A Long Petal of the Sea

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 21 Jan 2020

Member Reviews

An interesting sweeping epic, covering events during the Spanish Civil War and then, for the two central characters, emigration to Chile. The historical aspect of this fascinated me, the human emotional story less so. Allende is a great writer, but somehow I just failed to connect with the characters. 

(Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC of this title.)
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A Long Petal of the Sea follows Victor Dalmau through the end of the Spanish Civil War and to his escape to Chile (via the ship Winnepeg, funded by Pablo Neruda) with his brother's pregnant wife Roser. Roser and Victor marry out of practicality, but as they raise their son and forge a new life in Chile, their relationship develops and blooms. Beautifully written, this is Allende at her best.
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I was sent a copy of A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende to read and review by NetGalley.
To be perfectly honest I struggled a bit with this book.  A novel based on fact and the first-hand memories of Victor Pey, who is cast as the main protagonist Victor Dalmau, it is part historical narrative and part love story.  While I found the historical aspects very informative and quite eye opening, especially as much of it is set within my own lifetime and I am ashamed to say I previously had scant knowledge of the actual facts, I found that overall the way it was written was a bit dry.  Even the more personal aspects were written in the same almost unemotional manner which ultimately made it seem awfully long.  I am glad that I have read this novel but there were times when I almost gave up, even though I was interested in the subject matter.  For me this was a worthwhile read but not an easy one.
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A Long Petal of the Sea is the latest historical literary work from bestselling, critically-acclaimed author Isabel Allende. I have been an admirer of this master storyteller from the time I took a chance on her debut novel, The House of the Spirits, yet didn't find some of the books that immediately followed quite as alluring. This story takes place at a time of great conflict and anxiety across the globe. From the opening pages, I was reminded of how powerful and captivating her stories are and swiftly fell in love with her exquisite prose all over again, I mean, c’mon, even the book title is bewitching and evocative, and her ability to move me through her fiction; this is certainly a rarity for me.

At many separate points I felt moved and felt myself tearing up a little which rarely happens when reading despite the number of books I read. There is so much detail and intricacy that everything was made all the more profound and the deft hand in which it is written fills you full of emotion. The cast comes alive on the page and are all beautifully defined and difficult to forget. She is one of those writers that when she gets it right she could be literally writing about anything, telling the most mundane tale in the world, and she would still have me riveted and hanging on her every word; I'd liken it a little to those lucky people who could leave home wearing a bin liner and still manage to put the rest of their friends to shame. A deeply affecting and moving story. Many thanks to Bloomsbury for an ARC.
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“The long petal of sea and wine and snow” is how the poet Pablo Neruda once described Chile, the country in which most of Isabel Allende’s latest novel is set, and Neruda himself plays a small but very important role in this epic story, based on true historical events.

Beginning in Spain in 1938, we meet Victor Dalmau, a young medical student from Barcelona, and Roser Bruguera, an orphan who has been taken in and raised by the Dalmau family. Roser is in love with Victor’s brother Guillem and is pregnant with his child, but like many others, they have their plans for the future destroyed by the civil war which is currently tearing Spain apart. Victor and Roser are Republicans, but when it becomes clear that General Franco and his Nationalists have won the war, they join half a million other refugees crossing the border into France in search of safety. It is here that they learn of Pablo Neruda’s plan to commission a ship, the Winnipeg, to transport two thousand of the refugees to Chile, where they will have a chance to build a new life. The only problem is, while Victor is offered a place on the ship due to his medical training, Roser’s skills are less in demand and she will only be allowed to join him if she can prove she is his wife…

A Long Petal of the Sea is the second book I’ve read by Isabel Allende. My first was The Japanese Lover and although I was disappointed by that one, I wanted to give her another chance to impress me. Sadly, I felt very much the same about this book and am coming to the conclusion that, despite her popularity, Allende is just not an author for me.

