Skip to content

A Long Petal of the Sea: The Sunday Times Bestseller

A Long Petal of the Sea: The Sunday Times Bestseller by Isabel Allende

As seen:

By Isabel Allende

avg rating

17 reviews


03 May 2021

Julia M

A beautiful cover, a brilliant story and a most enjoyable read. I must admit to being slightly unsure, initially, with all the intense information and detail about the war and politics but as the story developed I began to really enjoy it. I particularly loved the relationships between the characters and the stories about the different people involved in the network of families, friends and acquaintances; eg the cruise, the affair, the pregnancy, etc. The characters were well drawn and I felt a connection with them all. I was genuinely interested in their lives and what happened to them. I was amazed at the amount of 'ground' covered in the book, in terms of the different countries featured, the time span, the different generations of family. I enjoyed seeing events unfold over whole lifetimes, which left me feeling quite emotional at the end of the book, particularly in terms of the relationship between Victor and Roser which was of particular interest and I loved the way the author nurtured and developed it over many years, into the beautiful thing which it ultimately became. What a positive outlook on the ageing process portrayed in the book, too.

28 Apr 2021

Pauline 30

This novel certainly rattles along. It is based on historical events, about which I knew very little but it carries the information lightly so that you are never too bogged down in historical details but understand events through the characters experiences. The intertwined families was cleverly developed. I found this a very positive novel with a surprisingly upbeat view of old age and love. Though Allende has lived so long in America, this novel still has a South American feel in the way the story unfolds. I would definitely recommend it as ' a good read.

28 Apr 2021

elaine c

A very memorable novel and a really excellent read. I will recommend to all my friends and anyone who asks. Allende has a perfect way of marrying up the richness of the lives of individual characters, within the great sweeps of 20 century history. You really do feel swept along with this story and truly care about the characters who feel real. The themes various: of home and displacement; love (and the nuances and variations that can give life meaning); and the resources and resilience that individuals can find within themselves through times of misery and turmoil. This is a novel where you learn and remember, and are continually prompted to think, especially now about the plight of refugees and how and where we stand in all of this. A question I continually came back to in this novel was: "What would I have done?"

20 Apr 2021


I read this book through my Book Club.

This is not my usual genre of book, and I did find it a bit heavy going at first. However, I persevered and it wasn’t long before I was gripped by the story of Victor Dalmau and his long life. I know the characters were fictitious, but it didn’t feel like that on reading the book. I knew very little about the Spanish Civil War, and this certainly enlightened me as to what happened during the conflict. I was entranced by the story. It was one of tragedy, hope and love.

It was a marvellous work of historical fiction and is well worth reading.

19 Apr 2021


I was absolutely spell bound! What a superb read!

Although I have read books about The Civil War in the past, I had some 'muddled 'view on certain aspects, but Allende's descriptions helped me to put this terrible period of Spanish history into perspective and opened my eyes to the atrocities suffered by so many, by others who had no awareness, understanding or empathy for another fellow being's suffering. I think it is a book which would greatly help people understand the plight of refugees in today's climate and help some to become more tolerant.

The love story between Victor and Roser unfolded beautifully. There are many forms of what we consider to be 'love' and how love is interpreted by others and between two people themselves. Their love encompassed so many different facets but it was wonderful to read how it unfolded throughout their lifetime.

I will certainly read more novels by this author and highly recommend this book. I was given The Long Petal Of The Sea by Isabel Allende through Marple Bookworms.

19 Apr 2021

Reading Group review

Dorset Libraries Live Chat reviews

Carol's review:

Allende has done her research, and by the end I knew far more about the lives of Spanish refugees after the Spanish Civil War. We follow Victor, a young doctor, and Roser a pianist to Chile, a safe haven during WW2, and see them remake their lives. Roser is carrying Vincent’s dead brother’s child, and they marry in order to get her a visa. We watch them rebuild their lives, as their marriage grows from one of convenience to a love match, and Victor becomes a talented heart surgeon. I also learnt about the events in Chile which led to the brief Socialist regime of Salvador Allende – flawed, but well-intentioned, and sabotaged by the USA. A military coup followed, and Pinochet ruled a terrifying right-wing dictatorship, supported by the USA and European countries, which saw him as a defence against Russian influence. Victor is denounced by a neighbour, is dragged from his operating theatre, tortured, sent to a concentration camp, but is rescued when he operates on the camp commandant after a heart attack. I’m glad I read it – it held my attention, and inspired me to find out more about Spain, Chile and Venezuela during that period of history.

