Isabel Allende, bestselling author and niece to former Chilean president Salvador Allende, who was assassinated in 1973, has again produced a novel for the ages, spanning almost 70 years. It is an epic story that moves between Spain and Chile, following the lives of Victor and Roser. The couple are initially caught up in the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930s, before being forced together to flee to South America with 2,000 refugees aboard the SS Winnipeg, a ship commandeered by the poet, Pablo Neruda.
Victor Dalmau serves as a military doctor in the war in Spain. Upon the death of his brother, Victor is compelled to marry Roser, who is pregnant with his brother’s child, in order to manage the escape to South America. It is a union neither desires. They are seemingly a mismatch who marry out of convenience and start this long ‘marital’ journey together. Once settled into life in Chile, the couple encounters the increasingly repressive regime of Augusto Pinochet. The intersection of these two historical events makes for great historical fiction and written by someone who has experienced first hand some of these political realities.
Allende, who first became known for her magical realism in her debut novel, House of Spirits, draws us into this novel because these two very different characters are so easy to love. The backdrop of the Spanish Civil War and the subsequent unravelling political situation in South America challenge ideas of marriage, home and family, and ultimately, how we find meaning in our lives and relationships.
There is a sensuality to Allende’s narrative, rich in color, sound, tastes, and smells, a Latin American feel for how life is expected to be lived and experienced, even in the midst of adversity and death. Readers familiar with Allende may find this to be one her best works yet. New readers will appreciate Allende’s descriptive storytelling skill and will surely want to read more. (Bloomsbury Publishing)