Victor was not the handsome Dalmau brother; that was Guillem, a charmer who had fallen in love with Roser, the young woman his family had rescued. No, Victor was consumed by his desire to be a doctor. His studies were interrupted by the Spanish Civil War, but he received plenty of on-the-job training on the battlefield. The day that he reached into a young man’s open chest and massaged his heart back to life, his reputation as a miracle-working cardiologist began.
But the war churned on. Victor, Roser, and his mother were driven from their homes by Franco’s Fascist forces, and they joined the sea of starving refugees pouring toward the French border. Guillem was killed in battle, his mother despaired, and Roser was pregnant. The famous poet and diplomat Pablo Neruda had chartered a ship to bring Spanish refugees to his home country of Chile, the “long petal of the sea,” but he had a limited number of spaces, and only married couples were welcomed.
The refugees were surprised to find a warm welcome in Chile, but their hearts longed for their home in Spain. For years, Victor hoped to return, but instead found himself running, decades later, to Venezuela to escape the Chilean revolution. New friends and family entered his life, and his definition of “home” began to change.
Spanning generations, this intense and enthralling novel weaves fictional and historic characters together in an unforgettable story. Each chapter opens with a few lines of Pablo Neruda’s poetry, and he is portrayed in the book as a friend and confidant of Victor. Isabel Allende’s second cousin and godfather, Salvador Allende, was president of Chile just before the revolution, and he plays a minor role in the story, as well.
Allende observes how huge, worldwide events affect obscure people in life-altering ways, and yet, the slow, invisible workings of the human heart can also change the world forever. She explores the meaning and nature of love, the necessity of courage, and the obstinance of hope. Unlike her novels of magical realism, this is a work of historical fiction that will keep you busy researching South American history and political movements, and it is woven into the author’s own story, as well. Victor and Roser are unforgettable. You will ache for them, hope for them, and be so proud of them.
Very highly recommended.
Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book, which is now available to all. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.