Jean's review:

Historical Fiction is not my favourite style of novel, but I found Isabel Allende ‘A long Petal of the Sea’ a must read. For me it was a difficult read, the details about the Spanish Civil war and the Chilean military coup were parts of recent history that I had not engaged with before. I suspect the descriptions given of the horrors faced are perhaps easier to read than what must have been the reality. I still found I needed to take time out from reading, to absorb these tracts of man’s inhumanity. Underpinning and wound through the novel is the wonderful story of a love between the two main characters Victor and Roser that nothing could dispel and which grows and grows and grows right through to the end of their long life together. It’s truly an informative book of hope and love despite the worst that humanity might put on the pathway of life. A book that needs time to read and inspires and informs. The author herself a former Chilean exile living then in Venezuela writes with first-hand knowledge and a tremendous amount of research from people who would know what the true historical facts where. Even the typeface that the book uses has a historical perspective. Most certainly a book that draws you in and makes you want to know more and has much to offer about how we live now and the hope and love that can never fade.

Jane's review:

From the start you are drawn into the, often harrowing lives of Spanish refugees. The wealth of detail in the story, totally immerses you into the era. You have a glimpse of what life would have been like – coping with fear and hunger, losing trust and faith in other human beings. The love story underpinning the whole story spans time, developing, flourishing and sometimes faltering. When Rosa (heavily pregnant) walks to a refugee camp, you gain an understanding of what a determined and strong young woman she is, and you know she will overcome any barriers or hardships that are thrown her way.
Having previously not known very much about the Spanish Civil War, I felt much more enlightened after reading this story, and it was a lot to absorb.
I’ve now read a few books by this author, and only really became aware of her following our virtual reading group session where we read a book in translation. I really enjoy the style of her writing, and with each book I’ve learned so much more than what happened to the characters in the book. I would really recommend this book.

19 Apr 2021


I am ashamed to say that I have never read any Isabel Allende before, but she may just have become one of my favourite authors. This is a really good book, a geographical, historical and literary treasure. Centred around Roser and Victor, the book follows them as they escape from Spain during the Civil War and end up in Chile. Further political instability necessitates a move to Venezuela. The book is inspired by characters and stories from the author's own family history and the poignancy is palpable. The story is well constructed, well told and the characters are well developed. I really wanted life to turn out well for them after the situations in which they had found themselves through no fault of their own. I find it difficult to see how anybody could dislike this book and would therefore whole-heartedly recommend it.

18 Apr 2021

St Regulus SD

Having never heard of the author before and not being too keen on historical fiction, I faced this book with trepidation. I needn't have worried as Allende is an expert in storytelling, with this being an epic novel following the stories of a few of those caught up in Franco's Spain and their escape from this regime to a new life in Chile. Beautifully told and translated, the characters and their stories will stay with me for a long time.

16 Apr 2021

Sharon Goddard

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, although it is quite a tome to read. Isabel Allende is a skilled writer who sweeps you along from Spain to South America, informing you through the narrative of a history which is often overlooked. It resonates very well with what is happening currently to refugees in several parts of the world.

The characters are well developed and thoroughly likeable. What struck me was the comparison I found myself making between naive and well intentioned politically left wing activists and cruel and ruthless dictators. The result is often similar, which is the suffering of the poor and the uneducated who have not got the means to flee. It also reinforced my belief in the importance of democracy, although I don’t think that was Allende’s intention.

My major criticism would be of unnecessary repetition of what had gone before, although I know some people in Marple Bookworms found this helped them to keep apace with the complicated cast of characters and events but for me was a constant irritation. I also felt that some of the detail could have been edited and the result would have been a quicker and less drawn out read.

Would I recommend the book? Yes, without hesitation ; it is a satisfying read that is very informative as well as entertaining and I like books that do both.

