Isabel Allende: Largo Pétalo de Mar (Chile)

The Author

Isabel Allende was born in 1942 in Lima, Peru where her father, a cousin of Chile’s socialist president Salvador Allende, worked at the Chilean embassy. After her parents’ separation in 1945, her mother married another diplomat. The family lived in Bolivia and  Lebanon for many years. In the 1960’s, Isabel Allende worked as a journalist and for the Chilean tv. When her name was added to a “wanted list” of the Augusto Pinochet’s military regime, she and her family fled to Venezuela where she lived until 1988 and where she wrote her first novel “The house of the  spirits” (La casa de los espíritus). After divorcing her first husband and getting married to a US citizen, she moved to California and obtained US citizenship in 2003. In her novels, Isabel Allende mixes personal experiences with historical facts and magical realism. She is one of the most popular Latin American authors and her books have been translated into numerous languages. Even at the age of almost 80, she still maintains a strict writing routine. 

Isabel Allende
Photo courtesy by Lesekreis - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

The Story

The Civil War in Spain (1936 – 1939) forces young doctor Víctor Dalmau and his late brother’s pregnant girl-friend Roser to escape to France. In order to be accepted on a ship to Chile, the two of them get married and start a new life in Santiago. Víctor has a short and unfortunate love-affair with a young woman from a rich Chilean family which much later in his life leads to an unexpected encounter. His friendship with Chile’s socialist president Salvador Allende leads to his arrest soon after the military overthrows the democratically elected government. Víctor and Roser eventually manage to escape to Venezuela. When the Franco dictatorship in Spain ends, they briefly try to settle there again but realize that the country has changed too much. After Victor’s name is removed from the black list of the Pinochet regime in 1983, they return to Chile. 

Suitability for learners of Spanish

“Largo pétalo de mar” is written in relatively easy Spanish which you should understand when you have a B2 level of the language. Unlike some of Isabel Allende’s earlier works, this book doesn’t contain any mystic elements and its narrative is easy to understand. If you’ve never read a Spanish book before, this novel is good choice to get started. If you’ve stumbled upon this website because you’re interested in Latin American literature but not necessarily in learning Spanish (or if your Spanish isn’t good enough yet), you may want to check out the English translation, “A long petal of the sea”.

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