The story itself is fascinating. I have read very little about the Spanish Civil War and knew nothing about what happened in the aftermath, with Spanish refugees being placed in concentration camps on their arrival in France. I knew even less about the political history of Chile, which is the focus of the second half of the novel. I think My Beautiful Imperial by Rhiannon Lewis is the only other book I’ve read set in that country – but that story took place in a much earlier period than this one. It’s sad to think that refugees like Victor and Roser, who had already been through so much, would settle in Chile thinking they had found peace and safety, only to face more upheaval with the 1973 military coup and then years of dictatorship under General Pinochet.

My problem with this book was the style in which it was written. As with The Japanese Lover, I felt as though I was reading a long list of facts rather than a compelling story. I found it impossible to care about or engage with the characters because the author was just telling me how people thought and felt instead of showing me through their words and actions. This should have been a moving and emotional novel but instead I thought it was dry and impersonal and seemed much more like non-fiction than fiction.

I’m aware that Isabel Allende has a large and loyal fan base and other reviews of this book are overwhelmingly positive, so it’s obvious that I’m just not the right reader for Allende’s books. I’ve tried two now and I don’t think I need to try any more, but if you think this book sounds interesting don’t let me put you off reading it – you might be able to connect with it in a way that for some reason I just couldn’t.
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This is a history book disguised as fiction, and I feel the fictional side of it suffers for it. Isabel Allende sets out to tell the story of the Spanish civil war and the waves of emigration that it gave rise to, particularly the diaspora of 2,000 Spanish refugees to Chile. She does this through the story of two families, the democratic Dalmaus in Spain and the conservative del Solars in Chile. 

She aims to illustrate the broad sweep of war, conflicting political ideologies, education, poverty and religion through the intimate tale of the Dalmaus' experience of the civil war, their escape over the border to France only to be interred in French refugee camps, and finally getting on board the Winnipeg, a refugee ship organised by Pablo Neruda to take Spanish refugees from France to Chile, docking in Valparaiso on the day WWII breaks out in Europe. There, their destinies are entwined with those of the del Solar family, thanks to the idealistic son Felipe who rejects his conservative family's distrust of the refugees to embrace a more idealistic view.

In conservative, Catholic France and Chile the Spanish refugees are met with a mistrust and hatred through being seen as Communist, atheist, uneducated revolutionaries. They are shown as breaking down this xenophobic image by dint of their discipline and willingness to work hard, leading to a quieter revolution in terms of changing an entrenched Catholic, conservative outlook in Chile. 

Allende's narrative style is very expository - it's a thinly disguised history lecture half the time, in an oversimplified style reminiscent of a high school history textbook. The juxtaposition with the fictional story is uneasy, as if the storyline is an afterthought. In addition the pace is very uneven, with relatively small episodes dwelt upon in great detail, like Ofelia del Santos’ unwed pregnancy and birth, then great swathes of time despatched with within a few paragraphs. The narrative voice is very much that of an omniscient author, and I found that quite old-fashioned and unsatisfying. 

There are undeniable parallels between the history of the Spanish civil war and Chile's history but the foreshadowing can be heavy-handed: "[Salvador] Allende had followed with passionate interest the triumph of the Republic in Spain, the defeat of democracy, and Franco's dictatorship, as though sensing an echo of his future". The political strand sits uneasily with the personal narrative because the author focuses first on one then the other, so it persistently feels like a novel of two alternating halves.  Because of this, I never fully managed to be swept up by the historical events or to immerse myself in the story or care deeply about the characters.
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A detailed historical novel. Full of heart breaking facts. Not an easy read due to the style of writing - I wonder if some of the passion of the story was lost when translated from Spanish to English
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My thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing U.K. for an eARC via NetGalley of ‘A Long Petal of the Sea’ by Isabel Allende in exchange for an honest review.

This is a multigenerational epic set in Chile, the land described by the poet Pablo Neruda as the ‘long petal of sea and wine and snow’ over the seas. Its main character is Victor Dalmau, a young doctor caught up in the Spanish Civil War. He flees Barcelona and goes into exile with his widowed sister-in-law, pianist Roser Bruguera. When an opportunity arises they travel to make a new life on the other side of the world. Yet their fortunes change once more when General Pinochet comes to power. 

