A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabelle Allende

Sweeping, beautiful, human.

The single best thing about this book is Allende’s prose. Quickening, slowing, and stopping altogether the pace of time almost seamlessly, she constructs simple yet powerful prose.

The inter-generational progression of character lines combined with constant change in setting, their sufferings and hopes – it is a simple tale about simple people. People separating and people reuniting. Distinct people with different desires and approaches to life. High emotional investment in characters was almost a given – reading the book was like growing up with the characters.

Allende also skillfuly ground her fiction in historical fact: from the Spanish Civil War, the exodus to France, the Winnipeg and Pablo Neruda, to the coup in Chile and the death of Franco – just reading the book acquaints one with political history. She manages also to get the little details right – how three volumes of philospohy books could stop a bullet, the numerous real-life historical figures, and the newspaper rhetoric against refugees (which is alarmingly similar to what we hear today). Finally, the uneasy negotiated tension between the right and the left, the depths of hatred and love between strangers and family members is relentlessly true-to-life.

Inter-generational and set across multiple countries – Chile, Spain, Venezuela, Argentia, America, France, the book deftly and gently telescopes and microscopes into the hearts of people and nations.