14 Apr 2021


It is of no surprise that Isabel Allende has written yet again a wonderful book. Her words flow with the rich rhythms and texture of the Spanish language with the help of her magnificent translators Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson.
This time we are presented with the story of Spanish Civil War and the Chilean takeover by Pinocet. Both of these these brutal times of fascism linked through the family history of the Dalmou clan and their acquaintances. It is a story of the battle of freedom vs oppression as exemplified politically and personally through the loves and losses of each of the characters as they fight for mere existence at times. It is a story of love in all its many guises.
I didn't know much about the Spanish Civil War except the romanticized version of Hollywood and Hemmingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls". I had no idea of the great exodus or of the Winnipeg voyage. This book is very relevant to our present day immigration issues and reminds us that it is not a simple issue and that many people who have chosen to immigrate often have had no other choice. The countries who have received these people have often been more enriched than depleted by these folk.
Read this book for the entertaining story and the history but also for relection.

14 Apr 2021


Allende tells the heart-wrenching story of a group of characters dealing with the rise of fascism in Spain, forcing them to flee to Chile as exiles where they find history repeating itself all over again. It's a poignant tale and broadly fictional in nature, though it seems to be heavily based on the true stories of Spanish refugees, and one in particular. The narrative is beautifully presented by Allende (with credit to the English translators Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson), elegantly capturing the struggle of its various characters. Their principles and ideologies cost them dearly, yet they demonstrate a firm resolve to stick with what they believe in a great picture of the human spirit. This novel shows us what it is to live in a world which constantly jerks from one political extreme to the other and to be a continual outsider while laying claim to a right to belong.

The content put me in mind of 'This Lovely City', a recent novel by Louise Hare. In both, immigrants travel from one country to another on a now iconic boat as part of an initiative organised by the receiving government. In each novel, the new arrivals try to settle into a new place where many view them with suspicion, while grappling with questions of national identity, but with ill-advised affairs threatening to ruin everything.

They're very different books in style and, in the case of 'A Long Petal of the Sea', a deeper dive is taken into the issues. I certainly learnt a lot about the Spanish Civil War and the build-up to the reign of Pinochet in Chile, both subjects of which I had a very peripheral knowledge. What is more, I gained a vivid insight into the experience of those suffering terribly at the hands of an adversarial government.

Allende has given me a thirst to seek out more on Chilean literature and history. It's certainly a great starting point.

09 Apr 2021

A fabulous historical tale!
I am ashamed to say I didn’t know much about the Spanish civil war and more particularly the displacement of so many Spanish people and the terrible camps and death toll in France as a result.
The Winnipeg story was wonderful and a fabulous way of linking the historical tale in Chile too, which was equally fascinating with the exile situation and the political playing field.
I would have preferred that the tale stayed with the protagonists - Roser and Victor rather than the side story of the Del Solars and that Marcel had also become a protagonist so that we could see the political landscape through the eyes of the next generation.
Overall a compulsive and extremely informative and interesting read
Methley book club JM

08 Apr 2021


I was so please our book club was selected to read and review this book. I found it a gripping read, especially during this long hard 3rd lockdown. Experiencing the sadness of missing my family made me begin to understand a little bit more of just how terrible it must have been for the refugees from the Spanish civil war. This book describes well the horrors, chaos and futility/hopelessness this terrible conflict but in a way that keeps you focussed on the characters. . The quotes from the poet Pablo Neruda add richness to the book and I loved the descriptions of Chilli.

The amazing characters and their stories took me through aspects of history that I had little knowledge of. Indeed it made me research further, to find out what happened to the half a million refugees as they escaped to France to be treated so badly and then to be have to deal with the Nazis in the 2nd world war.
Learning out about the Winnipeg was heart warming and eye opening.
I also realised how little I knew about General Pinochet and the privileged classes in Chilli and the USA involvement in the coup. The unbelievable extremist irrational behaviour of disappearing (killing) doctors and nurses, teachers and anyone who may or may not have opposed the regime is chilling and should act as a warning to us all, as one of the prisoners says " we can all turn into savages if we are given a rifle and an order" . Indeed the book helps increase awareness of how many refugees are in such terrible situations still throughout the world and indeed in our country.
The story covers so many bad parts of history but the characters and the way it is written is full of warmth and love and hope. I would certainly recommend it to friends .

