is heartbreaking. Victor becomes a tough man as he experiences the horrors of war which he experienced as a medic and later as a doctor in Chile. Allende’s earlier novels are more about the Pinochet government in Chile but here we also get a glimmer of the military horrors creating suffering and death for far too many.
Victor earns a reputation as an intelligent, capable and kind cardiologist. Rosa is pragmatic, hard-working and loyally protective of Victor. His vanity is shattered when his love Rosa becomes terminally ill.
What is unique about this family saga is how positive these characters are even in the face of the most daunting challenges. It’s a beautiful tribute to the power of love and loyalty, faith and hope in mankind no matter what the prevailing political challenges and, like the title poem, a tribute to beautiful people and lands prevailing in victory even when caught in the prevailing tides and currents testing the mettle of those riding the formidable journey into a more hopeful existence.
Top international reviews
The second thing I liked about it are the characters. I'm always fond of books where the characters are heavily utilized and are bold and spunky. Each one of the characters had a very unique role to play and contributed significantly to the story. Moreover the role of Pablo Neruda during the Spanish civil war and how he helped thousands of people to start their lives afresh was awesome and very thoughtful. Though the book has been translated but still it tried it's best to capture the real essence of emotions and love.
A great book.