Likely Stories: A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende

Aug 13, 2020

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, and Poetry.

One of the most talented writers to come out of South America is Isabelle Allende.  She began her career with The House of Spirits, which gave her world-wide acclaim.  Since then, she has written twenty-four bestselling and critically acclaimed novels.  Her latest book is A Long Petal of the Sea.  She was born in Peru, raised in Chile, but she now lives in California.

Isabel has a wide-ranging portfolio on a variety of topics.  A Long Petal is no exception.  I was surprised when I opened the novel to learn it is a story of the Spanish Civil War.  I knew a smattering of information about that horrific conflict, but this novel is a description in minute detail of the thousands upon thousands murdered by General Franco and his fascist army supported by the Nazis.

The story begins, “The young soldier was part of the ‘Baby Bottle Conscription,’ the boys called up when there were no more men, young or old, to fight the war.  Victor Dalmau received him with the other wounded taken from the supply truck and laid out like logs on mats placed over the cement and stone floor of the Estacion de Norte, where they had to wait for other vehicles to take them to the hospital centers.  The boy lay motionless, with a calm look of someone who has seen the angels and now fears nothing.  There was no telling how many days he had spent being shifted from one stretcher to another, one filled hospital to another, one ambulance to another, before reaching Catalonia on this particular train” (3).

Allende wrote, “Victor and his younger brother, Guillem, were educated at a non-religious school and grew up in a small house in the Raval district of Barcelona, in a struggling middle-class Catan home, where their father’s music and their mother’s books took the place of religion.  Marcel Lluis instilled in his sons, as well as all kinds of music, a curiosity for science and a passion for social justice” (14-15).

Victor, one of the main characters, was a skilled surgeon, and he suffered horrible torture at the hands of the fascists.  Allende continues, “It was in the Teruel caves that Victor acquired nerves of steel and the medical knowledge that no university could have offered him.  He learned that you could get used to almost anything—to blood (so much blood!), surgery without anesthetics, the stench of gangrene, filth, the endless flood of wounded soldiers, sometime women and children as well—while at the same time an age-old weariness sapped your will, and worst of all, you had to confront the insidious suspicion that all this sacrifice might be in vain.  And it was there, as he was pulling the dead and wounded from the ruins of a bombardment, that the delayed collapse of a wall smashed his left leg” (9-10).

This amazing and awful history of a war--seemingly without end—which reminds us of the terrors of conflict among helpless people.  Isabel Allende has authored another spectacular story in A Long Petal of the Sea.  5 stars!

Likely Stories is a production or KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and Happy Reading!