Women and World War II: A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende

Women and World War II: A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende

image of cover of Long Petal of the Sea

Love and War

A love story, A Long Petal of the Sea, begins during the Spanish Civil War and spans a half-century and two continents. Among the refugees who flee to France when Franco’s fascists defeat the Republican army are Roser, a young pianist, widowed and pregnant with her first child, and Victor, the brother of Roser’s dead husband. Though neither of them wants to, they marry to improve their chances of survival and to secure the legacy of the man they both loved.

The couple secures passage from France on the SS Winnipeg, a rescue ship that takes them to Chile. As they live in exile and experience the upheaval of cultural dislocation during the Allende and Pinochet regimes, the practical arrangement that prompted them to marry develops into a tender, lasting commitment. Ultimately, they develop a new sense of what it means to be home.

Historical backdrop: Based on a True but Little known story

In 1939, Franco defeated the Republican forces in Barcelona and created a dictatorship that lasted 46 years. Hundreds of thousands of Republican soldiers, supporters, and activists fled to France where they were placed in concentration camps. Some escaped, some gained passage to other countries or joined the French Foreign Legion. Those who were trapped in the camps were later transferred to Nazi work camps or extermination camps.

Realizing the danger, Chilean poet and diplomat, Pablo Neruda raised money for a ship, the SS Winnipeg, to transport 2200 Spanish refugees to Chile for political asylum. The ship left France on August 4, 1939, and arrived in Valparaiso on September 2 where the passengers were welcomed by a massive crowd of supporters. Some remained in Valparaiso, others traveled on to Santiago, and a third groups boarded the train to Argentina. This was the ship that carried our fictional characters, Victor and Roser, to Chile.


For additional reading on strong and independent women, see the Barton Family Series by Katherine P. Stillerman

For additional novels about women in World War II based on less well known historical events, see Kathy’s Booklist for Novels of Women in World War II.

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