Against the backdrop of these political events Allende weaves a moving love story. The novel is also about the sense of belonging and at heart felt a very optimistic tale even though it contains harrowing scenes. Allende’s writing is economical and while it spans decades it does so with a modest length. 

In her opening letter to readers Isabel Allende writes of the real life events behind her latest work of historical fiction. In the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War half a million refugees had fled Franco by walking into France where they were kept in concentration camps. The Chilean poet Pablo Neruda commissioned an old cargo ship, The Winnipeg, and transported over two thousand of these refugees to Chile. The ship docked on the day that the Second World War broke out in Europe. 

Forty years ago Allende met Victor Pey, who had been a passenger on the ship. He shared his memories of the Spanish Civil War, the voyage, and his years in Chile. They became friends and his life story became the inspiration for this novel. 

As I began reading I quickly became swept up in its narrative. I have read a number of Allende’s novels and I find her writing powerful and inspiring. Her extensive research as well as personal experiences brings a sense of authenticity in terms of its setting.  

While she is writing about political refugees from both the Spanish Civil War and later Chile in 1973 with General Pinochet’s military coup, it is a theme that continues to have great relevance in today’s world. 

4.5 stars rounded up to 5.
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This was my first Isabel Allende novel - the narrative takes place in Civil War Spain, a setting which has popped up in a number of my reads recently. 
The novel does a great job of depicting the horrors of the war and especially the trauma of the enforced flight of the refugees - unfortunately a very timely and appropriate message in our times.
We follow the narrative of Victor Dalmau and Roser Bruguera, spanning years with, at times, heartbreaking passages of loss, love and longing.
For me, however, the language felt a little distant, a little expositional - not enough to take me out of the narrative but enough to let me be aware of it.
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Isabel Allende

	Not usually a fan of books where politics are a prominent theme, I loved this book.
It has everything.  I have a better understanding  of the Spanish Civil War now and the emotional and physical turmoil that refugees suffered in the aftermath, losing everything.
	Each chapter opens with a quote from the work of Nobel Prize winner, Pablo Neruda, a Chilean poet and politician.  He chartered a ship, the Winnipeg, to take 2,200 refugees from the war to Chile. The title of the book is based on a quote from one of his poems.
	Cutting across the turmoil caused by the war there is at the heart of the book a love story that covers generations of the same family.  Their dreadful loss and deprivation highlights the situation not only in Spain but every country where there is turmoil.
	Isabel Allende is an ardent feminist and strong women feature in her books.  She interweaves events in her own life and historical events and her books have an immediacy taking the reader into the minds and hearts of her wonderful characters.  Because the books are based on truth this reader was keen to check events and do some further research on the time of which she is writing. What a dreadful time, leaving Spain a totally changed country.
	Family circumstances see Roser is taken in by a family while merely a girl.  She becomes an accomplished pianist but as the friction spreads across Spain she has to flee from Barcelona for her own safety.
	Victor is a young doctor exhausted in his attempts to help the injured and  victims of the war with little medication, eventually he too must flee his beloved home.
	They are together on the ship to Chile where a new and different life awaits.But will it be better?   This moving tale tells of the struggle of the young couple and the thousands of others who land in a country with its own problems.
	Through several generations we follow this emotional and gripping tale of families trying to exist and survive in the face of what appears to be insurmountable hardship.
	This is the first book I have read from this formidable writer but it will not be the last.
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A huge story, difficult to do justice to in a review although Allende’s foreward helps: ‘This is a story of displacement and love, or sorrow and hope, of a couple trying to find their place in a world in shambles, torn apart by violence’. We follow the Dalmau family, caught up in the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930s. The family is split and when the Nationalists supported by the Catholic Church are victorious; ordinary citizens and Republican soldiers flee across the border to France to avoid imprisonment, torture and death. In France, they are interned in unplanned ‘camps’; thousands died in these camps at a time when the rest of Europe was looking towards the imminent World War – hence the lack of help for ordinary Spanish citizens at the overrule of democratic elections by the Fascists including Hitler’s ‘test’ bombing of Guernica and the Basques before war was even declared. Shameful…

