Publisher – Bloomsbury
Author – Isabel Allende
Length – 336 pages
Genre – Historical Fiction (inspired by real story)
Rating – 5⭐ /5
I would probably never be able to express how much I loved this book and the Deep impact it had on me as a human, in the times of desperate needs human lives becomes the cheapest and by all the accounts,that I have read on wars ,in my mind atleast they never lead to anything good but this book being a war story and with omnipresence of death and sadness is so beautiful, crafted with a very delicate treatment of every aspect of life, love and loss.
September 3, 1939, the day of the Spanish exiles’ splendid arrival in Chile, the Second World War broke out in Europe.
Victor Dalmau is a young doctor when he is caught up in the Spanish Civil War, a tragedy that leaves his life – and the fate of his country – forever changed. Together with his sister-in-law, the pianist Roser Bruguera, he is forced out of his beloved Barcelona and into exile.
When opportunity to seek refuge in Chile arises, they take it, boarding a ship chartered by the poet Pablo Neruda to the promised ‘long petal of sea and wine and snow’ over the seas. There, they find themselves enmeshed in a rich web of characters who come together in love and tragedy over the course of four generations, destined to witness the battle between freedom and repression as it plays out across the world.
In the late 1930s, civil war grips Spain. When General Franco and his Fascists succeed in overthrowing the government, hundreds of thousands are forced to flee in a treacherous journey over the mountains to the French border. Among them is Roser, a pregnant young widow, who finds her life intertwined with that of Victor Dalmau, an army doctor and the brother of her deceased love. In order to survive, the two must unite in a marriage neither of them desires.
Together with two thousand other refugees, they embark on the SS Winnipeg, a ship chartered by the poet Pablo Neruda, to Chile: “the long petal of sea and wine and snow.” As unlikely partners, they embrace exile as the rest of Europe erupts in world war. Starting over on a new continent, their trials are just beginning, and over the course of their lives, they will face trial after trial. But they will also find joy as they patiently await the day when they will be exiles no more. Through it all, their hope of returning to Spain keeps them going. Destined to witness the battle between freedom and repression as it plays out across the world, Roser and Victor will find that home might have been closer than they thought all along.
As I said in the beginning I loved this book, I cannot express in words how much, if you are going to read only two books this year, make sure this is one of them ( I’m saying two books because I’m an incurable optimist )
Sometimes you read a book and you get so submerged in it, so involved that even after the book is finished the story just stays with you, this is one of those books for me.
Also the more I read about wars the more I realise that they never lead to anything good compared to the loss of innumerable lives and suffering of normal people. Here too the suffering of people is shown with such beauty, it has many grotesque details but it deals with all of them with a lot of grace.
(Minor spoilers may be ahead from here)
I loved the Pablo Neruda quotes at the beginning of every chapter, it also served as a reminder that this book was not just a work of fiction and these things were lives of so many people.
As the Spanish civil war broke, both Dalmau brothers starts to work for their army. Victor works at the medical unit, where he restarts the heart of a fallen soldier becomes a pivotal point in his story and his brother Guillem, a handsome army man. His character has a short but very impactful presence and undoubtedly When his parents take in one of his father’s best piano students, Roser Bruguera, it’s Guillem that she falls in love with, and his death is one of the most heartbreaking points in the story, specially because he had left behind a pregnant Roser.
Victor carefully opened the billfold,which seemed to be about to fall in to pieces. He took out Guillem’s identify card , and a miraculously intact photograph. It was the image of a young girl standing next to a grand piano. Victor Dalmau remained seated for several minutes at the foot of camp bed, unable to speak
Along with half a million fellow Spaniards fleeing Franco, Roser makes it to France, where she’s interned in the Argelès-sur-Mer concentration camp. Separately, Victor, too, is imprisoned in the same camp there, before escaping to track her down in Perpignan, where she and her baby son are sheltering with a Quaker family.
Chilean diplomat and poet Pablo Neruda lobbied to save over 2,000 of the refugees, as many as could fit on a nine-ton cargo ship called the SS Winnipeg, bound for political asylum. Victor and Roser manages to be two of those people on the Winnipeg after getting into a marriage for convenience as the preference was more for immediate relatives. And after a month long journey on the ship they finally reach chille and the next war breaks.
Over the coming decades Victor and Roser go through many challenges, including another exile, this time to Venezuela( like Allende herself)
But before that happens, they have a chance to repay Neruda, hiding him in their home after communism is outlawed and a warrant is issued for his arrest. When the poet moves on to another safe house, Victor realises how “his guest had filled every nook and cranny with his huge presence”
Spanning through decades and generations this is definitely a story worth reading and remembering.