07 Apr 2021


The story follows four generations of a family from 1939 to1994, during which time people are brought together through both love and tragedy. Loyalties to country, kin, political systems and friendships are examined and we see how these loyalties shape lives and motivate the communities that are brought alive by the book.

Through the eyes of the family, the book really illustrates what it feels like to see your country torn apart by civil war and the displacement that follows. By following a family we see how it is possible to become alienated from your country of birth and how the political landscape is woven into the rhythms of everyday life. With political unrest, we watch uncertainty and mistrust build up to de-humanise people in the most dire of circumstances.

Contrasts are drawn between families, highlighting social divisions in society and through these contrasts we see the factors driving and affecting people on both sides of the civil war in Chile, a country which the influential poet Pablo Neruda described as ‘a long petal of the sea’. The way in which the novel is constructed enables us to have some empathy with both sides of the civil war and watch how suspicion grows between factions dividing friendships and families as illustrated by this quotation, "Chile is divided into irreconcilable groups, son. Friends are fighting, families are split down the middle; it’s impossible to talk to anyone who doesn’t think as you do. I don’t see many of my old friends anymore so that we won’t fight.”

The theme of displacement ran throughout the book and we learn that the concept of home can be defined not only by a location, but also can be encapsulated in a particular period of time. If the political climate changes beyond recognition it is possible to become a nomad and to feel permanently exiled, never really feeling a true sense of home. As a result we see families making many new starts, trying to rebuild their place in a new community to give themselves a life enhancing sense of purpose as well as a sense of belonging.

Overall, despite the tragedies, the book is uplifting and conveys hope, too, in the sense that 'love conquers all'.

I would recommend this book to others and particularly enjoyed learning more about the civil war in Spain and the pendulum of change in Chile. It was the first book that I've read by Isabel Allende and I am sure I would enjoy others by her.

06 Apr 2021


The author had me hooked from the outset with the horrors of war shown to us right at the beginning. So many young lives sacrificed in the Spanish Civil War, so many young men fighting for their cause with passion and so many being slaughtered.
Isabel Allende weaves a tale around this setting of tragedy and hope beautifully describing her characters through their loves and sacrifices, some never giving up with such inner strength.
I had visited this area of Spain and France many years ago but had no idea what lay beneath these holiday destinations, what tales they might have told. Fortunately Isabel Allende has educated me in her fabulous novel.

30 Mar 2021

Isabel Allende is a wonderful writer and in that there is no doubt. Her attention to detail and her care for her characters is outstanding. This book is a thoughtful dissertation on love and the place it takes in our lives, particularly in the lives of those who find themselves without a home and fighting to find a way to live successfully in the worlds they are forced to become a part of - most often not through choices of their own but through the challenges of wars and politics and the desire for power that shouts loudly over the heads of the everyday person. You cannot help but feel empathy and warmth towards Roser and Victor as they weave their way towards each other, it is powerfully written. That said for me personally there is an enormous amount of historical fact contained within these pages and whilst I appreciate it was a history of which I knew very little it is also a history that for me at times weighted heavily on my enthusiasm for the lives I was attempting to follow. In lesser hands this work would be too unwieldy to read but Isabel takes it beyond that place and I suspect that my hesitation is down to my dislike of historical fiction rather than any failing on the part of this title which I would happily recommend.

27 Mar 2021


I was thoroughly absorbed by this book from the off. A very warm, strong, immersive and masterfully told story of survival, conflict, exile, making a difference, exile, courage and deep love.
Victor Dalmau is a young Catalan man caught up in the Spanish civil war and becomes a doctor through grim experience at the front line. He reinforces his practical, medical experience and knowledge with study and gains full medical qualifications.
His family is torn up by the civil war and ultimately, he and Roser seek refuge and a new life in Chile. A new world, a new life, a safe haven or so they think .... and then history repeats itself and it all starts again; political unrest, dictatorships, imprisonment, exile, separation, despair, renewed hope.
In his advanced years, Victor comments “My life has been a series of journeys. I’ve travelled from one side of the world to another.. I’ve been a foreigner without realising I had deep roots .... My spirit has sailed as well.”
This is a wonderfully moving book about survival, love and optimism and the strength of the human spirit. Fascinating.

From the noticeboard

View our other programmes