In This Review

A Long Petal of the Sea
A Long Petal of the Sea
By Isabel Allende. Translated by Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson
336 pp, Ballantine Books, 2020

A Long Petal of the Sea (a reference to the geography of Chile) weaves a love story spanning the Spanish Civil War and the coup that toppled the leftist Chilean president Salvador Allende in 1973. The prolific and celebrated author also happens to be related to the deposed president. In the novel, she reimagines the real voyage of a cargo ship, the SS Winnipeg, that in 1939 ferried desperate refugees from the Spanish Civil War to Chile. When many countries were closing their doors to European immigrants, the progressive Chilean government tasked the diplomat and poet Pablo Neruda with selecting the Winnipeg’s lucky 2,200 passengers. Allende deplores the reactionary vengeance of General Francisco Franco in Spain, mocks the Chilean aristocracy for its provincial arrogance, and decries the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet for its unspeakable atrocities. Her strong-willed protagonists endure historical tragedies, eventually setting aside their youthful utopian idealism for professional accomplishments and enduring love.