We meet everyday heroes and selfless people who put themselves out for others – within the despair there amazing people who restore your belief in humanity. Amidst the horror, the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda refitted an old cargo boat called the Winnipeg, (chartered by the French Communist party and the Spanish Refugee Evacuation Service) to carry 2000 Spanish survivors to a new life and future in Chile. Chile’s doors had been opened to the refugees by the Popular Front Government led by President Pedro Aguirre Cerda against the wishes of the Right and again, the Catholic church. Victor Dalmau, a practising Doctor and surgeon throughout the conflict (though unqualified at this point) the surviving son of the Dalmau family discovers he can save Roser, his brother’s lover and their son by marrying her to make them direct family. They are granted passage on the ship and on arrival in Chile, meet Felipe Del Solar and Salvador Allende, then Socialist Party Leader. 
We follow their growth in to the future, only to face another military coup in Chile in 1973 when Pinochet takes over – again largely overlooked by the rest of the world. 

An important book – this tragic part of history is largely overlooked in UK history lessons. I loved the unexpected hope at the end for Victor – without a redeeming surprise the book would have been too desolate. (Despite knowing that for thousands, this desolation would be the reality). A powerful read.
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I have enjoyed Isabelle Allende’s novels since the 1980s and was thrilled to review ‘A long petal of the sea’.  I am pleased to say it did not disappoint. 

The characters in this novel (apart from the historical ones) are fictional but based on those, such as her friend Victor Pey, who lived through the events portrayed in the book. .   Victor Pey died ages 103 and survived the incidents recounted in the book. The novel is split into four parts, each accounting a period of time from 1938 to the 1990s.   The novel starts with Carme Dalmau and her sons Guillem and Victor in civil war-era Spain where their paths then diverge.  Victor is one of those lucky enough to survive the anti-Franco concentration camps in France to travel on the ship ‘Winnipeg’ into exile in Chile.  The trip is funded by the great poet Pablo Neruda, and although not a fully- drawn character in his own right, his influence is felt throughout the book within the quotes used at the beginning of each section and in the title of the book which comes from his description of his beloved country as the ‘long petal of sea and wine and snow...with a belt of black and white foam’.  

Allende is masterful in character development and the ‘secondary’ characters are as carefully created and drawn as Victor, Roser and Ofelia whose lives we follow through immense personal, social, economic and political change.  

I recommend this to those who enjoy Latin American literature and/or historical fiction more generally. 

With thanks to Bloomsbury and Netgalley for a review copy.
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Isabel Allende's A Long Petal of the Sea is the fictionalised life story of a man she met in Venezuela, who became a refugee twice over- first fleeing the Spanish Civil War to find a new life in Chile; later forced into exile in Venezuela by the brutal Pinochet regime. 

I loved this book, it was gripping , moving and intelligent. I did have reservations about the writing. It was uneven in pace and tone, in places classically fictional in tone, in others reading more like reportage or an educational text book. There were lengthy sections of narrative account which were very simply written, with almost no dialogue at all. These felt jarring and contrasted strongly with the first part of the novel which is much more vivid and descriptive.

However, I found as I continued reading that the variations in style and uneven pace bothered me less and less. The life of Victor Dalmau was so moving and fascinating, in fact in the simplicity of Allende's writing, it felt as though she gradually just decided to allow the events of his life to speak for themselves. I dont know how much of the novel is based on real events but the love and admiration of the author for her real life friend feel like they sing through the pages. An inspiring novel.
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I’m really glad I read this book. It was beautifully written and thoroughly engaging throughout. I’ve come away from it feeling that I have more knowledge of the Spanish Civil War and Pinochet’s dictatorship, and a greater empathy for the people who suffered through both. Other than that, it’s just a jolly good story too!
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A Long Petal Of The Sea is the second of two pretty epic emigration novels I have read this month. Encompassing a greater scope in time and distance travelled, Allende's novel is certainly the more ambitious but I didn't find I connected as well with the main character as I did reading Farewell, Mama Odessa by Emil Draitser. That said, I was still fascinated by Victor and Roser's lives and I learned so much about the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. That war seems so often to be overlooked in favour of Second World War stories, but its complexities and human narratives are just as compelling. I've previously listened to Homage To Catalonia by George Orwell and felt that A Long Petal Of The Sea often shared the same feel of being a memoir rather than fiction. Allende has obviously researched her subject in great detail and the effort shows across the authenticity of her descriptions and her characters' actions.

