Book Review: "The Long Petal of the Sea" by Isabel Allende
5/5 - A stunning masterpiece of war and love...
Isabel Allende’s writing has always been some source of comfort and emotion to me. I first discovered her when I read her book “Eva Luna” whilst I was in school - I must have been about seventeen at the time and afterwards, I did not think of reading her again until I fell back in love with her writing in university. I was twenty years’ old and I had just finished reading a book called “The House of the Spirits” - which I now believe to be her magnum opus. A heart-wrenching book set in a family saga that begins with the death of a woman called Rosa the Beautiful. Throughout the novel, we see fortune telling and spirituality, war and death, love and conflict that take over almost four generations of a family whilst the brooding Esteban sits back and watches as his life crumbles to the ground. “The Long Petal of the Sea” is not a lot different though it is not as long. Instead, this one is set during the Spanish Civil War and starts off with a doctor who treats the wounded. We get these moments in which we are stopped to contemplate before the reality of the war comes rushing back. When the doctor’s father dies and both he and his brother return to his bedside, he must make his father a promise to take his mother and the pianist away from the war. Unable to say no, but unable to leave his post of being a doctor, this book travels through space and time of the late 1930s and generations ahead as we meet people who would not have existed if it was not for an alternative plan in the mind of our main character.
Isabel Allende’s language style is something that has always been a great source of inspiration for me. It contains long descriptions of emotion, death and love scenes that are perfectly woven into the fabric of the story both as a major event and simply a fact of life. It is the enjoyment of travelling through these lives one by one, knowing that each and every character has their own fate waiting for them, that is one of the most important things about the entire experience. The doctor is not only locked into the conflict of the Spanish Civil War and must survive whilst also helping others to survive, but he must also contemplate within himself whether he is to act upon his father’s wishes and take his mother and the pianist out of the country as the Nazis get closer and closer through France, as the nationalists rage on and most importantly, contemplating whether or not his younger brother - a soldier in the war - will survive the days of conflict.
This book often reminded me of the poetry and plays of Federico Garcia Lorca. The spirituality and yet the brutalises of the story makes for an excellent use of extended metaphors to do with conflict on both a macro and micro scale. But there is something magical and urgent about the atmosphere. Contemplation upon life is done, but there is a sense of urgency and the main character has no time to lose anymore. It is paced perfectly and has some of the most beautiful language in any modern book. Isabel Allende spends some time at the beginning of each chapter quoting the words of the great Pablo Neruda and honestly, between the concepts which seem very much like Lorca and the words which seem to come from the hand and pen of Neruda - I would not have this book any other way.