A Long Petal of the Sea
(Bloomsbury, 336 PP, £16.99)
Tablet bookshop price £15.29 • tel 020 7799 4064
In 1939, 2,000 Republican Spanish refugees escaped execution under Franco’s dictatorship by boarding the Winnipeg, a boat from France bound for Chile, that “long petal of sea and wine and snow”, in the words of the poet Pablo Neruda. As Chilean consul in Paris, it was Neruda who chartered the boat and selected the immigrants.
Isabel Allende’s twenty-third novel, partly inspired by her friendship with one of the passengers, is a departure from her usual sumptuous style. Often it reads more like biographical non-fiction – and it encompasses a large chunk of history, from 1938 to 1994, with some chapters more detailed than others – but it’s no less absorbing for that.