Where I struggled somewhat with A Long Petal Of The Sea was with believing in the central relationship between Victor and Roser. I appreciate that theirs wasn't a romantic relationship in the conventional sense, but there was still meant to be a strong bond and I couldn't really feel that. Their other philanderings had sensuality and a sense of excitement, even while conducted away from the reader. Allende puts across a genuine sense of the restrictiveness of upper class Chilean society, especially in its contrast with the desperation of the Spanish exiles. Through the years of this novel we really do see all extremes of human existence as well as the lengths to which societies will go to protect their preferred ideologies. For Victor and Roser this means appearing to be on a wheel of recurring nightmare scenarios and I can't begin to imagine how devastating that must have been for the real people who inspired this story.

A Long Petal Of The Sea is only the third Isabel Allende book I have read, but after each of the previous two I promised myself to make a bigger effort to search out more of her work. I love her writing style and the way she convincingly portrays characters across a range of social classes and philosophical beliefs. It's difficult enough to get readers to understand sympathetic characters, let alone ones who who espouse opposing views. A Long Petal Of The Sea does just that whilst also depicting the changing Spanish and Chilean political landscapes over several decades. This isn't the easiest of reads, but I felt it was absolutely worth my time.
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My first, and not my last, Isabel Allende book!
A Long Petal of the Sea is my first foray into the books of Isabel Allende, and after reading this, it most certainly wont be my last.

This is the sweeping historical story of the Dalmau family, their role in the Spanish Civil War, their escape in to France (which was horrific), and their journey to Chile as refugees on the ship ‘Winnipeg’ arranged by the poet Pablo Neruda.

It’s a devastating and yet heartwarming look at humanity and it’s ability to endure. I hadn’t known about the concentration-style camps that the French forced the Spanish refugees in to after Franco and his right wing party won the Civil War. It looks as though people have always been able to destroy one another in inhuman ways (this is no surprise to me, by the way). We see more of the use of concentration camps in Chile after the military coup.

The main characters, Victor and Roser Dalmau continue to see Chile as their home, over and above Spain. They show us that home is where your friends, family and community are - and that you can make this home anywhere.

This book really is a joy to read. I’ve learnt so much of the history of this time, as well as having the pleasure of just reading a great story.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Bloomsbury for my copy of this book to read.
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We start by being thrown into the Spanish Civil War, which worries me.  First because I have had trouble in the past with Spanish Civil War books, and have not finished either of the ones I started in the last five years. Second, because it was really horrendous. Barbaric.  Horrific.

By concentrating on a few people, in fact, really, two people and their families, Isabel Allende manages to steer me through. Yes, the horror of brother against brother is there. Yes, the atrocities committed by either side are there. But at last I began to understand what it was all about. Really, both the English Civil War (1640 or so, where we killed Charles 1 and installed Cromwell for a while) and the American Civil War were squabbles over the garden fence in comparison. A snippet Allende throws in, or alleges, is that Hitler supported the Fascist (winners) of Spain's fight, using the opportunity to try out some of his new mass killing weaponry which he was preparing for World War 2.  It makes sense.

It all makes sense. Allende takes us along with the horror of fleeing one's beloved war-ravaged country, only to be thrown into abominable pens described as refugee camps on the beaches in France.

Pause for a while, western world, and think of what we are still doing to refugees from war-torn countries.

And then, an angel from the Red Cross saves our heroine, and the doctor manages to find her as a result, and they squeeze themselves onto the almost slavetrade conditions aboard the Winnipeg, which will sail them to Chile. They think these conditions are paradise compared with the refugee camps.

It's no picnic once they get to Chile, but the reader has already been introduced to Chile's exquisitely decadent and introvert high-society, it's a little more predictable. It's a timely tale, reminding us that society never changes.

In fact, having reached this point, about two-thirds through the book, the author sweeps us through the Chilean revolution and the Pinochet dictatorship with very much more telling than showing.  The difficulties lose their edge.  It was interesting, but lacked the urgency of what went before.

This book is still brilliant, though. It brings these issues squarely into the home of those lucky enough to sit and read in a warm dry house, with food in the fridge, and cooking facilities ready to turn on at a moment's notice. The trouble is, it also reminds me that these basics can be gone in an instant if the politicians fall out with each other.

It's my first read of the year, and it could be one of the best.  It's compelling. Add it to your list!
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This is an epic tale that, in Allende’s trademark fashion, sweeps across continents, telling the story of political uprising, repression and the history of dispossessed peoples through the story of one family across the decades since 1939.

I love that Allende bases this work on real events and peppers them with facts about people so that you feel as if you are reading real history as it happens and learning a great deal about the circumstances of the time and how a sense of belonging can be the most important thing a person clings to.

This is the story of Victor Dalmau a young man at the height of the Spanish Civil War. He is studying Medicine and helps look after the wounded in battle, while his younger brother, Guillem, fights for the Republic. Told in the third person, mostly from Victor’s point of view the book follows his life. We learn about his family and Roser (his brother’s girlfriend and one of the students of Victor’s father, a musician), and hear first-hand of his experiences during the war. Roser is pregnant with Guillem’s child when he is killed. Victor vows to look after his brother’s lover and so when it is clear that Franco is winning, they escape into France together, entering into a marriage of convenience.

But the French are not welcoming to Spanish Civil War refugees, placing them in concentration camps with poor sanitation and insufficient food. Victor and Rosa decide to  emigrate to Chile on the Winnipeg – the ship that Pablo Neruda organised to bring 2,000 Spanish refugees to freedom in Chile (oh the irony). Victor and Roser settle down in Chile, making a new life for themselves. Rosa pursuing her musical work and Victor becoming a cardiologist. But then, in 1973, comes Pinochet and the fascists take root in Chile, leading to a military coup and the mass murders in the football stadium where Victor Jara was murdered.  When even the artists are being murdered, it is time to uproot and flee. Victor and Rosa, long-settled and feeling at home in Chile, become refugees once again.

This time Victor and Rosa head for Venezuela. As they yet again flee, their hope of returning to Spain mutates into a longing for Chile that keeps them going. Their role is to bear witness to the battle between freedom and oppression until finally Roser and Victor find that home is closer than they knew.

A Long Petal of the Sea is a sweeping family saga about belonging which shows us the important contribution that refugees can make to society, which gives the book a contemporary message that is important and resonated loudly with me.

Verdict: An ambitious work which blends the personal and the political to depict the life of a refugee. Sometimes a little wordy, this is a story for today. An epic saga that blends fact with fiction until we no longer know what is real and what imagined but which shows us the important contribution that immigrants can make to society.
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I've always enjoyed Isabel Allende's writing, but found this more difficult. On occasions it felt like a non fiction book with the characters using very clunky dialogue to explain various political situations to other characters. A very worthy read and many of the horrors will stay with me, but not one I would read again.
Thank you to netgalley and Bloomsbury publishing for an advance copy of this book.
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I'm afraid this was a DNF at 20%.  This was my first go at a book by Allende, having been recommended her for 19 years since my A-Level teacher encouraged me to try House of the Spirits.  I was expecting magical realism, but all I got was realism... I found this very dry and 'he did this, then she did that.'  I couldn't connect with the characters at all.  I might still try other Allende, but this one wasn't for me.
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